State of Forests report contains dubious climate claims

The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) has questioned the use of industry research and the exclusion of independent science in the 2018 State of Forests Report, and is concerned that the report appears to be an effort to lay the ground for the burning of forests for electricity.

Case study 5.2 ‘carbon dynamics of managed native forests in Australia’ concludes that removing logging does not reduce carbon emissions from forests, and that replacing fossil fuels with wood for electricity generation can help tackle climate change. Both claims are highly contested domestically and internationally.

“We are very concerned that the report uses a single industry report as its entire basis of claim, while ignoring multiple pieces1-9 of independent research that come to a very different conclusion”, said NPA’s Senior Ecologist, Dr Oisín Sweeney.

“It is irresponsible of our government agencies to not, at the very least, attempt to discuss why industry findings are so fundamentally different from academia. This is at best cavalier and at worst negligent at a time when the impacts of global warming are becoming alarmingly apparent.”

The NSW Department of Industry has previously called for the burning of native forest ‘residues’ for electricity, and this report repeats that call.

“The devil is in the detail”, Dr Sweeney said.

“Pulplogs [smaller-diameter logs unsuitable for milling for long-lived timber] are eligible for renewable energy in NSW and nationally under the Renewable Energy Target. These are not residues, they are young trees that will store huge amounts of carbon if left to grow old10,11.

“Lessons from overseas demonstrate that if you go down this road, the huge ongoing demand for large quantities of timber on an ongoing basis drives deforestation. This is occurring in Europe, North America and Russia.

“Worse, scientists have warned that permitting felled trees to be burned will accelerate climate change, and more and more research shows that burning forests is bad for global warming8,12 – not to mention human health via air pollution13.

“Australia has abundant renewable energy sources. We must choose genuine renewables and leave our forests to get old so they can do what they do best: provide homes for wildlife, clean water for humans and store carbon,” Dr Sweeney concluded.


Media contact: Oisín Sweeney 


1 Keith, H. et al. Managing temperate forests for carbon storage: impacts of logging versus forest protection on carbon stocks. Ecosphere 5, art75, doi:10.1890/ES14-00051.1 (2014).

2 Keith, H., Mackey, B. G. & Lindenmayer, D. B. Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world’s most carbon-dense forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 11635-11640, doi:10.1073/pnas.0901970106 (2009).

3 Keith, H., Vardon, M., Stein, J. A., Stein, J. L. & Lindenmayer, D. Ecosystem accounts define explicit and spatial trade-offs for managing natural resources. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, 1683-1692, doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0309-1 (2017).

4 Keith, H., Vardon, M., Stein, J. A. & Lindenmayer, D. Contribution of native forests to climate change mitigation – A common approach to carbon accounting that aligns results from environmental-economic accounting with rules for emissions reduction. Environmental Science & Policy, doi: (2018).

5 Macintosh, A., Keith, H. & Lindenmayer, D. Rethinking forest carbon assessments to account for policy institutions. Nature Climate Change 5, 946-949, doi: (2015).

6 Moomaw, W. R. Climate Policy Brief No. 7: EU bioenergy policies will increase carbon dioxide concentrations, <> (2018).

7 Fanous, J. & Moomaw, W. R. Climate Policy Brief No. 8: A critical look at forest bioenergy: exposing a high carbon “climate solution”, <> (2018).

8 Brack, D. The impacts of the demand for woody biomass for power and heat on climate and forests, <> (2017).

9 Roxburgh, S. H., Wood, S. W., Mackey, B. G., Woldendorp, G. & Gibbons, P. Assessing the carbon sequestration potential of managed forests: a case study from temperate Australia. Journal of Applied Ecology 43, 1149-1159, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2006.01221.x (2006).

10 Stephenson, N. L. et al. Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size. Nature 507, 90, doi:10.1038/nature12914; (2014).

11 Dean, C., Fitzgerald, N. B. & Wardell-Johnson, G. W. Pre-logging carbon accounts in old-growth forests, via allometry: An example of mixed-forest in Tasmania, Australia. Plant Biosystems – An International Journal Dealing with all Aspects of Plant Biology 146, 223-236, doi:10.1080/11263504.2011.638332 (2012).

12 Booth, M. S. Not carbon neutral: Assessing the net emissions impact of residues burned for bioenergy. Environmental Research Letters 13, 035001, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aaac88 (2018).

13 Fern. Burning biomass: the impact on European health, <> (2018).

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