Tasmania Achieves Carbon Negative Status

Australia’s southern-most state has become one of the few jurisdictions in the world that can claim carbon-negative status! Recent reports showed Tasmania is now Australia’s first net carbon negative state; an achievement largely thanks to successful forest management.

Tasmania reached net-zero in 2015, and has always had a relatively low emissions profile, thanks to the majority of its electricity coming from hydro power. But the State and Territory Greenhouse Gas Inventories 2020 report, released in June, shows Tasmania has upheld net negative emissions for seven years running.

In 2020, the state’s emissions were negative 3.73 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is 121% lower than in 1990. At the same time, writes Tassie’s Minister for Climate Change, Roger Janesch, “our economy has doubled and more than 60,000 jobs have been created.”

Another paper released in April this year, led by scientists from Griffith University and ANU, traces Tasmania’s success in turning emissions around to forest management. Professor Brendan Mackey (Griffith Uni) says the state’s turning point came around 2011-2012, when big changes happened in their logging industry.

In that time period, Australian millionaires Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron bought Gunns’ Triabunna mill – at the time, the world’s biggest woodchip mill. They shut the mill down, and soon after the state decommissioned wood chipping and paper pulp exports.

Native logging has many destructive consequences, and most environmentalists advocate for a shift to plantation forests for the timber industry.

Ever since, Tasmania has been slowly limiting logging, especially of native forests. Mackey’s paper says this “large and rapid drop in native forest logging” has yielded a mitigation benefit of 22 million megatonnes of CO2 equivalent over the seven years since 2011/2012.

“Most of the climate discussions so far have been based on reducing emissions, but that is only part of the equation,” says the report’s co-author, Professor David Lindenmayer (ANU). “We need to store a lot more carbon in the environment. The most effective place to do that is in forests because they store the most carbon per unit area, particularly some of the wetter forests in southern Australia”.

Still, the native logging sector remains Tasmania’s biggest emitter. Forest ecologist Jennifer Sanger found greenhouse gas emissions from native logging in Tasmania amount to 4.65 million tonnes of CO2 each year. That’s equivalent to annual emissions from about 1.1 million cars.

Sanger wants Tassie to follow the example set by WA and Victoria and put an end to native logging entirely. Doing so would allow us to absorb some 75 million tonnes of carbon by 2050 – like taking every car off the road in Australia for a whole year.

Sanger and Mackey both agree forest management is Tasmania’s ‘number-one’ climate challenge.

Many Tasmanians agree with Sanger. Fiona Weaver, who runs an adventure tourism business, says a “connection with big nature, our big trees, beautiful mountains and wilderness experiences” is Tasmania’s “biggest drawcard”. She was among 210 businesses that signed an open letter to the state government, urging the native logging industry to be shut down.

But it’s clear Tasmania is on the right track. And with new emissions targets passing the federal lower house last week, there’s hope that other Australian states might join Tasmania’s ranks in the future.

Cover photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash.

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