Forestry to Drive NZ’s Bioeconomy: New Forest Owners’ CEO

By investing in domestic processing and optimising biomass, New Zealand can lower its projected carbon emissions by 54 million tonnes by 2050.

Wed 30 Aug 23


New Zealand can meet its climate commitments by increasing domestic processing and using biomass more effectively.

That is according to Dr Elizabeth Heeg, who was announced as the new CEO of the NZ Forest Owners Association yesterday.

Dr Heeg, who previously worked at the Te Uru Rākau New Zealand Forest Service, replaced long-term CEO David Rhodes.

According to Dr Heeg, “New Zealand has an opportunity to achieve a low emissions future,” and “Renewable resources, such as wood, are vital to powering the global bio-economy.”

Yesterday, the IMF reported that New Zealand faces a 17 million tonne shortfall in emissions and is struggling to meet its ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (or NDCs).

In its latest outlook, the IMF expect net emissions to peak next year with “a sharp decline from 2030 as recently planted forests matured and started to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere.”

It, however, estimates that the country will miss its 2030 commitment “by emitting 17 million tonnes of net emissions more than it had agreed to emit that year.”

New Zealand as seen from the International Space Station. (Photo Credit: NASA)
According to the IMF’s latest outlook, NZ must invest in afforestation and abatement to reach it’s Glasgow Climate Pact commitments. (Photo Credit: NASA)

If we increase domestic processing and use biomass more efficiently, Dr Heeg said, “the ITS (Insitute of Technology and Polytechnics) estimates New Zealand could lower its projected carbon emissions by fifty-four million tonnes by 2050.”

According to Dr Heeg, the Forest and Wood Industry Transformation Plan is key to net zero and provides a clear pathway to maximise forestry’s role and value-add to address the climate crisis.

As reported by Wood Central in June, the ‘Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformation has allocated NZ $57 million for industry capacity building.

Under the initiative, the government is investing in facilities – like Oji Fibre Solutions Kinleith Mill – with an energy upgrade to one of the country’s “strategic assets.”

In addition, it will assist in developing a ‘Biohub’ and constructing a new large-scale sawmill to supply mass timber products.

Wood Beca was commisseioned to assess the technical feasibility of a Bio Hub at the Kinleith Mill in New Zealand. (Photo Credit: Wood Beca)
Earlier this month, the NZ Government supported the development of a Bio Hub at the Kinleith Mill in New Zealand. (Photo Credit: Wood Beca)

Dr Heeg said that developing an advanced processing industry and navigating the catastrophic effects of Cyclone Gabrielle has “reminded us that we must adapt to climate change as well.”.

“We’ve got to get better at managing our forest debris and do it ahead of the growing intensity of storms, which put all land use at greater risk,” she said.

Announced as part of the NZ Budget, the government invested NZ $10 million to immediately clean up slash and debris in Tairawhiti and other weather-affected areas

Enormous build-ups of logs like this one at Mangatokerau bridge took out bridges across forestry areas in New Zealand. (Photo credit: The Guardian)
The cyclone led to an enormous build-up of logs like this one at Mangatokerau bridge, which took out bridges across forestry areas in New Zealand. (Photo credit: The Guardian)

In addition, it has also invested a further NZ $10.4m into woody biomass research.

According to NZ Forestry Minister Peeni Henare, slash from sustainable forestry operations could be used in bioenergy generation in the Tairāwhiti region.

“One of the research aims is to maximise woody debris management, including slash,” Minister Henare said. 

“This includes studying better slash recovery methods, transportation, processing methods and market options so the resource is used rather than left to cause issues in our communities.” 

NZ Minister for Foresty has supported the development of a biomass market where forestry slash can be recovered and converted into a renewable energy source.

Dr Heeg is looking forward to partner with member companies, other primary industry organisations and associations, decision-makers and communities to achieve its goals.

“We have always been close to the Farm Foresters Association, who represent small-scale forest operations, and they are important partners as we look towards diversification and adaptation,” Dr Heeg said.

“We also are looking to future partnerships to utilise woody biomass for energy with companies such as Fonterra. Forestry is moving into a new age of partnership and collaboration.”

“By building partnerships across the forestry supply chain, with the Wood Manufacturers Association and Timber Industry Federation, we can process more wood onshore, use more wood for building, and get the highest value from our forests.”

NZ Forest Owners Association President Grant Dodson is delighted with the appointment.

According to Mr Dobson, “Dr Heeg will bring a range of new perspectives to the top of the industry.”

Noting the total lack of female leadership in the industry, “Elizabeth’s appointment will go towards redressing the imbalance towards a more diverse leadership and participation in forestry and its supply chain.”


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