Nov 29, 2012

How not to make policy: Tasmanian forest deal

The new deal to bring about peace in Tasmania's forests is an example of how not to write policy. And Tasmania may be missing out on a massive opportunity, report Andrew Macintosh and Richard Denniss.

The newly-inked Tasmanian Forest Agreement has been hailed by many as a historic breakthrough that provides Tasmania with an opportunity to end the divisive “forest wars” and remake the state’s ailing economy. In truth, it is a case study in how not to make policy.

By handing over the responsibility for resolving the dispute to two groups that sit at either end of the debate — the forest lobby and green groups — the Tasmanian government has overlooked the interests of those in the middle; the Tasmanian public. As a result, insufficient attention has been paid to how the forests can be best used to advance the interests of the community.

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2 thoughts on “How not to make policy: Tasmanian forest deal

  1. jimD

    Interesting article. I am curious about the idea that keeping the level of logging above some(apparently self-determined) benchmark figure (i.e. below levels in the 2000s in this case) will result in significant carbon credits for Australia, or Tasmania specifically. For a start, the intensity of logging in those natural forests in Tasmania over the 2000s decade was pretty high. Using those figures as a benchmark for calculation of forest carbon emissions reductions now is, in effect, setting the bar at ankle height.

    In the original negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol, the general view was that Annex 1 (developed) countries with significant forest resources should give an undertaking that natural forest areas would be kept at least at current levels, if not higher. No carbon trading from these forests would be recognized.

    Developing (Annex 2) countries, on the other hand, would be allowed to claim genuine reductions in deforestation levels as forest carbon credits. This was aimed squarely at the Annex 2 countries with historically very high levels of deforestation – Brazil, Indonesia and others – offering them an opportunity to actually be able to cover the costs of reducing deforestation, including compensation for some logging operations, for displacement of oil palm plantations onto non-forested land, for community development,and so on.

    The Australian negotiators at the Kyoto meetings undermined these intentions by holding the conference to ransom by claiming an exemption for scrub land in Australia, allowing the country to claim reductions in the areas of clearing in the next few years: in other words, continuing to clear that scrubland was to be rewarded simply by not doing more of it. Anyone who thinks policymakers and decision makers in highly-forested Annex 2 countries did not notice the behaviour of the Australian Government on this matter, should pay a visit to some of these countries and find out what they really think.

    If, as an Annex 1 country, we are going to count carbon sequestered in natural forests as carbon credits, at the very least we should ensure that genuine and complete preservation of the very high levels of carbon sequestered in that forest biomass is an incontrovertible condition to entry – not some gimcrack solution based on what somebody thinks the overall level of carbon loss from those forests was in the 2000s.

    This was never meant to happen under the original Kyoto agreement. Developing countries, certainly, were told that, when the international agreement was completed, they would be able to offer reduced levels of deforestation (from some historical benchmark figure) as carbon credits – but developed countries were not to have this deal. In effect, a developed country still producing carbon emissions by reducing the biomass on natural forest areas (or scrubland areas as in Queensland under the first Kyoto period), would be seen as continuing to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels,and would therefore not be entitled to claim any carbon credits. Maintaining an area of forest under long term genuinely sustainable (yes, there’s that word again) management would have counted as carbon neutral. In any event, under that previous Kyoto understanding, keeping the forest biomass at some agreed target level, and the area of forest under that condition being maintained, would result in a carbon neutral outcome. In other words,

  2. jimD

    Whoops; my apologies: the article just posted accidentally includes a paragraph that I thought I had edited out, after checking some of the history. Please ignore everything that follows the paragraph that begins with “If, as as Annex 1 country, we are going to count…etc”

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