Taxpayers are likely to have to pay billions of dollars for imported carbon credits, if planting production forests is to be restricted with the idea of protecting farming, according to the Forest Owners Association.
The warning after Environment Minister David Parker said Labour would use the Resource Management Act to limit forest planting on areas of more than 50ha that is classified as arable.
FOA president Phil Taylor says one-quarter of the forest estate is already on these land classes. “If foresters were only allowed to plant the harder non-arable class 6 and 7 land, then the overall forest planting rate will fall.”
Phil says that would mean New Zealand would most likely to be well short of enough forests to meet the Government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 through carbon sequestration. And this would result in either importing expensive carbon credits, or NZ will not meet its 2050 carbon neutrality target.
“Planting restrictions would also be a hit on iwi and farmers who want the choice to plant trees for harvest on the land they own, for sound economic as well as environmental reasons,” says Phil.
“Banning forests stems from some idea that farming is automatically a better land use. That’s taking away landowner choice of how to produce from their own land.
“The recent PwC report into the employment and income of hill country farming found that production forestry, per hectare, is ahead on both counts.
“Forest products are a $7 billion industry and hugely important for many rural communities. The government plan would be both an economic and an environmental step backwards.”
“I can’t see what the panic is about. The total plantation estate is 74,000ha smaller than it was in 2003. It’s only occupying seven per cent of the farmed or plantation forested arable land area. It’s hardly a takeover.”
Phil is emphatic that he’s not referring to carbon forests where the owner has no intention to harvest the trees. “There is a place for these carbon forests. It’s on the most highly-erodible land, which would be unprofitable and irresponsible to harvest.”
And so Phil says it’s a mystery as to why the Government appears to have abandoned a previous commitment to use trees to soak up atmospheric carbon, such as through the Billion Tree Programme.
“It’s not as though there has been any breakthrough with reducing any of the greenhouse gasses NZ is producing. Our gross emissions are still 20 per cent above what they were 30 years ago.
“We still have to work out how we are going to deal with agricultural emissions, which make up 48 per cent of NZ’s total greenhouse emissions.
“We are still in the same situation as when the Productivity Commission in 2018 concluded that whatever technology, politics or market reduction there was, there would still have to be a huge reliance on pine forestry to get to carbon zero by 2050.”
Only viable option now
Phil says without the full range of forest planting options, there is no way NZ is going to meet its targets without more draconian and unpalatable action to reduce emissions further down the track.
Although he points out that carbon sequestration ability of trees stops being an answer in the longer term. “Pines are the only viable immediately available option to reduce net emissions. But we can’t rely on this for more than perhaps one harvest rotation.
“Longer-term measures have to include drastic reductions of use of petrochemicals and development of renewable technologies. Forestry has a role in this as well with such products as plastic replacements and alternative fuels.
“Don’t rely on our industry for the long-term answers, but just as much don’t get in the way of us providing the short-term solutions,” says Phil.