Government pulls back on limiting exotic forests

Friday 5 Aug 2022

Pine is unpopular with New Zealand rural communities, but also offers landowners a chance to make huge profits. A Government proposal to limit permanent exotic forests has been left to rot, according to a letter from the Climate Change Minister.

Earlier this year, the Government proposed that exotic trees in permanent forests would not be eligible to earn and sell carbon units. Rural communities are concerned about new pine blocks. The Climate Change Commission says mass exotic planting would slow pollution cuts and “put our economy at a competitive disadvantage”. But because planting pine could be hugely profitable, foresters and landowners – including Māori leaders – vehemently opposed the suggestion.

A letter from Climate Change Minister James Shaw indicates the latter group has been, at least partially, successful. From next year, owners of permanent exotic forest are likely to be able to sell the carbon absorbed by their trees under the Emissions Trading Scheme (or ETS).

In addition, the Climate Change Commission has repeatedly warned against a climate strategy that relies too heavily on planting exotic trees to mop up emissions. Instead, the Government should focus on driving down the sources of greenhouse pollution, and encourage native trees to absorb any lingering greenhouse gas, the commission stressed.

However, the design of the ETS works against the commission’s desired approach. Under the rules, polluters must surrender one NZ Unit for every tonne of emissions they produce. Some units are gifted at no charge by the Government, others can be bought at auction. Finally, polluters can purchase NZ Units from forest owners, matching the tonnes of carbon their trees absorbed.

These were typically from harvested forests, which earned units up to a set number of years (evening up the growth and logging cycles).

In 2018, the first-term coalition Government suggested permanent forests should also be able to earn NZ Units, for their whole lifespan. The Government didn’t distinguish between native forests and exotics such as pine, redwood or eucalyptus.

This opportunity will begin from January next year. With exotic species such as pine and redwoods growing quickly and the market price of a NZ Unit rising above $70, landowners and investors foresaw large profits. Natives are comparatively less profitable.

Then – after the commission came out strongly against exotic species – the Government in March proposed the permanent category would only be open to native forests. There was some support for the idea from rural groups such as 50 Shades of Green and indigenous forest proponents.

But there was comparatively loud opposition from forestry bodies and Māori landowners. On Friday, submitters to the ministry consultation on the proposal received a letter from Shaw, which indicated the Government had changed its mind.

The letter, co-signed by Forestry Minister Stuart Nash, said the Government will “take more time to fully consider options” for the ETS. “While all decisions are ultimately for Cabinet, this means it is unlikely that we will propose closing the permanent category to exotics on 1 January 2023.”

In a statement, Shaw said he wanted to take more time to consider the issue fully. “Changes to this category will be felt for many years to come, so it’s really important we get this right.” Officials will work with technical experts, stakeholders and Māori and a decision will be made “in due course”, Shaw added. “We will consider how the [permanent forest] category interacts with the ETS in the long-term, and ensure it can be fairly accessed.”

More >>

In response to the announcement, Beef + Lamb New Zealand says the rate of whole-farm sales and conversions to carbon farming in the country is "out of control".

Read Concern about Rate of Forestry Conversions.

Source: Stuff, ODT

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