Concerns over exotic carbon forests go mainstream

// Climate Change

As more farms are sold for forestry conversion, Beef + Lamb New Zealand continues to call on the Government to take urgent action to stop the loss of productive farmland and the decimation of rural communities.

image of forest in mist

While some progress has been made in the last few months by the Government, their proposed policy changes do not go far enough and will not stem the tide.  

B+LNZ’s position remains that there needs to be specific limits on the amount of forestry that can be used to offset fossil fuel emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme. New Zealand is the only country to allow 100 percent forestry offsetting.  Other countries only allow about 10 percent.

Without these limits all other policy changes, while helpful, will not solve the problem.

The week after submissions closed on the Government’s consultation on proposals that aim to limit the increasing amount of exotic carbon forestry planting across New Zealand, particularly in the permanent forest category in the Emissions Trading Scheme, the Overseas Investment Office announced its approval of the sale of another six farms for conversion to forestry under the special forestry test.

The issue is attracting more mainstream media with recent articles and opinion pieces expressing concern over the high carbon price which is putting carbon farming profits ahead of sheep and beef farming and undermining efforts to cut climate change pollution at its source.

If a factory knows it can access decades of cheaper forestry units to offset its emissions, it might install a fossil-fueled system rather than switching to a greener alternative.

A recent article by Olivia Wannan, Stuff’s climate reporter, outlines the issue of the “insanely high” profits that can be made by planting permanent exotic forests and selling the carbon emissions.

This is incentivising exotic forest plantings and not the emissions reductions needed.

B+LNZ’s position is that the current ETS settings are not encouraging an integrated approach to land use decisions. Rather, unlimited offsetting opportunities are resulting in short-term gains through wholesale farm conversions into forestry for investors with long-term consequences for rural communities and landscapes.

One district at the heart of the carbon forestry debate, has also just won a recent major victory over the forestry sector with a judge agreeing the Wairoa District Council had the right to increase rates on forestry land due to “negative community wellbeing.”

Also reported on Stuff, this represented a significant victory for the District Council over the NZ Forest Owners Association which was representing seven large forestry companies collectively owning 52,000ha in the Wairoa district.

The Council overhauled its rating system to make rates affordable for residents and small local business but this hit the pockets of ratepayers in the forestry sector to the tune of $334,000. This increase came about for roading maintenance and “an increase to reflect the negative community wellbeing impacts of the industry on the district.”

B+LNZ’s chief executive Sam McIvor stresses that the organisation is not anti-forestry and can see a role for appropriately managed trees within farms.

We are starting to make progress on getting the rules changed, but there is still work to do.  There are also more and people coming on board raising concerns about the situation. 

“Let’s get more trees in the ground in a considered way, put there by people who know their land best and let’s make planting natives more attractive. That’s going to take some work but we look forward to being part of making that happen.”

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