Saturday, December 2, 2023

Carbon answers can come with caveats

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Farmers Weekly unpacks the carbon sequestration implications of various on-farm tree scenarios.
If New Zealand has to rely on good farmland being planted in exotics to achieve our climate target we’re in dire straits, Alan Emerson says.
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Sheep and beef farmers have been significant contributors to native and exotic plantings in the past decade across New Zealand. The actual extent is still being determined by Beef + Lamb NZ, but funding applications to the One Billion Trees programme helps give a general estimate on drystock farmers’ contribution. 

Under the fund, almost 60% of the land area where grants were approved is in largely drystock catchments. Estimates by Te Uru Rakau NZ Forestry Service are that up until this year, 474 million trees were planted under the Ministry for Primary Industries’ One Billion Trees scheme, with an additional 120 million set to be planted this year.

In addition, there have been significant plantings by farmers who have not applied to the fund, or who may have been funded through other projects, such as catchment groups and hill country erosion programmes.

Funded or not, farmers who have tree blocks on their land have to consider how they can be counted to help offset emissions under He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN).

At present the HWEN settings are still being drafted, and subject to some final details. 

But to help readers get a handle on additionality and impacts of plantings, Farmers Weekly has worked up some possible scenarios that may or may not offer carbon offset options.

The 80ha block of native trees on our place is unfenced, and is going to stay that way as we use it to shelter our ewes over lambing time. Is there any claim on the carbon these trees are sequestering per annum anyway?
No, not in the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) or HWEN. However, there could be some opportunity in the voluntary markets. 

But there are some cases of farmers getting newly regenerating bush that some sheep have access to, into the ETS. The criteria is that the area “has the ability to” meet the forest definition – that is, 30m average width, 5m average height, 1ha in size and 30% canopy cover. 

Too many sheep munching on seedlings will impact the area’s ability to meet this definition, but a few won’t stop nature from taking its course.

In 2010 I fenced 100ha of native bush that had previously had no protection around it, despite it not being a legal requirement in my district. Can the carbon gained by fencing the bush be claimed under additionality, and would it just be the extra carbon generated by having the fence there, or also would the natural yearly unfenced carbon that accumulates regardless also be claimable?
Just the extra carbon generated by having the fence in place. In essence the HWEN scheme doesn’t care when the management action took place, just that it did. The naturally occurring carbon accumulation without the fence there wouldn’t be recognised as additional, and thus not credited. 

We fenced a block of native trees from stock in 2000. Can I claim the extra carbon this block has sequestered as a result of being fenced? Y
ou could receive credit for the extra carbon generated by having the fence in place. Based on the HWEN original recommendations to the government, the additional carbon (coming as a result of fencing the bush) since 2008 could be able to be recognised in the levy scheme. 

The base amount  – that is, carbon stored in the forest prior to it being fenced and continuing on after being fenced – however, would not be recognised.

Our farm has 100ha of native bush on it that has been fenced off for decades. After it not doing very well due to pest inundation, a major pest control investment resulted in significant  increase in understorey and canopy cover. Do we a) measure this increase and b) use the extra amount of carbon sequestered to offset farm emissions? 
Unknown right now. However, it would be hard to measure the carbon increase for each bush block on every farm. Thus, some kind of look-up table may be developed that will help farmers estimate gains through pest control. 

We fenced off 50ha of our worst farm paddock in 2006 and planted it in trees. Is there any carbon we can claim?
It depends on the kind and area of trees. If the area is ETS eligible, then you can claim the full yearly accumulation of the trees once entering them into the scheme. 

The carbon is allocated in 5-yearly “blocks”, the most recent of which closed at the end of 2022. 

Thus, if someone entered their trees into the ETS before the 2022 cut-off, they could have claimed the accumulated carbon in those trees all the way back to 2018. If you decided to enter the trees into the scheme now, you could be allocated the carbon in them as generated between 2023-2028.

If the area in trees is not ETS eligible, it is still up in the air as to how HWEN would recognise these.

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