One significant component of Australia’s published greenhouse gas emissions is the component labelled Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry, often abbreviated to LULUCF.

In recent years, these LULUCF emission estimates have been falling markedly – they fell from an estimated plus 73 megatons of CO2 equivalent in 2007, to minus 3 megatons in 2016.  (Source: Quarterly update of Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory, March 2017.   Figure 18:  Net anthropogenic emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector, Kyoto Protocol classifications, 1990-2016).

It is somewhat puzzling that these falls have been so pronounced, given the marked increases in land clearing in Queensland in recent years.

Consequently, in November 2017, 350 Canberra submitted an FOI request to the Dept. of Environment and Energy, seeking details about its published data on Australia’s LULUCF emissions.

The Department provided this response (FOI 171101 decision letter) to the FOI request, attaching these tables (FOI 171101 Decision letter Attachment B) which dissected the aggregate emission estimates into sub-categories.  350 Canberra then developed a spreadsheet which is based on one of the tables supplied by the Department, and created these charts of the “Forest Management” and “Deforestation” trends.

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The Department also advised that the most recent Queensland land clearing data (showing 395,000 hectares of woody vegetation cleared in 2015/16) has not yet been incorporated into the LULUCF estimates.

Looking at Attachment B and at the charts, it is clear that the net figures are dominated by large scale trends in the “Forest Management” and the “Deforestation” figures.  The Forest Management emissions number starts at around -16 megatons in 1990, rises to around + 3 megatons in 2009, and then falls rapidly to around -28 megatons in 2016.  The Deforestation emissions number starts at around 63 megatons in 1990, rises to around 83 megatons in 2006, and then falls steadily to around 33 megatons in 2016.

350 Canberra is now seeking to understand what is driving these trends. What exactly were the improved forest management practices since 2006, and where were they?  Likewise the reduction in deforestation activity?

We welcome any feedback from experts who can answer those questions.

The Climate Council’s report on Land carbon contains a very useful discussion of the differences in methodology between the Queensland land clearing data and the national greenhouse gas inventory – see Box 8, commencing at page 33.   Nevertheless, it remains unclear (to us) what is driving the sharp downward trends in the Forest Management and Deforestation emission estimates.

The LULUCF emissions represent a complex area, but since it forms an important part of the bottom line in Australia’s emissions data, we think it is important that the community of climate concerned citizens obtains an understanding of the basis of these estimates.

 

 

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