Rural communities at risk from ‘pasture to trees’ policy

Todd Talks
By Todd Muller

Over the last few weeks I’ve been at farmer meetings in the central North Island, hearing first-hand the growing concerns of rural New Zealand on the Government’s response to climate change.

First up – the one billion tree programme. No-one argues that more trees, planted where it makes sense to manage wetlands, securing some of our erosion prone challenging land, all the while sequestering carbon, makes sense. It has an obvious landscape and climate benefit.

But there’s no justification to have a deliberate distortion that’s driving massive afforestation of our productive pasture land. Foreign investors, wanting to contribute to NZ’s economic growth and development can only invest in land if it is turned to forests rather than continue farming. This is nuts. Not only is this Government constraining foreign investment, which makes no sense in an economy that needs capital to grow and scale our competitive advantages, but the capital it is letting in is deliberately upending our rural landscape.

Further to this, our large-scale emitters appear to be choosing a ‘pasture to trees’ strategy rather than investing in the often more expensive and riskier green technologies to reduce their emissions.

The level of frustration and anger in the farmer meetings is understandably high. Communities are at risk, because for all forestry’s export receipts its direct employment and services contribution to communities completely pale into insignificance when you look are the contribution to rural NZ by the pastoral sector.

These government policies are creating perverse incentives and Forestry Minister Shane Jones would be better to stop belching on about his own magnificence for a moment and think deeply about the impact his policies are having. I’m concerned we’ll lock rural NZ into a future that looks increasingly bleak in an effort to balance the climate change books in Paris.

The Zero Carbon Bill has another sting in the tail. It is proposing legislating a 24 to 47 per cent reduction in gross methane by 2050, despite the science, in our view, arguing for a much lesser target.

National will not let this slide. We oppose the methane target and expect changes for our support to hold to the third reading.

We’ve launched a primary industry discussion document to explore these issues and share ideas of how better to manage this topic and other more wider primary industry issues. I ask you to get a copy online and give us your feedback.

Even more critical is your participation in the select committee process on the proposed Zero Carbon Bill. Submissions are open until July 16. Please submit and ask to be heard as well. It will be a five-minute phone call at a time that suits. It is important that your voices are heard.


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