Carbon forester makes big call

Wednesday 12 Feb 2020

One of the country’s largest forestry owners will plant 120 million trees to meet 20 per cent of New Zealand’s 2030 Paris climate commitment Agreement targets for carbon reduction, the Environment Select Committee was told in Wellington on Monday.

New Zealand Carbon Farming (NZCF), a locally-owned company which has nearly 73,000 hectares of forest in New Zealand, told the Committee that minor settings changes to the ETS will enable it to invest in an additional 100,000 hectares of planting. Under the Paris Agreement, New Zealand must make 178 million tonnes of carbon reductions in the next ten years. NZCF’s programme will deliver 36 million tonnes of that target. NZCF managing director Matt Walsh says New Zealand must show leadership on the climate emergency by taking real and concrete action to reduce emissions. “Delivering 178 million tonnes of carbon reductions in the next ten years will require major commitment to strategies that are proven and effective, now – we can’t afford to wait for a magic bullet as this target looms closer,” says Matt Walsh.

“This will take real leadership on the part of both the Government, and local businesses and communities. That’s why we’re making the largest emissions reductions pledge ever made by a New Zealand company, to deliver 20% of New Zealand’s climate commitments.”

NZCF told the Environment Committee that its pledge, which the company will meet entirely through private funding, will do more than provide an increase in permanent carbon forests in New Zealand.

“Our planting programme alone will create 2,000 new jobs in rural New Zealand – in regions that are crying out for investment,” says Matt Walsh.

“We are also leaders in the science of forest regeneration – a technology we’d like to see recognised in climate legislation. We actively manage our forests to return them to a native state, managing succession and speeding up regeneration to create an indigenous, biodiverse forest.”

“We have also seen the potential for a wide range of complementary businesses, from honey to adventure tourism, to establish alongside our forests, creating business and employment opportunities for regional economies.”

Mr Walsh says the selection of land for new planting is also very important to the success of the programme.

“This programme isn’t going to have any effect on the availability of productive farmland. We only plant on the most marginal land – areas that are hard to access, erosion prone and with no other productive purpose.”

“And the amount of land we need to meet this legacy is tiny. By planting less than half of 1% of marginal land – we will achieve 20% of New Zealand’s emissions target.”

NZCF has the proven ability to deliver on the pledge. Over the last 10 years, the company has reduced New Zealand’s emissions by 19 million tonnes.

“Our forests are currently the engine for New Zealand’s carbon reduction programme, storing 4.5 tonnes of carbon per minute – every minute of every day. To-date, we have achieved the equivalent of taking every car off New Zealand’s roads for a year.”

Mr Walsh says NZCF has recommended simple improvements to the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Bill, currently at the Select Committee stage, which based on the company’s experience of ten years in the ETS, will make a significant contribution to New Zealand’s emissions reductions.

“For us to make our 20 per cent pledge possible, we need the Government to ensure ETS settings are fair and encourage more participation by local investors, including small communities, landowners and iwi.”

In particular, Mr Walsh says the wider industry, including NZCF, is seeking to gain greater flexibility for existing forest owners.

“Over 70 per cent of the industry is in support of a change in the settings to enable an existing ETS forest to be replaced by a forest planted on other land.” This includes Tainui, Nga?i Tahu, Ngati Porou, FOMA, Forest Owners Association, Farm Forestry Association, Scion, Matariki, Port Blakley, PF Olsen, BP, Shell, OMF, Carbon Match and World Wildlife Foundation. ?

Known as carbon equivalent forestry land swaps, or offset planting, the policy has already been in place in the ETS for 6 years and is already part of New Zealand’s international obligations. NZCF’s proposal is to make this setting more equitable across the board, by also extending offset planting to ETS forests that are part of carbon accounting.

“This change will not cost the Government at all – in fact independent economic analysis by Sapere has established that every hectare offset planting is applied to generates between $7,900 and $12,200 in benefits to the national accounts – up to $1.2 billion which can be returned to New Zealand families and communities from our programme alone.”

“We believe making these minor changes to make the system fairer and remove some of the current uncertainties and will enable land use flexibility including our own 120 million trees programme.”

“We hope the Government recognises the importance of urgent and significant action on climate change, and enables local businesses like ours to play a major role in meeting New Zealand’s international commitments.”

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