Address to the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission

SYDNEY
MONDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2023

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G’day I’m Murray Watt, Australia’s Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Welcome to Sydney!

I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we’re gathering and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I’d also like to extend my appreciation to our overseas guests that have made their way to Sydney for the 30th United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank Australian Forest Products Association who are the co-hosts of this event this evening. 

I attended the FAO Annual Conference in Rome in July, so I’m delighted that Australia has the opportunity to host this important FAO event, addressing the theme of Sustainable Forests for a Sustainable Future.

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.

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.

GOVERNMENT AGENDA

Here in Australia, the Albanese Government supports a sustainable forestry sector and the highly skilled jobs it supports across Australia. 

We are strongly committed to contributing to global action on climate change. We’ve legislated stronger emissions reduction targets than any previous Australian Government and our forest management practices underpin that commitment.

We support Australia’s forest industries to operate under high standards for environmental management and sustainable harvesting. 

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

Australia has a total of 134 million hectares of forests, including 1.72 million hectares of commercial plantations.  Our plantations provide 87 percent of the logs harvested here in Australia. Our native forests continue to play an important role in meeting our nation’s timber needs, as well as supporting our carbon sequestration aims.

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 Government is delivering a record $300m 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.

We’re investing in a Forestry Workforce Training Program and improving our 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. 

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

ASIA PACIFIC COMMITMENT 

The work we are doing in Australia complements your own work, individually and at a regional level. 

All of us here today share a common understanding that sustainably managed forests deliver economic, social, environment and climate benefits. 

To ensure these benefits are widespread, international collaboration is key. 

The Australian Government places a strong emphasis of our engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

Earlier this year, PNG Forestry Minister Salio Waipo and I signed a new Memorandum Of Understanding facilitating cooperation between our countries to combat illegal logging and build our sustainable forest industries.

Our government is also supporting blended financing solutions to bring more investment to sustainable forestry into the Asia-Pacific. 

Our investment of around $13 million in the Tropical Asia Forest Fund 2 aims to de-risk investment and mobilise a total of around $300 million in funding. We thank key investment partners, including New Forests, who are here with us this evening.

My department has furthered our work and provided financial support to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Forestry Division to hold a Forest Dialogue event in Borneo later this year, aimed at better engaging the private sector in forest restoration efforts.

CLIMATE CHANGE COMMITMENT 

Of course, one of the major objectives of our collective regional engagement relates to forestry's role in tackling climate change. Australia realises that the contribution of forests to global climate action needs to be accelerated. 

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

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.

Under the partnership, Australia is engaging intently to realise the potential for forest products as climate-solutions in green construction and the emerging bio-circular economy is supported.

AUSTRALIA’S ILLEGAL LOGGING LAWS

While the Australian Government and my department are heavily involved in international efforts to foster the sustainable management of forests, one of the growing concerns we are all having to address is illegal logging.

Illegal logging is a significant global issue. 

The Australian Government is strongly opposed to illegal logging and the trade of illegally sourced timber products. 

It degrades environments, reduces biodiversity, results in lost revenue for government and industry, and deprives local communities of ownership rights and opportunities to improve their quality of life.

My department is heavily involved in international efforts to combat illegal logging and associated trade through sustainable forest management.

Our most recent example of this commitment is the awarding of an Australian Government grant of $1.2 million to the World Forest ID Project to expand reference databases to cover more species and origins. 

This will better enable timber to be traced right back to its origins and ensure supply chains are avoiding illegally harvested wood.

Our initial focus under the grant will be partnering with interested countries in Southeast Asia to collect samples and expand databases that help better forests in our region and not just Australia.

On the flip side, the project is also expected to support economic development and access to markets for responsible companies supplying legally harvested timber and forest products in the region.

Combatting illegal logging will continue to be a priority for our government and I look forward to collaborating with you on that shared task.

CONCLUSION 

Alongside formal proceedings this week, this event displays our forestry industry’s strong commitment to sustainable forest management. 

I hope you enjoy the field trips on Thursday when Australia can showcase our world-class approaches to managing our forests to improve biodiversity, production and climate mitigation, as well as control the risks of pests, disease and natural disasters. 

Thank you for your attendance, and I hope you can all get the most out of your week here.