THE native hardwood industry and tree plantations play a key role in fighting climate change through sequestering carbon dioxide both as they grow and then regrow after harvesting, the federal Minister for Forestry, the Hon Murray Watt, told an international conference in Sydney recently.

Senator Watt also highlighted the importance of sustainable forestry for green construction and the emerging bio-circular economy during a speech to the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) Marketplace.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation event was co-hosted by the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA).

Senator Watt said a key objective of Australia’s collective regional engagement was forestry’s role in tackling climate change.

“Australia realises that the contribution of forests to global climate action needs to be accelerated,” he said.

“Australia has a total of 134 million hectares of forests, with 87 per cent of that harvested from softwood and hardwood plantation estates. Our native forests continue to play an important role in meeting our nation’s timber needs, as well as supporting our carbon sequestration aims.”

Senator Watt said Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory reported that overall production of native forests contributed a net carbon sink of 39 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020, with “sequestration from regrowth exceeding emissions from harvesting”.

“The role of forests as carbon sinks and forest products as carbon-storing alternatives to emissions-intensive materials, needs sustained effort to be realised,” he said.

“Within Australia we have strong uptake of carbon projects that are receiving credit for conserving and expanding our forest area, which I’m proud to say is increasing steadily. But we want to build on this further and expand globally.

“That is why we became a founding member of the Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership last year.”

Senator Watt said under the partnership, Australia was engaging intently to realise the potential for forest products as climate-solutions in green construction and the emerging bio-circular economy.

“This event allows us all to come together to discuss the current challenges our forestry industry faces and build pathways to a more sustainable and prosperous future,” he said.

“International cooperation is vital to this future. Our collective efforts are central to responding to climate change, improving trade, growing our natural environment, and securing our future wood supply.

“The Asia-Pacific has the fastest growing demand for sustainable wood products globally, so it’s particularly important this group gathers here for dialogue on these topics.”

Senator Watt said the federal government supported a sustainable forestry sector and its highly skilled jobs. The government’s forest management practices – high standards for environmental management and sustainable harvesting – underpinned its strong emission targets.

“Australia’s forest industry supports over 51,000 direct jobs and is worth nearly $2.3 billion annually,” he said.

“The government is delivering a record $300 million in measures to the forestry sector that will support the expansion of the plantation estate, modernising our timber manufacturing and build forestry workforce skills.

“These measures include accelerating innovation in wood processing, supporting the establishment of 36,000 hectares of new plantations and the development of National Institute for Forest Products Innovation.”

Senator Watt said Australia was investing in a forestry workforce training program and improving its surveillance to combat illegally logged imports, through timber testing and e-declarations.

“We have also committed to reviewing and updating, with our states and territory colleagues, the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement to ensure it is contemporary and fit for purpose,” he said.

“The statement outlines agreed objectives and policies for the future of Australia’s public and private forests.”