On International Day of Forests it is essential that we recognise that forests support our civilisation, climate and biodiversity. Forests are under unprecedent threat due to increasing droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and floods. At the very time we need them to take our carbon out of the atmosphere and store it safely in their wood and soils, and to mitigate flooding by storing and slowing the water during extreme rainfall events.
Big old trees are awesome, hundreds of years old, towering 8-12 stories high, apartment complexes for hollow-dependent animals with larders for Koalas, gliders, possums and a multitude of honeyeaters.
Forests improve our health, generate rainfall, cool the land, regulate streamflows, sequester and store carbon, reduce flood risk by storing water and slowing flows, reduce landslips by reinforcing soils, and support most of our biodiversity.
Nineteen Australian ecosystems have been identified as already in collapse. In the marine environment climate change is causing the decline of the Great Barrier Reef which once again is ravished by another mass coral bleaching event. Most of the giant kelp forests off southern Australia have already gone, and many species are moving south as the waters warm.
Forest ecosystems identified as already collapsing are: Mountain ash forest; Murray-Darling River Basin – riverine; Gondwanan conifer forest; Wet Tropical Rainforest; Mediterranean-type Forests and Woodlands; Australian Tropical Savanna; and Mangrove forests.
NSW’s coastal forests are suffering similar fate as droughts and heatwaves kill multitudes of trees and animals, spreading dieback through degraded forests, while increasing wildfires are eliminating our alpine forests and burning a third of our rainforests in the Black Summer bushfires.
Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC warned that many forests have already been severely affected by climate heating, with many forest ecosystems likely to collapse if heating exceeds 1.5oC for too long. Australia has already warmed by 1.4oC, our forests can’t afford anymore.
Humans depend on the world’s forests to absorb a third of our annual emissions of carbon and store it out of harms way. As trees die, and forests collapse, they stop removing our carbon and release the vast quantities they store. Losing our forests threatens runaway climate heating.
Stopping climate heating not only requires us to stop our emissions, it also depends on removing more carbon from the atmosphere, and we need trees to do it.
Logged native forests have already lost over half the carbon they once stored, if we allow them to recover they can remove huge volumes from the atmosphere and help us deal with this existential crisis.
Logging of forests dries them, increases fire risk, reduces stream flows, increases flood risk, reduces nectar, reduces tree hollows, spreads weeds, creates erosion, and makes them more vulnerable to collapse.
Last October at the UN Biodiversity Conference Australia signed onto the Kunming Declaration, saying we supported the commitment to “protect 30 per cent globally of land areas and of sea areas” by 2030. Last November at COP 26 Australia signed on to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use with the aspirational goal “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.
NSW has only protected 9% of our land area (18% nationally). We have a long way to go to honour our commitments and there is not much time left.
We must act immediately to turn the accelerating climate and biodiversity crises around before it is too late. Two easy changes we need to make are stopping logging public native forests and stopping clearing forests.
If the NSW and Federal Governments continue to refuse to do so, it is your responsibility to stand up and speak out to make them.
_ Dailan Pugh, NEFA President.