Forestry for carbon capture and biodiversity in Australia

Australia's cap and trade scheme, designed to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, 2008-2012 (as well targets associated with any international post-Kyoto agreement), will not be in place until 2011 at the earliest (Australian Government, 2009). Meanwhile, schemes are in place whereby carbon sequestered by tree planting can be approved by the Australian and New South Wales governments, and subsequently purchased by businesses wishing to offset their greenhouse gas emissions (Australian Government, 2006; Government of New South Wales, 2008).

The following Australian case study deals with the potential impacts of reforestation, driven by the market for forestry offsets, on biodiversity in the Wet Tropics Region of Queensland. The Mabi forest of the Wet Tropics is listed as 'endangered' by the Queensland government and 'critically endangered' by the Australian government. This type of forest has been reduced to a mere 4 per cent of its original extent (Department of Environment and Water, 2007; Environmental Protection Agency, 2007) because it lies mainly on private land with agriculturally productive basaltic soils. The rate of increase in Mabi forest being achieved by reforestation programs is considered by ecologists to be well below what is required to guarantee the survival of the endangered ecosystem and species (Catterall and Harrison, 2006).

The question asked in this case study was: are the goals of carbon sequestration and increase in biodiversity mutually exclusive or complementary in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia? (see Box 4.1.)

The results of economic analysis (see Figure 4.6) suggest that landowners intent on generating income from carbon sequestration are likely to choose to plant unharvested monocultures of softwoods and hardwoods, rather than environmental plantings.

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