A JOINT study with the Australian Climate Change Science Program has found that the world’s established forests remove 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon per year from the atmosphere.
The report, funded by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, has also found deforestation emits more carbon emissions than previously thought—a staggering 2.9 billion tonnes of CO2 per year
The report’s authors suggested the world’s carbon balance could be drastically improved through schemes like the United Nations backed Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation scheme.
Murdoch University’s Alcoa Chair in Sustainable Water Management Richard Harper says Australia’s initiatives to stop deforestation are on track.
“For the last few years the Australian government has encouraged activities that slow down the rate of land clearing and there is less carbon coming out of that source,” Prof Harper says.
In 1990 Australia’s net emissions from deforestation were 132 million tonnes of CO2 per year and by 2009 they dropped to 41.3 million tonnes of CO2.
In 2009, 23 million tonnes of CO2 has been sequestered in new forests established on farmland.
Prof Harper says the benefits of reforestation don’t stop at absorbing carbon emissions.
“We always saw carbon mitigation as an opportunity to get land use changed for the better so you can tackle things like salinity, nutrients going into estuaries and rebuilding biodiversity,” he says.
“It’s a way to change land use over reasonably large areas so you can improve the environment”.
Prof Harper’s research involves changing land use in WA in the reforestation of farmland and how that affects water quality and environmental sustainability.
Prof Harper believes plantations where trees are logged and then replaced are not a problem if they are properly managed, and in general terms, the carbon emitted and absorbed by cutting and replanting is balanced out.
He says a combined approach of reforestation, sustainable forest industry practices, substitution of fossil fuels with forest biomass and old-growth forest preservation will keep a carbon balance.
“You need to tackle a range of things simultaneously and I think that’s what the Australian government has done,” Prof Harper says.
“Its tried to slow the rate of land clearing, encourage reforestation and you can see they’re trying to do the same with the Carbon Farming Initiative.”