Thursday, August 11, 2022

Carbon report calls for a more strategic approach

Short-term land-use decisions risk the long-term future of New Zealand’s rural landscapes and communities, according to a green paper by former Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, however, some industry players are questioning parts of the paper’s content.

Former Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said the green paper outlines the risk short-term decisions poses to long-term land-use flexibility. Lawrence Photo: Yule Community/Facebook

Short-term land-use decisions risk the long-term future of New Zealand’s rural landscapes and communities, according to a green paper by former Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, however, some industry players are questioning parts of the paper’s content.

Managing Forestry Land-Use Under the Influence of Carbon calls for a more strategic approach to planting trees and outlines policy areas for urgent investigation to address the issue.

It was released ahead of a workshop early next month involving stakeholders, including Forestry Minister Stuart Nash, councils, forestry interests, Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) and Local Government NZ.

Yule said the paper outlines the risk that short-term decisions will make to the detriment of long-term land-use flexibility, rural communities and export returns.

“Currently, increasing carbon prices in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) means carbon farming coupled with plantation forestry is in the short-term significantly more profitable than sheep and beef cattle farming,” Yule said.

“There is little national guidance to help local authorities stop swathes of productive sheep, beef and wool-producing farmland being converted to forestry, as the ETS currently allows 100% of fossil fuel emissions to be offset through forestry and councils currently have no available tools to place controls on the planting of trees.”

He said NZ has relied heavily on carbon sequestration through plantation forestry to meet its international obligations to reduce climate emissions, rather than actually reducing gross emissions from all sectors.

Ruapehu District Mayor Don Cameron, whose council is one of 16 councils, alongside Local Government NZ and B+LNZ that funded the research, said a more strategic approach is needed for planting trees to sequester greenhouse gas emissions to avoid long-term damage to rural communities and export returns.

“The Resource Management Act currently does not allow for a strategic approach to be taken to plantation or carbon-only forestry in the regions. The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry also do not cover carbon-only farming,” Cameron said.

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said Government signals that it is considering policy changes to address the wholesale conversion of sheep and beef farmland into carbon farming, but its action has been too slow.

“We have been raising concerns for some time about the speed and scale of land-use change due to the unbridled ability of fossil fuel emitters to plant exotic trees on sheep and beef farmland for offsetting rather than reducing their emissions,” McIvor said.

“Our own view is that the Government needs to change the ETS because that is the legislation that is causing the problem.”

NZ carbon forestry operator Drylandcarbon general manager Colin Jacobs said to address one of the legislative problems, he wrote to Nash, Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor in December seeking the removal of the ‘forestry pathway’ exemption under the Overseas Investment Act.

He is heartened that Nash has publicly said he is looking to examine that (Farmers Weekly, February 14).

Jacobs would also like to see changes to the ETS, including introducing a new category that he says could help to address some of the unintended outcomes the scheme as it stands is creating.

One of those is the 50-year timeframe that defines the permanent category.

“That’s not permanent,” Jacobs said.

“If you plant something in the permanent category you can leave it forever and never harvest. That will lead to poor outcomes, especially if you’re planting species that only have about 100 years’ useful life as opposed to native forestry that can go on for thousands of years.”

Jacobs questions the idea raised in the paper that ETS averaging rules incentivise carbon-only planting.

“I don’t think it does,” he said.

“For averaging you have to plant and harvest your forest. You only get 16 years’ worth of carbon, so to get value you have to harvest the trees.”

He would like to see a longer rotation length category introduced on top of the averaging category.

“What averaging does … is that if you’re only getting carbon for 16 years, people are going to plant more and more land so they can get carbon for 16 years out of each hectare,” he said.

“If you plant one hectare and can get 30 years of carbon out of it and still harvest the trees and get the same outcome, that will stop some of those perverse outcomes.”

NZ Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor, who will be taking part in the workshop on March 2, was cautious in what he could say because the association wants to participate in it in good faith.

However, he said while there were aspects of the report the association agreed with, there were also many that it either disagreed with or didn’t think accurately reflected a balanced view.

“They make a number of assumptions which we believe are incorrect and I think importantly don’t really acknowledge that we’re entering a very different environment, so they tend to be backward-looking rather than forward-looking in terms of their report,” Taylor said.

“Finding reasons not to do things rather than finding reasons how to do things and to look at optimal land-use and integrated land-use, there’s nothing in that kind of space.”

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