Saturday, April 13, 2024

Trees won’t save us, Climate Change Commission warns

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NZ must act with greater urgency to reduce GHG, and not by over-planting forests either.
The Climate Change Commission has urged the government to provide advice and assistance to improve the performance of agriculture’s 20% worst greenhouse gas emitters.
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By Gerald Piddock and Neal Wallace

New Zealand cannot plant its way to carbon neutrality and must act with greater urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the latest Climate Change Commission advice to the government.

While forestry will continue to have role in carbon sequestration, commission chair Dr Rod Carr said it does not incentivise the reduction of gross carbon emissions but only encourages excessive tree planting, which reduces future land use options.

The commission calls for greater government urgency to meet climate change objectives and wants regulations streamlined to allow the accelerated adoption of new technology.

It also wants reform of the emissions trading scheme (ETS), saying in its current form it does not encourage the reduction of emissions but drives afforestation.

“The only way we can get NZ to stay at net zero in 2050 and beyond, is to reduce our gross emissions,” Carr told Farmers Weekly.

Carr expects 500,000ha of land to be planted in exotic and native trees by 2035, of which 60,000ha was planted last year.

He urged the government to provide advice and assistance to improve the performance of agriculture’s 20% worst greenhouse gas emitters, a move he said will go a long way to meeting the sector’s emission goals.

“The question is, how do we accelerate the number of farmers in that space?”

Carr is confident that known breeding, feeding and management, along with targeted tree planting, will allow farmers to achieve a 10% reduction of 2017 methane levels by 2030.

To meet the 24-47% reduction goal by 2050 will require new technology.

Climate Change Commission chair Dr Rod Carr says the only way we can get NZ to stay at net zero in 2050 and beyond, is to reduce our gross emissions

Farmers should be rewarded for reducing greenhouse gas emissions but he reiterated his surprise that farmers have adopted He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN), describing it as an expensive and complex way to price emissions.

Carr called for an end to the blame game, with urban blaming rural for that sector’s emissions and rural blaming faceless international politicians for setting targets, saying a low-carbon world will be sustainable, affordable and provide opportunities.

“We will be better off when we get this job done.”

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard was encouraged by elements of the report, especially on afforestation and streamlining the process for releasing new products.

He was less so by the lack of discussion on reviewing targets and the focus on gross emissions rather than warming effects.

He was similarly sceptical about suggestions about greater use of online recording and monitoring of farm data, saying the system’s current mixed performance does not instil confidence.

DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel had yet to read the full report, but at first glance said the commission’s recommendations came as little surprise.

The report’s emphasis on firming up an emissions pricing plane by 2025 had Van der Poel concerned about the short timeframe and the pressure that is coming to meet that deadline.

“We think there’s absolutely a risk,” he said.

He said the biggest barrier in meeting that deadline was waiting for the government to make a decision on the industry’s emissions pricing plan. 

“They basically have to stand it up and they have to decide. We had an agreement in place before Christmas and the industry has met all of its deadlines and now we’re waiting for the government to say whether they still support that or that they have a different view.”

The report vindicates Beef + Lamb NZ’s call for limits on the ability of fossil fuel emitters to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees on productive farmland, BLNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said.

Forestry has a role, but the current policy settings incentivise over-planting, which McIvor said undermines NZ meeting its emissions reduction targets and has significant negative consequences for rural communities.

McIvor welcome the commission’s view that the ETS needs fixing, along with its reiteration of support for a farm-level system for managing agricultural emissions. 

“However, there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done to set up a credible measurement and reporting system, which would be the first in the world. 

“We strongly recommend focusing on getting this set up and working properly, but not introducing a price until sequestration and mitigation issues have been worked through.”

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