A coalition government plan for one billion new trees by 2030 has come under fire from Labor frontbencher Josh Wilson, who has claimed “zero” trees have been planted since the target was announced almost four years ago.
The claim is not entirely correct but is close to the mark. The government has said 400,000 hectares of new tree plantations are needed to meet its one billion tree target. Government figures show that around 4300 hectares of trees were planted in Australia in 2018/19 and 2019/20, which is equivalent to around one per cent of the government’s 400,000-hectare target.
Mr Wilson, who is Labor’s shadow assistant agriculture minister, made the claim in a tweet on April 4: “Four years ago, Morrison promised a billion trees within a decade. But 2022: zero trees.”
When contacted by AAP FactCheck, a spokeswoman for Mr Wilson said the MP’s tweet referred to zero new trees being planted in his home state of Western Australia and not Australia as a whole. However, the tweet in question did not make it clear he was referring only to Western Australia and the goal to plant one billion trees is a national target.
Regardless, progress toward the national one billion trees target is minimal.
The “promise” of a billion more trees refers to the government’s 2018 plan to support the establishment of 400,000 hectares of new commercial wood plantations by 2030. The government says the 400,000-hectare target “amounts to a billion new trees” and is in addition to trees that are planted to replace harvested trees.
Tree plantation statistics are published periodically by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), the research arm of the federal government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (AWE).
According to ABARES, 2800 hectares of new plantations were established in 2018/19 followed by an additional 1500 hectares of new plantations in 2019/20 (page 12). That makes a total of 4300 hectares of new plantations established over two years, which is equivalent to just over one per cent of the target.
AWE told AAP FactCheck in an email that data is not available for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years.
However, given that an average of only around 2000 hectares of new trees were planted each year between 2014-15 and 2019-20, it seems unlikely the rate of plantation has significantly lifted since 2019-20.
Peter Kanowski, a professor of forestry at the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, told AAP FactCheck the likelihood of Australia meeting its 400,000-hectare goal is “almost zero” and questioned whether 400,000 hectares would be a big enough area for one billion trees anyway.
“Commercial plantations are typically planted at 1100 trees per hectare, so at face value, one billion trees is closer to one million hectares,” Prof Kanowski said in an email. At 1100 trees per hectare, the 4300 hectares of new plantations recorded for 2018/19 and 2019/20 would amount to 4.7 million trees or approximately 0.5 per cent of the one billion tree target.
Nonetheless, Prof Kanowski said the one billion tree target is mostly political “rhetoric” and the more important debate is whether Australia has the right land use and climate change mitigation policies in place.
“We should have ambitious goals for land restoration, and that’s more urgent because of climate change and biodiversity loss,” he said.
“Separately, it’s a good goal to expand our tree plantation estate because we’re clearly not growing anywhere near enough for our needs.”
According to ABARES, the total area of Australia dedicated to forestry plantations dropped by 10 per cent since 2015.
The government has previously said its billion trees target has been hampered by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 and the fact the Commonwealth does not manage the land it hopes commercial owners will turn into new plantations.
In 2018, the New Zealand government separately set a target for one billion new trees by 2028. At the time of writing, it seemed to be on track to hit its goal with nearly 350 million new trees planted up to the end of 2021.
Government figures show that 4300 hectares of new trees were established in Australia in the first two years of the program, which is equivalent to only around one per cent of the overall target.
While it is not accurate to say “zero” new trees have been planted in Australia since 2018, only a very small proportion of a touted one billion trees have so far made it into the ground.
Mostly True – The claim is largely accurate but includes minor errors or problems.
* Editor’s note: AAP FactCheck has expanded its ability to fact-check environmental issues with the support of the Australian Conservation Foundation. AAP FactCheck retains full editorial independence in this project and continues to apply the rigorous standards required for accredited members of the International Fact-Checking Network.