The Glascow COP 26 declaration of intention to save and restore forests and other natural ecosystems is one to be welcomed, but must make important and urgent changes to end industrial logging as part of the intention, and current UNFCCC policies promoting forest biomass energy if the commitment is to be meaningful and not follow the failures of previous forest declarations.
The Glascow Declaration sidesteps tackling industrial logging, as deforestation has a limited definition at the United Nations. It refers to complete land use change, such as the land clearing for agricultural conversion in Queensland. It does not include logging in areas that remain subject to forestry operations, such as those managed by Government Business Enterprise, Sustainable Timbers Tasmania. It does not apply to clear felling or logging operations that involves conversion of natural forests to plantations. Neither of these meet the definition of deforestation. They fall under "forest degradation", which is not included in the Glasgow Declaration.
Protecting forests as part of tackling climate change is an obvious and immediate nature based solution to climate change. Here in Tasmania we don't have until 2030 to wait for an end to native forest logging, as so many of our Gondwana forests are facing logging in the immediate future, including the Krushka's native forests around the iconic Blue Derby MTB trails and the glacial refugia forests of the Blue Tier.
Australia is the worst performer in logging of temperate forests such as the carbon dense mixed eucalypt and rain forest ecosystems. The worlds forests soak up 30% of our worlds carbon, yet Tasmania and Australia continue to log them at an ecological and economic loss.
Governments signing onto this pledge need to fast track native forest protection and the 105 Glascow signatory nations must now throw out contradictory policies that promote logging and burning forests for energy as Biomass if this is to be worth anything more than a short term public relations exercise.
We can’t burn our way out of the climate crisis, we must instead recognise and enhance forests for their critical role in tackling climate change, drawing down carbon and protect biodiversity – by keeping them standing and restoring those that have been degraded or lost to industrial logging and land use change.
It is vital to recognise that carbon neutrality is not achieved by so-called ‘sustainable’ forestry greenwashing and offsets as we see in Tasmania. Logging and burning trees for renewable energy emits carbon instantaneously, while trees take much longer to regrow, and those tree crops make communities and surrounding landscape more fire prone.
The declaration allows for industrial forestry, a major cause of loss of carbon stocks and overall ecological integrity essential for ecosystem stability and resilience. Australia and Brazil are signatories, they have their own interpretations of sustainability which allow business as usual industrial logging, as we are witnessing in Tasmania with the ongoing logging of some of the most carbon dense forests in the world. All the face of community and tourism opposition to native forest logging.
Independent analysis from the Biomass Working Group says that there are 2 key problems with UNFCCC rules that need to be addressed for COP26 forest declaration to be meaningful:
1. Countries do not account for smokestack emissions from burning biomass for energy whilst they do account for smokestack emissions from fossil fuels used for energy generation. Burning biomass emits more CO2 than fossil fuels per unit energy. This major flaw in carbon accounting is a root cause of the dramatic, ongoing expansion of big biomass.
2. The UN rules do not differentiate between a rich ancient forest and a monoculture plantation, so turning one into the other is accounted for as no change.
Fixing these flaws is a key test of the sincerity of the signatories.