Tokyo 2020 Olympics at what cost?

Japan marks the 50th  anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games with grand festivities. The hosting of the games brought prestige and national pride — a benchmark of economic development following the World War II.

This year’s grand event, however, is marred with controversies. Conservation groups accused the Olympic committee of causing forest destruction in the province of Sarawak, Malaysia where the timber used to construct Olympic venues are sourced out by a giant logging company, Shin Yang.

Last month, about 47 civil society organisations asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 Olympic authorities to stop exploiting tropical forests and violating human rights in the construction and implementation of the games. The groups are calling for full transparency and to end the use of rainforest wood to construct Olympic facilities, including the new National Olympic Stadium.

But the appeal does not stop the construction of venues.

Amid the games’ golden anniversary, Malaysia’s indigenous leader appealed to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Matu Tugang, head of the Indigenous Penan community of Long Jaik from Sarawak, asked Abe to help stop Japan’s use of controversial wood from Shin Yang.

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The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee during a ceremony on Oct 10 to celebrate the 50th year since the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 1964 Games.

NGOs gathered evidence at the construction site in April which confirmed the use of plywood supplied by Shin Yang. The company has been allegedly logging in the area of Long Jaik for almost two decades and has previously been implicated in illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and human rights abuses.

The community of Long Jaik has been fighting with blockades to protect their forests against Shin Yang’s logging and conversion to oil palm plantations. The community has also an ongoing lawsuit against Shin Yang for violating their customary rights.

In a last attempt to save their remaining forests, the headman is turning to Shin Yang’s buyers in Japan and asking Abe to intervene.

SEE ALSO: Japan’s bid to go smoke-free for 2020 Olympics faces strong resistance

In the letter, headman Tugang said Shin Yang had destructive logging practices and the company disregarded community’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Tugang accused Shin Yang to have been logging aggressively in their village.

“When their tractors extract a log, they just bulldoze everything around… Shin Yang has been logging our ancestral forests without our permission or consent. They have never asked us for our opinion or needs,” Tugang said.

 Olympic Committee non-adherence to environmental practices

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) promised to adopt environmentally sound practices and to contribute to global environmental protection through continual efforts to improve its environmental management system.

In its action agenda, it aimed to support green products when making purchases, to obey environmental laws and guidelines, and to promote internal environmental educational initiatives to ensure that all JOC staff fully understand.

The basic principles for sustainable sourcing are shown giving utmost importance on how products and services are supplied, the origins of products and services and the resources from which they are made, compliance with the sourcing code throughout the supply chains, and the effective use of resources.

Olympic Committee Criticized

However, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Olympic authorities have been the subject of relentless criticism from an international coalition of civil society organisations critical of Tokyo 2020’s poor timber sourcing standards and lack of transparency in their timber supply chain. Despite repeated demands to disclose the origin of the timber in use for the Olympics and to end the use of Shin Yang wood and other

Despite repeated demands to disclose the origin of the timber in use for the Olympics and to end the use of Shin Yang wood and other high-risk timber, authorities have failed to respond to NGO concerns.

NGOs civic action against Tokyo for lack of transparency

Last month, about 47 civil society organisations have asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 Olympic authorities to stop exploit tropical forests.

At the IOC Executive Board Meeting in Lima, Peru, the groups sent a letter reiterating grave and mounting concerns about the legitimacy and accountability of IOC’s sustainability commitments and the reputation and credibility of the Olympic games.

Hana Heineken of Rainforest Action Network, along with other NGOs, said the Tokyo Olympic authorities are not transparent about the use of massive volumes of tropical wood to construct the new National Olympic Stadium.

SEE ALSO: JJapan: 2020 Olympics brings baseball event to recovering Fukushima

They claim that the IOC’s failure to address the obvious risk of unsustainability is a clear breach of its own commitment to “include sustainability in all aspects of the Olympic Games.”

In particular, they point to a major loophole in the Tokyo 2020 procurement policy that allows wood used for concrete formwork to be exempted from the policy’s environmental, labour and human rights requirements, despite the majority of this type of wood in Japan coming from the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia where problems of illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and land rights violations persist.

Tokyo Olympics 2020 and economic powerhouse

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Japanese torchbearers with the 1964 Olympic flame relay team run through the rain on their way to the Olympic Stadium in October 1964 in Tokyo, Japan. (Pic: AP)

The Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964 gave Japan a chance to present itself to the world as a friendly, tech leader redeeming itself from the transgressions of war. Japan will host the prestigious event for the fourth time in 2020, another opportunity for Tokyo to showcase the innovation of new technologies.

Tokyo’s organizing committee chief executive Toshiro Muto said plans were underway to show off high-tech features like hydrogen-powered vehicles for athlete transportation and smartphone tools to aid tourists. “We have the potential to make this Olympic Games wonderful that the people of the world are going to admire.”

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The Japanese government will showcase hydrogen fuel-cell technology to the world in 2020. Source: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Japan Sport Council

Many redevelopment projects are underway in central Tokyo and elsewhere, as the capital prepares to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, the games will not go without mention of the environmental impacts.

In the construction of venues and other facilities, there is a shortage of wood. Hard tropical plywood is essential to making concrete formwork. Even though the quality of formwork plywood made from Japan-grown trees is improving, it is not enough to fully compensate for reduced shipments from Malaysia.

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[Book Review] Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia

Image via Amazon.

‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ by Lukas Straumann is a controversial book that uncovers the modus operandi of a multi-billion timber industry accused of wiping out the ancient rainforests of Sarawak, home of the last nomadic tribes of Southeast Asia in the heart of Borneo, Malaysia.

It argues two major points: first, the violations of  indigenous people’s rights, including plunder of their source of subsistence; and second, fraud and deceit spawned into the global financial system perpetrated by logging barons.

Straumann calls for the prosecution of criminals who are responsible for the destruction of pristine rainforests, displacement of people, and death of indigenous cultures. It invites a course of action to salvage the remaining forests in Borneo. The book raises questions such as: Is here a hope and redemption for the indigenous people? What lies ahead in this ravaged wilderness? Is palm oil or 12 mega-dams the answer to bail out communities from poverty? What are the implications of this crime for the rest of humanity?

The book also questions the credibility of judicial systems, the police, the FBI, the United Nations’ agencies, Interpol, and other international watchdogs mandated to protect human rights, stop corruption, and to ensure environmental sustainability.

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), like other NGOs, works for social and environmental causes. BMF has exerted all means to seek justice for the rainforests, the Penans, and the victims of reprisal. However, Straumann is far from optimistic.

The book dissects the system of corruption and environmental crime that befell Sarawak. A model that examines the intricate details of its mechanism, it leads to the understanding of the system that spreads throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and beyond. It identifies who’s who in the business and the flow of bribe money, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Sarawak is the epicentre of environmental disaster with a trail of destruction intruding and expanding into Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and other territories. To know Sarawak is to know what happened in the other countries, perpetuated by the same logging companies.

Fingers are pointed at the Rolls Royce-driving prominent statesman Abdul Taib Mahmud: “The Most Honourable Chief Minister of Sarawak.” He rose to power in 1986 with the help of his uncle and ruled for three decades. While in office, he allegedly amassed assets totalling US$15 billion. He heads a business empire scattered all over the world and shared among family members. His real estate portfolio is scattered throughout Ottawa, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Adelaide, Hong Kong and Malaysia. He forged global connections with logging barons, financial kingpins, and corrupt politicians in countries where timber is ready for disposal.

The Timber Industry

The book unravels how the timber trade works with the same principles throughout Asia. Logging companies have to pay hefty bribes in exchange for logging concessions. This is especially true in less developed countries where corruption is rife. Bribe money also allows loggers to cut trees beyond agreed limits.

Straumann identifies the movement of timber from its origin to export destinations. Along with it is the flow of more bribe money to “grease” the export processes. Overseas, money is laundered via financial conduits and using various cronies as fronts.

Straumann names the major logging companies, the “Dirty 6” including Samling Group, Rimbunan Hijau, WTK Group, Ta Ann Group, KTS Group, and Shin Yang Group — all related to Taib’s clan and associates. Major markets include Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, to name a few.

The forest of Sarawak alone is given to four logging companies, all involved in clearing 18 million hectares of forests around the world and transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Loggers operate in poor and vulnerable countries, while real estate and related businesses are invested in more developed countries.

In the book, Tasmania demonstrated its power to stop bulldozers from clearing the wilderness. An activist became a media sensation when she climbed a 60-meter-high eucalyptus tree which she named the “Observer Tree” and sat there for 449 days to deter the Ta Ann Group.

Taib probably cannot betray his Colombo Plan benefactor. He got his law degree from Adelaide University, a beneficiary of Australia’s post-war scholarship. He later made donations amounting to $7 million to the university’s Centre for Environmental Law and in return he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2008, a courtyard was named after him.

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

 

Brazilians were also up in arms against logging into the Amazon rainforest and, so far, they have succeeded driving out the timber mafia.

Other regions, however, are not as lucky as Tasmania or Brazil and they can be exploited anytime at Taib’s whim, the book suggests.

Bullying Tactics

Opposition to the logging brings repercussions. Ross Boyert, an insider who tipped off Straumann on the inside operation, faced the consequence of backflipping. Boyert filed a legal suit against Taib including breach of contract, fraud, and infringement of labor laws. Boyert also attempted to expose Taib’s properties overseas with proxy ownership among his kin. As a result, he was stalked, bullied, and psychologically tortured before he committed suicide.

Bruno Manser, the founder of BMF, is one of the most vocal activists that speak for the Penans. He explored Borneo and lived in the rainforests with the indigenous people. He has been on the watch list of Taib and was warned not to go back to Sarawak. He defied warnings, went back, and in 2000, he disappeared in the forest without a trace. In 2005, BMF officially announced he is presumed dead.

Penan activists were not spared. Harrison Ngua, for example, who was working for Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an environmental and human rights organization, was jailed for months while he was blindfolded and interrogated.

Hope for the Rainforest

The rainforest of Sarawak is one of the ancient rainforests explored by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a contemporary of Charles Darwin. It contains some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet.  It has been a home of the nomads for many generations —until the loggers came.

Straumann describes the helplessness of the Penans as they watched from the sidelines heavy machinery cleared the rainforests. The last “noble savages” of Southeast Asia were robbed in a broad daylight –  right before their eyes.

As of writing and publication of the book, Straumann has suggested the removal of Taib  from power. But even so, what is done cannot be undone.

It could be said that the logging industry does not monopolize environmental destruction, but Sarawak is symptomatic of a bigger issue of our time. The coal, seam gas, rare earths, and other resources industries have been drilling and extracting to satisfy insatiable greed for profits. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Arctic in the North Pole, and the Pacific Ocean’s bed are but few other examples where multinational companies are destroying the environment. Grassroots around the world are now standing in the gap to pressure governments and banking institutions to stop the madness once and for all.

James Lovelock came up with Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the planet is a  self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep itself healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. He likens the planet to a nurturing mother capable of renewal and regeneration. But with the scale, magnitude, and pace of destruction, scientists predict a bleak future. Humans have been destroying the planet’s life-support system beyond its capacity to regenerate.

Australia’s leading scientist, Tim Flannery, in his book ‘Here on Earth’ (2010), pleads a cause for planetary justice. He argues there is a new awakening of humanity that can give hope to the survival of the planet.  He suggests people need compassion and to care more than ever before.

Straumann, however, grapples for a solution. Perhaps, the motto of the White Rajahs for the original inhabitants of Borneo would somehow help: “Dum spiro spero (As long as I breath, I hope) — for what dies last is the hope for justice and a better future.”

The Malaysian government wanted this book banned. Taib already lodged a full probe into its allegations. Straumann, nonetheless, is unfazed.

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* Some of the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s

The print and Kindle editions of ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ can be bought on Amazon.com

Australian university urged to sever ties with Sarawak’s elite

More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak.  (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak. (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

A top conservation group based in Tasmania is urging the University of Adelaide to dissociate itself from the ruling elite of Sarawak after a book exposed the corruption behind the destruction of tropical rainforests of Sarawak in the province of Borneo, Malaysia.

Details of the alleged crimes and the ruling elite’s link to government, financial institutions, and business tycoons are exposed in the book, Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, written by human rights activist-environmentalist  Lukas Straumann, who is also executive director of the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF). Launched last year,  a copy has already been sent to the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Warren Bebbington.

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‘Money Logging’ investigates the corruption and the environmental destruction of Sarawak, the author explained. It provides details how the Taib family became billionaires during the 33-year rule of their family head as Chief Minister. The book also investigates how Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud and his four children and his siblings amassed massive wealth. Taib is the ex-brother in law of current Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem.

The book claims that nearly 95 percent of Sarawak’s intact forest is already gone, prompting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to describe it as, “probably the biggest environmental crime in our times.”

The Malaysian government tried to block the release of the book, according to BMF, especially during the 50th session of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in Yokohama, Japan. The conservation group said the Malaysian delegation ordered the lock out BMF and thwarted publicity of the book in the conference foyer.  ITTO council chairman Rob Busnik confirmed the Malaysian delegation had orders “from the highest levels of government in Kuala Lumpur” to stop the presentation of the book.

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak's tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak’s tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

In Australia, the book alarmed Adelaide University which has a relationship with Taib’s group. Professor Bebbington said that the university had refused a request made by Taib to attend its 140th Anniversary Gala Dinner last year.

Jenny Weber, the Bob Brown Foundation’s campaign manager and long-time campaigner in solidarity with Sarawak’s indigenous peoples, called for swift action from Adelaide University’s Estates Committee to abandon association with Taib Mahmud.

Weber said  the university needs to sever its association with Taib Mahmud’s name off the university’s court, adding that Staumanns’ book has provided compelling evidence condemning Taib Mahmud’s ruling elite and their corrupt behaviour. Weber continued that the book is further proof that Taib Mahmud is not an individual that an Australian university should associate with.

The BMF is also calling on to the Australian politicians in the Federal and Tasmanian Parliaments to review relationships with Ta-Ann, a company mentioned in the book. According to Weber, the Australian government has provided public monies of AUS$50m to one of the six most evil logging companies named in Straumann’s book.

The university’s students group Say No To Taib Court at Adelaide University is joining the call to pressure the university to sever the association.

The BMF has long been one of the most vocal environmental groups that has been fighting against the destruction of Sarawak’s rainforest. Straumann said the research for the book started in 2010 but the book itself draws on his experience as BMF director for 10 years.

“Most information is from public records, such as company registries in Malaysia, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. But I have also conducted a large number of interviews with indigenous representatives, lawyers, NGO campaigners, politicians and business people,” Straumann said in an interview.

Straumann said that most of the information in the book has already been provided to relevant authorities, but the book would give the readers a better understanding of what has been happening and continues to happen in Sarawak.

Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Greens rally to save Tasmania’s world heritage

The Bob Brown Foundation gathered around 2,000 people today to help rally against removal of 74,000 hectares of forests from the World Heritage List in the Upper Florentine Valley in Tasmania. The area is part of the 170,000 hectares added into the highly protected area which was decided in Phnom Penh, Cambodia last year .

Australia’s current Government proposed the removal as it intends to use the area for logging. The proposal has been submitted to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and the decision will be announced around June 15-25 in Doha.

The Foundation said the area is largely intact with tall eucalyptus forests and karst region (underground cave formations) besides there are other significant geomorphological features and areas of significant Aboriginal heritage.

However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott reiterates his government’s mission, first and foremost, is to get back into business especially with the historic Free Trade Agreements (FTA) he recently signed with Japan and Korea, while FTA with China is also being worked out.

Noting his address to the 2014 Forest Works Dinner in Canberra last month, Prime Minister Tony Abbott  told the timber industry that his Government is working for the removal of the 74,000 hectares of forest from the heritage listing. He said,”One of the first acts of the incoming Government was to begin the process to try to get out of world heritage listing 74,000 hectares of country in Tasmania, because that 74,000 hectares is not pristine forest. It’s forest which has been logged, it’s forest which has been degraded, in some cases, it’s plantation timber that was actually planted to be logged.”

Abbott convinced timber investors that 74,000 hectares out of the world heritage listing will “still leave half of Tasmania protected forever.” He assured that his Government respects the timber industry and that it wants the timber industry to have a vigorous and dynamic future, “We want the timber industry to be a vital part of Australia’s economic future, not just something that was a relic of our history. That’s what this Government wants.”

The Bob Brown Foundation’s Campaign Manager Jenny Weber said, “Today’s outstanding turn out in the Upper Florentine forests clearly shows that Australians are very proud of their World Heritage forests. We are sending a strong message to UNESCO that we love our spectacular forests of outstanding universal value, and the Australian community will stand up to defend them.”
Rally speakers included Australian Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne, Markets for Change CEO Peg Putt, Still Wild Still Threatened’s Miranda Gibson and Home and Away actor Lisa Gormley.
Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

 

 

New Abbott gov’t heads for environmental disaster, expert warns

A day after Tony Abbott was elected as the new Prime Minister of Australia, conservation groups are already worrying about the future of environmental protection and sustainability in the country.

Under the new “management”, a term used by Abbott in his acceptance speech at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney, his government will put environmental issues on the back burner to get the business back on track.

Tony Abbott (top) won the 2013 federal election to become Australia's 28th prime minister beating Kevin Rudd who conceded defeat on Sept. 7.

Abbott won Saturday’s Federal Election to become Australia’s 28th prime minister, beating Kevin Rudd in an overwhelming victory.

In a reaction to his election, however, Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe from the School of Science, Griffith University said Australia’s newly elected government will be disastrous for the environment. He finds the Coalition Government’s policies on environment to be depressing, The Conversation reports.

Under the Liberal Party’s plan, Abbott will seek to abolish the carbon tax immediately, which he considers toxic and destructive for Australian businesses. The new PM also vowed to suspend the operation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Citing New South Wales as an example of bad business affected by carbon tax, Premiere Barry O’Farrell has made it clear that the state’s black coal-fired power stations will suffer a loss in value of at least $5 billion because of the carbon tax.

Abbott will also abolish the mining tax which he claims undermines investor confidence in Australia as an investment destination and as a secure “supplier of resources.” By scrapping the tax, the Coalition aims to “restore confidence, stability and security for the industry, allowing it to thrive, create jobs and contribute to the prosperity of all Australians.”

Green groups have been alarmed at the Coalition’s plan to implement a One-Stop-Shop Environmental Approvals Process. The process will cut green tape and will fast-track approvals of new mining and other projects. Once it gives  green light to the petition lodged by the Business Council of Australia, the Coalition will offer State and Territory governments the opportunity to act as a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals. The States and Territories would then administer a single approvals process including approvals under Commonwealth legislation such as the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Environment Defenders Office has already released a report that finds the One-Stop-Shop a process to streamline the process of environmental destruction. Read related article here.

Lowe said Abbott’s  proposal will turn the clock back 30 years on environmental protection.

“Since the Hawke government blocked the proposed Franklin Dam, successive governments – ALP and Coalition – have curbed the worst excesses of growth-oriented states, which are prepared to approve irresponsible developments. Even our National Parks are no longer safe,” he said.

Other plans in the Coalition pipeline include a go for mineral exploration activities; agricultural land exploration for seam coal gas; approval of uranium exports to India; examination of the potential of thorium as an energy source for export; and a review of the former government’s White Paper on energy and resources, among other things.

Relevant links to the new government’s policies are here, including resources and energy plans.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent’s Green Journal

Regional forest laws a dismal failure, report says

Australia’s Federal government has failed to protect State and regional forests aggravating the risks faced by endangered species and iconic trees, a report released today said.

The Environment Defenders Office (EDO) released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without Federal laws supporting them.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) said the report reveals environmental protection standards under state governments are far lower than under federal laws “and is a sombre warning for the fate of Australia’s wild places if plans to hand over federal environment powers are enacted.”

FOE Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said  the ‘One Stop Chop’ shows that “contracting forest management out to state governments is systematically failing our threatened species and iconic forests” adding that “Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the living example of what transferring federal environment powers to the states  would look like for our environment.”

As a result of the federal government’s oversight, forests have suffered, along with threatened species like Victoria’s critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, Walker said.

The report has sought to address the fundamental question whether the State and regional forestry laws have delivered equivalent environment protection standards to those likely to be achieved if the Federal laws have been applied directly to forestry operations in States and regional areas.

The Federal law is embodied in The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (EPBC Act). It  is the federal government’s key piece of environmental legislation which took effect 16 July 2000– while the State and regional forestry laws are embodied in the RTAs.

Photo: MyEnvironmentInc

‘One Stop Chop’ focuses on biodiversity, particularly those threatened species which are matters of national environmental significance.

The overall finding, however, shows that RTAs never delivered the benefits claimed for them “for a mix of political, economic, cultural and legal reasons.”

From a legal perspective, the main reason the RFAs have failed is that the States do not take the regulatory and legal actions required to adequately protect matters of national significance. The failure is fundamental to the concept of the RFAs and of devolving control of matters of national environmental significance from the Commonwealth to the States.

The EPBC Act provides guidelines to the conservation and protection of nine matters of national environmental significance (MNES). These include world heritage properties, national heritage places, wetlands of international importance, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, nuclear actions (including uranium mining), water resource in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.

The RFAs have different focus. They are 20-year plans for the conservation and sustainable management of Australia’s native forests. The Federal and State governments signed the 10 RFAs between 1997 and 2001. These 10 are already put in place in four States including Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The Agreements provide certainty for forest-based industries, forest-dependent communities and conservation.

The RFAs sets the guidelines, tasks and responsibilities for sustainable forest management; and they are ongoing. The forest debate ranges over a variety of topics, including regeneration and regrowth forest,  old-growth forests,  woodchips, management on and off reserves, private land, plantations, fire, forest operations and regulations, other land uses, and endangered, threatened, vulnerable and rare species and ecological communities.

Last year, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to reform environmental laws that seek to give States an autonomy over local environmental laws. The One Stop Chop report, however, opposes the prospect.

Relevant Links:

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water,  Population, and Communities

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Tasmanian forests won UN world heritage listing

A grand celebration is happening in Tasmania.

Conservation groups have fought for years for the protection of old-growth forests around the Tasmanian Wilderness. Finally, the UN World Heritage Committee  approved the extension of the state’s forest into its World Heritage List. About 170,000 hectares were added into the highly protected area.

The fight for the southern forests take over a decade until the UN’s decision on June 24. (Photo: Still Wild Still Threatened)

The decision was passed in a meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia June 24.  The 21-nation committee unanimously accepted the nomination. Committee members Germany, Malaysia, India, Serbia, Albania and Estonia all spoke in strong support of the extension, the Habitat Advocate notes.

Although an advisory body earlier recommended to refer the case back to Australia for more work on the extension’s cultural values, the nomination went ahead. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature had been making repeated recommendations in support of protecting these forests.

The announcement protects outstanding forests such as Styx, Weld and Upper Florentine Valleys and on the flanks of the Great Western Tiers, while the extension covers forests from Cockle Creek to Cradle Mountain. See map here.

The UN’s decision means thousands of hectares of contiguous tall eucalyptus wild forests, endangered species habitat, wild rivers and ancient karst systems have finally had their globally significant values recognised.

Tasmanian forest on fire. (Photo: HVEC)

Jenny Weber, campaigner of the Huon Valley Environment Centre’s said this is the first time HVEC has witnessed the protection of forests after 11 years of campaigning for the globally significant forests of the Weld, Middle Huon and wild forests in the Esperance and Far South. “We have achieved an awesome milestone here as an environmental NGO,” she notes.

“This is truly the people’s achievement. For decades people have struggled to protect these particular forests and finally we can say, despite shortsighted and wasteful governments, inept land resource management and failed efforts to undermine and marginalise conservationists, we did it!” Weber said.

Vica Bayley, spokesperson for The Wilderness Society (WS) also welcomes the decision and congratulates “each and every person who has participated in the campaign to see these areas protected over the decades of struggle and advocacy.”

Styx Valley, Tasmania (Photo: Supplied)

The eNGOs acknowledged the work of the Australian and Tasmanian Governments and the signatories to the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, Bayley said.

Dr Phill Pullinger of the WS also said the decision delivers a critical element of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and a durable and tangible conservation outcome on the ground adding, “The support and follow through by all parties involved in the Forest Agreement has been very welcome and critical in the success of this nomination. It demonstrates the Agreement can work and is a viable way to protect forests.”

Tree Activists Miranda Gibson became an instant celebrity when she climbed a tree in December 2011 and vowed not to come down until the threatened forest is protected.

Miranda Gibson grabs media spotlight for her tree vigil. (Photo: Bob Brown)

Today, Gibson celebrates the victory.

“On December 14th 2011 I climbed to the top of a tree in a threatened forest and said I would stay until the forest was protected. That forest is now World Heritage. It is thanks to the support from people right around the world that the forest is still standing and is now protected.”

“For 14 months I watched over the forest every day with the hope that we, as a community, could defend those trees for future generations. Today, for that forest, we have achieved that” said Gibson.

Read more of Gibson’s statement here.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland’s Newman declares “war” on native forests

What’s hot this week? Here’s to re-post Queensland’s new forest controversy:

The South East region of Queensland is home to a vast reserve of native forest providing a sanctuary for various kinds of flora and fauna. It is a bioregion known for its significant number of rare, threatened, and endemic species– the highest numbers of all regions assessed around Australia under the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process.

QLD Premiere Campbell Newman (Photo: SBS)

The Queensland State Government has been highly commended for its conservation efforts marked by the historic South East Queensland (SEQ) Forestry Agreement signed  in 1999 to stop logging in protected areas. The pact protects an additional 425,000 hectares in the conservation reserve system. It also envisions that all logging activities on native forest on public land will cease by 2024. Within 25 years, the area of forest reserved in SEQ is expected to be more than one million hectares.

There has been a ceasefire from forest wars over the past 14 years. The forest remains undisturbed by commercial activities– until recently the Campbell Newman government stirred the hornet’s nest.
This week, conservationists uncovered a clandestine document (credits to Indymedia.org.au) signed by Agriculture Minister John Mc Veigh to re-open the protected areas for logging.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters warns logging will destroy koala habitat. (Photo: SMH)

Greens Senator Larissa Waters lambasted a leaked letter from Agriculture Department Director-General Jack Noye to National Parks Department Director-General John Glaister that says Agriculture Minister John McVeigh has approved the logging. The letter also notes that the proposed logging would be conducted without Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service approval for codes or harvest plans.

Green peace is under threat and if logging resumes, it will affect southeast Queensland, the western hardwoods area, cypress regions in the west, central Queensland and north Queensland—all habitats of threatened species.

The Glossy Black Cockatoo is now listed as “vulnerable” in SEQ. (Photo: Supplied)

A report from Daniel Burdon both published in the Sunshine Coast Daily and Gympie Times said McVeigh had offered new 25-year contracts to 14 licensed timber companies to log cypress forests across state forests in southern and central Queensland.

Rod McInnes, Timber Queensland CEO (sic), said the renewal of the sales permits was essentially guaranteeing a longer contract for companies which already have an allocated licence to log such areas.

“Anyone who’s already got a Crown Wood Allocation now simply has a 25-year sale guarantee for their allocation,” he said.

“That doesn’t actually change how much timber is logged in the cypress forests each year, just how long the contracts are.

“What I’d be expecting in the next few years, are that rather than each of the 14 companies keeping their contracts, they might sell them now they are long-term, and four or five bigger commercial operators will take those allocations on, through amalgamations.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters blasted Queensland Premier Campbell Newman for orchestrating the move which she said was tantamount to initiating forest destruction. She noted the forests as an important habitat for vanishing species.

A survey of endangered species in the SEQ bioregion

Wilderness Society denounces the move

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders denounced the move saying, “This is a short-sighted and counterproductive decision by the Queensland Government that undermines past agreements between conservation groups and the timber industry.”

He called on the Newman Government to stop sending chainsaws into up to two million hectares of high conservation value forests throughout Queensland.

A timber industry spokesperson said the forest was used to be harvested for sustainable logging and shutting it down all these years had hurt badly the timber industry. The spokesperson added that the state needs to create more jobs.

The Wilderness Society said, “Timber imports and the high dollar are challenging enough for the industry without stoking a conflict that was resolved a decade ago.

“If logging occurs in these areas, Queensland timber will become synonymous with forest destruction. The market has little taste for wood sourced from native forest destruction, and the Queensland timber industry will lose markets.

“We understand access to existing hardwood plantations is a key issue. The Wilderness Society will work with key stakeholders, including SEQFA signatory Timber Queensland, to convince the Queensland Government to abandon this foolhardy path.”

Houn Valley Environment Centre decries forest destruction

Green activists denounces Ta Ann’s involvement in “forest destruction. (Photo: The Observer Tree)

Meanwhile, the Houn Valley Environment Centre continues to decry Tasmania’s “forest destruction.” The Centre expressed fears over the State Government’s permission to allow logging operations in a World Heritage nominated site to supply wood exports. The Centre has been contentious about the logging operation of Forestry Tasmania who supplies wood to Malaysian-based Ta Ann Group.

Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber said, “Ta Ann asserting that they won’t receive timber from the World Heritage nominated forests is one thing, but a commitment by Forestry Tasmania that they will not deliver wood from these coupes has not been officially announced. Until the guarantee that the timber from the proposed logging areas in the Huon district is given by Forestry Tasmania, the assertion by Ta Ann cannot be verified.”

Weber claimed Ta Ann had previously admitted that they have to take what Forestry Tasmania supplies them regardless where the wood products were sourced out.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Tarkine Wilderness begs Govt protection

What’s the fuss about Tarkine?

“Here, some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world are being logged for woodchips — irreplaceable virgin forests converted into toilet paper.” – The Green Left

Discover the hidden treasures of the Tarkine (Photo: Carol Haberie/Tarkine Wilderness of Tasmania)

This is one of the uncomfortable truths about the current state of the Tarkine, one of the last remaining pristine wilderness of Tasmania and claimed to be disturbed by logging and open cut mining operators.

Tarkine could be an unfamiliar destination to most intrepid travelers, but to those who know this place by heart, Tarkine can match the beauty and historical significance of iconic spots such as the Ayers Rock (Uluru), Sydney Opera House, or Bondi Beach.

The Tarkine is the largest wilderness in the north-west region of Tasmania sprawling over 477,000 hectares. It is dominated by pristine rainforests with dramatic view of wild rivers, deep gorges, and waterfalls. About 70 percent of the total area is rainforest, 90 percent of which is regarded as old-growth forest.

Arthur River rainforest in the Tarkine (Photo: Tarkine.org)

The Tarkine is considered by conservationists as one of world’s oldest rainforests. It hidden treasures contain relics from the ancient super-continent, Gondwanaland. It is home to more than 60 rare species. Unique animals include the Giant Freshwater Lobster – the world’s largest freshwater crustacean; the Tasmanian Wedge Tailed Eagle – Australia’s largest Eagle; and the famous Tasmanian Devil.

However, environmental groups lament its lack of government protection. Increased commercial activities in area are claimed have posed a serious threat to various species, some of which are now considered endangered.

Green groups believe Tarkine should be given equal importance like other great Australian landmarks. As such, Tarkine has been pushed for listing in the World Heritage Site. But its listing faces no paved road – hampered by the Government’s dilemma between conservation and economic pursuits.

The fact is both the Federal and State governments do not think Tarkine should be listed.

The Tasmanian Devil is one of the species under threat.

The Federal Government said it has enough protection while the Tasmanian State Government said logging and mining will create and sustain jobs and livelihood.

Early on, The Mercury reported the State Government supports mining ahead of the environment in a submission to the Federal Government on whether the Tarkine Wilderness Area should be protected by national heritage laws.

The report said Energy and Resources Minister Bryan Green admitted the State Government “desperately wanted to see lucrative projects such as the multi-million-dollar Mt Lindsay tin mine reach fruition.”

Dollars generated by mining can surpassed dairy, beef, and wine combined. The mining ventures of St Lindsay mine, for one, aims to target the world’s second-largest tin deposit that overlaps part of the Tarkine in the state’s North-West. It could generate up to $250 million annually, the report added.

Tasmania Priemiere Lara Giddings also admitted mining industry is a crucial source of income for the Government. The ABC reported she is adamant the Tarkine’s proposed listing should not compromise future mining operations.

She says low impact operations similar to MMG’s new Southern Hercules open cut mine at Rosebery can occur in the Tarkine without compromising the region’s environmental values.

“Mining is an essential part of the Tasmanian economy, it has a royalty benefit to the State Government which helps to contribute to our state budget as well, so we’re keen to see mining continue.”


Rare species inhabit the Tarkine (Photo: Discovertarkine.com)

The Age has traced back the history of the campaign to protect the Tarkine. It says it started from Tasmanian forests disputes way back the 1980s. Former Green Senator Bob Brown suggested the name “Tarkine” to honour the memory of the local indigenous Tarkiner people. The campaign was initially dubbed “For the Forests”. Since then frequent skirmishes over its protection have become common.

Ever since there has been skirmishing over its protection – no more so than in the case of the ”Road to Nowhere”. This 70-kilometre, north-south link road cutting across the wilderness’ western side took seven years to build – and was stopped and restarted by successive governments.

When the road opened in 1995, then Premier Ray Groom claimed it as proof the tide was turning against environmentalists. It remains little used.

Logging into the northern fringes of the Tarkine has a long history and has met few protests. Its most contentious timber is the rainforest myrtle – a deep-red cabinetmaker’s delight. Under the Howard government, 70,000 hectares of myrtle rainforest was reserved in 2005.

Guided tours are provided in the Tarkine (Photo:tarkinelodge.com)

The Tarkine Wilderness has been waiting for enlistment as a national park for the past three decades, but the Federal Government is delaying it for further consideration.   UK-based The Independent noted the Government is unconvinced of its listing while the the WWF, among with other Green groups have been watching for the development of  the Tarkine’s listing. View timeline here.

While the Tarkine awaits, the Tarkine National Coalition fears ten new mines will put up over the next five years.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Tasmanian senator visits Sarawak to support illegal logging?

It has been a quiet winter for Green advocacy, but here’s a media release from the Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC):

Penan man standing next to a Shin Yang Timber passing truck loaded with logs. (Photo: Greenpeace)

The HVEC has released a statement by Penan people in Sarawak, who names Ta Ann as the company leasing their land for logging without prior consent or knowledge by the indigenous Sarawakians.

The group has also exposed that Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has visited Sarawak in the past weeks, and travelled to the contested area with Ta Ann.

“Our organisation has released a letter fingerprinted by Penan peoples tating they want Ta Ann off their land, this is an unprecedented show ofopposition to Ta Ann logging of their land, after the company has leased theland without the knowledge and consent by the indigenous Sarawakians,” spokesperson Jenny Weber said.

The letter from the Penan people states; “This area should not be re-logged as it wasbeing logged in the past which have made our livelihood difficult especially our food resources. We with one voice that we don’t accept any type of loggingto take place within our Native Customary Rights Land,”

Miranda Gibson, a Green activist, holds a banner to warn Ta Ann’s Japanese wood buyers. (Photo: taan.net)

“Senator Abetz has vigorously backed Ta Ann in the past and Huon ValleyEnvironment Centre is concerned about the intention of his visit to Sarawak. We are concerned Senator Abetz is not in Sarawak looking after theinterests of the Penan people, instead he is looking after big businessinterests of Ta Ann,” Weber said.