Australia’s Climate Policy: Plant a Tree, and Then Cut It Down

The country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions by growing trees are being undermined by deforestation.

(Photo: Anoek de Groot/AFP/Getty Images)

May 7, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

In Australia, the southeastern state of New South Wales is taking advantage of the country’s Emissions Reductions Fund by securing money to plant more than 200,000 trees in five national parks over the next five years.

The plantings are expected to sequester more than 80,000 metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide over a 10-year period. It’s just a small step toward meeting Australia’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent below 2000 levels by 2030.

So far, the country has designated about two-thirds of the $2.6 billion set aside under the government’s Direct Action Plan to pay big polluters to emit less.

The funds have been divvied up in three auctions. The results of the third auction were released May 5, with 73 contracts awarded to abate 50.5 million metric tons of emissions at an average price of $10.23 per ton.

A majority of the projects have been granted to farmers and businesses and focus on protecting and restoring forests to cancel out emissions from other sources.

According to The Climate Institute, a Sydney-based conservation group, the funds expended so far will achieve about 7 percent of the reductions the country needs to meet its 2030 target under the Paris climate accord.

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“We now urgently need to get down to the policies that matter,” John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute, said in a statement. “This process should start with a closure plan for Australia’s old and inefficient coal-burning power plants so they can be replaced with clean energy alternatives over the next 20 years.”

Tree-planting projects like those in New South Wales’ national parks are in danger of being negated, warned Lyndon Schneiders, The Wilderness Society’s national director, as relaxed land-clearing laws could wipe out any carbon reductions.

“Bulldozers are ripping up our bushland, killing our native wildlife and releasing millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Schneiders said in a statement. “This seriously undermines our efforts to combat climate change.”

Queensland saw carbon emissions drop 16 percent statewide from 2005 to 2013. But new fossil fuel projects coming online and eased land-clearing laws are expected to result in a 35 percent rise in carbon emissions by 2030—an increase of nearly 50 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

A report by environmental services company CO2 Australia obtained by The Guardian found that in 2013 and 2014, fully 714,300 acres of trees were cleared in Queensland—double the rate of 2011 and 2012. Between 2012 and 2015, emissions from land clearing rose 11 times faster than they did in any other sector of the country.

In an effort to slow the tree clearing, the Australian Labor Party in Queensland introduced a bill in March to reestablish the state’s 2006 ban on large-scale land clearing.

Schneiders said the conservative national government’s Direct Action Plan is failing.

“It has allowed state governments to gut tree-clearing laws while spending taxpayers’ money trying to keep trees in the ground via the Emissions Reduction Fund,” he said. “It’s completely nonsensical. Taxpayers have paid for 51 million tons of land carbon abatement, but this is negated by the 55 million tons produced annually by tree clearing.”