Update on B+LNZ’s advocacy on carbon farming

// B+LNZ

We’ve repeatedly called for urgent Government action on the wholesale conversion of sheep and beef farms for carbon farming. B+LNZ is not anti-forestry and sees huge opportunities for the integration of trees on farms. Here’s an update on our work in this area.

image of trees on farm

The need to find a better solution 

Since early 2019, B+LNZ has been working on the issue of wholesale land use change from sheep and beef farming to carbon farming that is incentivised by current Government policies. 

Chief executive Sam McIvor says this remains an important area of focus for B+LNZ. 

“I want to be very clear that B+LNZ is not anti-forestry. We know a lot of farmers are looking to integrate trees on farms – exotic and native – and that’s a good thing. Farmers know their land best.  

“In fact, we believe much of New Zealand’s need for sequestration from forest offsets could come from the integration of trees on sheep and beef farms. This allows food production to continue, maintains rural employment and ensures export revenue, which is the underpinning of New Zealand’s wealth, can continue.”

Sam says the problem is that instead, whole farms are being sold and converted to carbon forestry, and this is having significant negative impacts on rural communities, as also highlighted by groups such as 50 Shades of Green. 

“The Government’s current policy settings are incentivising this activity. B+LNZ has continually called for limits on the amount of offsetting allowed through the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) legislation.

“We’re definitely not saying there should be zero offsets available, as carbon forestry has a role to play in helping New Zealand meet its net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. 

“Farmers, especially, should absolutely be able to receive recognition for the significant plantings they undertake on their land – farmers can register eligible forests into the ETS and we’ve worked hard to get a wider range of vegetation recognised for sequestration under He Waka Eke Noa. 

“We just don’t think fossil fuel emitters should be able to plant unlimited amounts of trees instead of reducing their emissions and that some limits are needed.”

New Zealand is the only country internationally to allow 100 percent offsetting within its regulatory carbon market. 

Recent proposed changes to the ETS and more about B+LNZ’s response

The Government proposed some changes to the ETS that were aimed at limiting the increasing amount of exotic carbon forestry planting in its ‘Managing exotic afforestation incentives’ consultation, which closed at the end of April. 

In our submission, which was closely aligned with submissions by DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, we said the proposals didn’t go far enough to stop the deeply concerning number of farms being sold into forestry and to address the risk of gutting rural communities. 

In our submission, we asked the Government to limit carbon-only farming by placing a moratorium on the entrance of exotic forestry in the permanent category of the ETS to provide time to get the settings right.

We are ultimately very supportive of potential exemptions for some exotics to be allowed in the permanent forest category for exotic stands. These exemptions would allow for permanent exotics to be integrated within a farm, but we do not support entire productive farms being converted into permanent exotics on a vast scale nor done in a way that lacks foresight into the management needs of these areas.

An exemptions regime could allow for the inclusion of exotic tree species and forests in the permanent forest category of the ETS as long as they met certain criteria. This could include requirements for fire management, pest management, disease and pest monitoring or native transition plans for pines as well as exemptions for alternative species, like poplars, that can be easily integrated within a pastoral farming operation. Such requirements would help to protect commercial forestry interests as well as native forests and manage risks for rural communities and the DOC estate. 

With the criteria in place, this could help land managers, including iwi, have confidence they would get credit for permanent exotic forests that were managed in line with the land's needs. 

The Government has not reported any decisions as a result of this latest consultation.

Other recent Government proposals

Earlier this year, the Government announced an end to the streamlined forestry test for overseas investors in the OIA.  

While this is useful, it is merely one mechanism and the Government needs to instead take urgent and decisive action. We would like to see faster progress as there seems to have been an increase in the number of farms approved by the OIO in the last few months before changes are made.  

Our position remains, however, that these changes will not go far enough and we need to see specific limits in the ETS on the amount of offsetting fossil fuel emitters can do – in line with other countries internationally. 

Next steps 

Sam says B+LNZ won’t stop working on this important issue. 

“We constantly hear from farmers and others in our rural communities who see the very real effects of wholesale land use change. We need to see decisive action from the Government before more damage is done to rural communities – and ultimately to New Zealand’s economy.”