NZ Climate Change Minister wants to incentivise forest establishment and plant 700,000 hectares of additional exotic and indigenous forests’ right now.’
The comments were made at the Carbon Forestry conference this week, with Minister James Shaw warning that NZ was “running out of time.”
It comes as the IMF has warned that NZ will only meet its climate commitments if it accelerates carbon abatement through additional tree planting.
The IMF expects the country’s net emissions will 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.”
Minister Shaw wants NZ to plant 300,000 hectares of permanent indigenous forest and 380,000 hectares in exotic plantation forests.
His comments were in the context of concerns by the carbon forestry sector that uncertainty caused by reviews of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and other related changes threaten a collapse in planting intentions.
“Our intention is not to reduce forestry,” Shaw said.
Should NZ achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, international obligations mean emissions beyond that have to fall, hence the need for a mix of fast- and slow-sequestering forests.
Shaw justified reviews of the ETS as addressing officials’ concerns that the carbon price, based on NZ Units, could collapse due to excess forest credits becoming available in 2030.
He said that emitters would have become cheaper to buy NZ Units than to reduce net emissions if that happened.
The carbon price collapsed to $34 per ton as the sector responded to the ETS review, but Shaw said some short-term uncertainty was better than “kicking the can down the road”.
The price recovered to $67 per ton this week.
The Emissions Trading Scheme is considered “the centrepiece” of New Zealand’s plan to cut emissions, and the IMF expect a carbon credit price of $75 will achieve a third of the emissions reductions by 2030.
At the conference, Minister Shaw was asked if local authorities have the skill or ability to administer complicated land use for forestry, with the minister saying that not all councils want to be involved in that role.
As reported by Farmers Weekly, Keith Woodford, Honorary Professor of Agri-Food Systems at Lincoln University, said it could be better for the government to play the game and set the rules when setting a carbon price.
A fundamental flaw of the ETS is that if the carbon price is too high, it would make forestry so profitable it would threaten sheep and beef farmland.
At a carbon price of $67 per ton, Woodford calculated the gross return from a new forestry block at $1700 per hectare compared to “a few hundred dollars” a hectare from sheep and beef.
“However, there is now widespread acceptance that converting good export-earning pastoral land to forestry, be that for production or non-harvested forests, is not in the overall interest of NZ,” Mr Woodford told Farmers Weekly.
For Mr Woodford, there needs to be a new focus on pricing gross emissions rather than net emissions, which is different from where the ETS currently operates.
Under the reforms, the NZ Ministry for Environment would split the ETS into two – with one scheme for emissions reductions and one for removing emissions from the atmosphere, like tree planting.
However, Mr Woodford does not support this move, claiming it raises issues about property rights and whether selling units offshore would be made illegal.
“I shudder at where that would lead.”
He estimates about a million hectares of land currently in pastoral that is uneconomic due to steepness, erodibility and location.
Much of it is too far from the ports to grow lumber, so long-lived species are the only options.
If 1 million additional hectares are planted between now and 2035, it will sequester 25 million tonnes of carbon a year through until 2080.
As a measure, NZ’s long-lived gases – carbon and nitrous oxide – stand at about 45 million tonnes a year – and this needs to decline to zero by 2050.