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Current status and future prospects for carbon forestry in Australia

Mitchell, C.D., Harper, R.J.ORCID: 0000-0003-0268-2917 and Keenan, R.J. (2012) Current status and future prospects for carbon forestry in Australia. Australian Forestry, 75 (3). pp. 200-2012.

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Carbon forestry is part of a suite of land-based activities that can be used to mitigate carbon emissions, and also provide a range of other environmental co-benefits. Components are included in the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011. There is large divergence in Australian estimates of the areas of land that may be used for carbon forests and there has been a vigorous public debate about carbon forestry, partly based on concerns about displacement of food-producing land. We identify four distinct afforestation or reforestation (AR) activities that involve carbon mitigation and suggest a terminology based on these. These are (1) 'plantations' that also produce timber and wood products, (2) 'carbon-focused' sinks, (3) 'environmental' or natural resource management plantings and (4) 'bioenergy' plantings for use either as a feedstock for stationary energy production or transport fuels. After accounting for AR projects established for other purposes (e. g. timber and pulpwood), we estimate that the current area of carbon forests in Australia is 65 000 ha. Despite the national Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 and its 2010 amendments there are few extant biomass projects. How-ever this may change with the development of new technologies and the imposition of a carbon price on electricity production. The reasons for the gulf between actual and potential carbon AR activity are proposed to include (1) the absence of a formal carbon compliance scheme, (2) challenges in managing carbon through an entire product cycle, (3) the degree of understanding of carbon forestry by financiers, (4) landholder preference, (5) technical barriers and (6) regulatory uncertainty. We suggest an extension of the National Plantation Inventory from traditional plantations to carbon forestry, so that future policy can be developed on the basis of good-quality under-pinning information that can be disaggregated to analyse trends in AR for different purposes. To encourage innovation in the sector, we also suggest either the extension or establishment of research and development funding arrangements, similar to those already existing for other rural industries.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Institute of Foresters of Australia Inc.
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