International Day of Forests – March 21

In primary school, I remember writing a short story from the perspective of a young elephant, orphaned by the effects of logging and poaching on their forest habitat. At the time, rainforest destruction and the greenhouse effect were headline news, loud enough for a child to take them to heart.

Three decades have passed, and although the media hype has quietened, the trees are still falling.

On Monday (March 21), the world will mark the United Nations International Day of Forests. A good time, I thought, to spread our wings and take a forest flyover.

Covering 31 per cent of global land area, 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicine, fuel and food.

Figures differ widely but both the FAO Global Forest Resources Assessmentsand the Global Forest Watch concur that we are still losing tropical forest cover at a rate exceeding 7 million hectares per year - an area of forest clearing the size of Sri Lanka each year - contributing to around 12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The biggest losses are in tropical Latin America, with tropical Asia showing the second largest increase in deforestation by year, led by countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Much of the forest loss is due to commercial agriculture, in particular palm oil, beef products, soy, and paper and pulp. That’s why in 2010 the board of the Consumer Goods Forum – an industry network of some 400 of the largest global retailers, manufacturers and service providers in the consumer industry - approved a resolution to eliminate deforestation from those four commodity supply chains by 2020.

What about closer to home?

About 70 per cent of the eastern forests of Australia have already been cleared or disturbed, with just 18 per cent of the area under any sort of protection. Australia’s forestry loss has primarily been caused by land clearing for livestock, with unsustainable logging and mining also blamed for tree felling.

As reported in the Guardian last year, Eastern Australia is one of the world’s 11 deforestation hotspots that together will account for 80 pre cent of global forest loss by 2030.

Between 3million and 6 million hectares of rainforest and temperate forest, mainly stretching across New South Wales and Queensland, could be lost between 2010 and 2030 on current trends, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Forests report.

Another sobering reportreleased last year by The Wilderness Society shows that rates of landclearing are on the rise - 300,000 hectares of Queensland’s woodlands disappearing in 2014 compared to 70,000 hectares in 2010 – due to a relaxation in landclearing laws by the state government.

In an almost comical cycle, the Federal Government is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to buy back tree-clearing permits in order to meet the emissions reduction scheme targets, while at the same time the states are issuing more permits to clear, which means more emissions.

So with this picture in mind, what can we do to celebrate and protect our remaining forest estate?

Plant a tree, donate to an organization protecting forests, buy post consumer recycled paper, send an email to your local MP in favour of forest protection, and of course take a walk in one of our magnificent national parks and enjoy the forests that remain.