Wholesale land use change for carbon farming | Beef + Lamb New Zealand

Wholesale land use change for carbon farming

Beef + Lamb New Zealand is working to raise awareness of the issue of wholesale land use change from sheep and beef farming to carbon farming that is incentivised by the Government.

Our position is clear – we are not anti-forestry. 

A lot of farmers are looking to integrate trees on farms and that’s a good thing. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and it’s good for the climate and the environment to plant some forests in the right place. 

The problem

Our concern is carbon farming. The Government is economically incentivising wholesale land use change from pastoral-based farming into exotic trees – because the increasing price of carbon credits is distorting what land is worth and productive farmland is being sold for the future planting of trees – mainly exotic species such as pinus radiata. 

From a climate change policy perspective an increasing carbon price is not necessarily a bad thing as it should in theory lead to the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use across the economy as polluters seek to change their behavior and invest in cleaner technologies. 

The big problem is that the Government has not set any target to reduce absolute emissions from fossil fuel use, nor has it set any limits on how much offsetting of emissions can happen through the Emissions Trading Scheme to meet our climate change targets, and therefore on how much land can be converted to forestry to create carbon credits for sale. 

This means fossil fuel polluters can keep avoiding the need to actually cut back on fossil fuel use and instead offset their pollution by using carbon credits generated on our farms through the wholesale planting of pine trees – a lot of which will likely never be harvested. Using forestry to offset fossil fuel emissions is a short-term fix for a long-term problem. 

The effects of carbon farming

Converting productive farmland to pine plantations for carbon credits means less jobs in that region – research by BakerAg in 2019 found forestry, and especially carbon farming, supports far fewer jobs than the red meat sector in that region. 

With those jobs will go local businesses, schools and services essential to rural communities.  

Wholesale land conversion will also impact on New Zealand’s economy. The red meat sector generates over $12 billion in income per year and we can’t afford to lose those earnings. 

What we’ve been doing 

We’ve been actively working on this issue since early 2019. Initially our focus was on engagement with politicians to try to effect changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme, the primary legislation behind the issue. We argued that this legislation needs to contain limits on the amount of offsetting possible.

Frustratingly, our concerns weren’t addressed in the Climate Change Response (Emission Trading Reform) Amendment Act. We’ve repeatedly argued that the Government needed to get the primary legislation right, rather than trying to fix problems through secondary legislation such as the Resource Management Act. 

We continue to raise awareness about this issue and have repeatedly asked politicians to work with us on solutions. We’re also continuing to work with the Climate Change Commission. 

In August 2021 we released independent research by BakerAg that validated the amount of land-use change from pastoral farming to large-scale forestry. This research contained a range of findings that reinforced our policy positions. You can find more information, including links to the full report and our summary report, in the media release below.

Media releases

Notable media coverage includes: