Thanks to the reduction of logging in old-growth forests and pulpwood production, the Australian state of Tasmania has gone negative carbon. 

Tasmania has become one of the first places in the world to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net carbon negative emissions by cutting down logging activities, according to new research. 

To date, only two countries have successfully gone carbon negative: Bhutan and Suriname. But according to a new scientific study published in the Environmental Research Letters by Griffith University’s Professor Brendan Mackey and Australian National University’s Professor David Lindenmeyer, the island state in Australia can also claim the rare achievement due to the drastic change in forest management in 2011/12. 

During that time, two Australian environmentalist millionaires, Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron bought the then world’s largest woodchip mill to only shut it down. The closure of Triabunna Mill as well as the decommission of wood chipping and paper pulp exports led to a massive drop in logging for pulpwood production in the state’s native forests. As a result, Tasmania now absorbs and stores more carbon dioxide than it emits. 

“It’s a remarkable achievement for Tasmania to be net carbon negative,” said Professor David Lindenmayer, co-author of the paper. “We hear a lot about carbon neutral but not carbon negative. This is one of the first times on the planet that anybody has ever done this kind of reversal.”

Unlike mainland Australia, Tasmania already has a low emission profile as the state relies mostly on hydroelectric power. Its primary source of greenhouse gas emission comes from logging of old-growth forests, where significant amounts of carbon dioxide is released when they’re cut down. Forests are also important carbon sinks in the world; deforestation reduces forest’s ability to absorb and sequester carbon, and help alleviate the impacts of climate change. 

The paper studied Tasmania’s emissions inventories over the past decade and discovered the state had gone from being a net emitter of around 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, to a net sink of around the same amount. The researchers then compared the data with state forest land, and made the connection. 

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The authors say that forest management is a key component in climate action, and that other states and territories should adopt similar strategies to help meet Paris Agreement goals. This is especially the case for old-growth logging industries in New South Wales and Victoria, the latter of which emits the equivalent of 730,000 vehicles every year from logging native forests, according to the state government. 

“Most of the climate discussions so far have been based on reducing emissions, but that is only part of the equation. We need to store a lot more carbon in the environment,” said Lindenmayer.

The experts suggest that tree farms or plantations could be enough to satisfy the demand for timber without increasing the emissions, but it is vital that “we protect and enhance natural forest ecosystem carbon stocks and that the mitigation benefits of forest protection are properly accounted for.”

Mackey added: “There is a real need to look at the true economic value of our natural assets and the value from protecting natural forests as national carbon reserves. This contributes way more economically than logging them for wood chips and other commodities.”

EO’s Position: We need to stop and reverse deforestation as soon as possible for a chance to stay under the 1.5C limit of global temperature rise to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Forests are one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks and one of our best allies in the fight against global warming. Tasmania has shown that carbon neutrality and even carbon negative is possible by drastically reducing logging. With sustainable forest management and  regulation, we can restore our forests and cut down greenhouse gas emissions.