Is NZ's ETS an environmental ponzi scheme?

Friday 5 May 2023

NZ’s Treasury needs to conduct a value chain analysis of forestry companies and our Emission Trading Scheme to ensure they meet international sustainability standards, writes Anne Salmond

Opinion: Anne Salmond Colin Jacobs, general manager for forestry company Drylandcarbon, writes in the NZ Herald: “In terms of government policy, the refusal to listen to rural communities and prohibit so-called ‘permanent’ pine forests is another potential long-term mistake.”

He adds, “There is inadequate science to reliably inform us as to how ‘permanent’ pine forests will behave when the trees all reach the end of their lives at roughly the same time. The notion that they will gradually transition to native forest is more hope than fact. Not to mention the value of the timber is foregone.”

That is fair comment. For all these reasons, rewarding carbon farming with pine trees is a long-term mistake. Not only is there inadequate science to tell us what will happen when all the trees in a pine plantation age and die at once, there is no guarantee that they will last that long in conditions of climate change, as the risks of fire, disease, intense rainfall and wind throw increase - as we’ve seen during Cyclone Gabrielle.

At the same time, Jacobs claims in the Herald article that “Exotic forests absorb carbon more than five-times faster than native forests. In the absence of dramatic gross emissions reductions, we are, rightly or wrongly, dependent on carbon sequestration from exotic forests to deliver against our commitments.”

Here he is mistaken, however. While pine plantations may sequester carbon rapidly while they are growing, a life cycle analysis of the emissions from propagating the plants to site preparation, planting, trimming, spraying, harvesting, preparing the logs, shipping them, and the life expectancy of the products is likely to show that about twice as much carbon is emitted as is sequestered during the life of the trees, if international studies are to be believed.

Why does this matter? Internationally, this kind of ‘value chain’ analysis is increasingly being deployed to combat ‘greenwashing,’ in global trade deals as well as in national policies, in the EU for instance. Domestically, Toitū Envirocare, the government’s own sustainability certification programme (a subsidiary of Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research), insists that a value chain analysis is compulsory before it will certify a company as climate positive.

Logically, given the claims they make about carbon sequestration, forestry companies operating in New Zealand should have to meet such a test. It should also be applied to New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme itself, to ensure that it meets international standards for overall emissions reductions.

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Another article looking at What's wrong with the Emissions Trading Scheme? can be read here.

Source:, RNZ

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