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Smart Carbon Farming Won’t Go Up In Flames

Carbon-farming is a vital climate resilience tool, and highlighting the risks in the highest risk areas is scaremongering, Ekos chief executive Dr Sean Weaver says.

Dr Weaver was responding to a report claiming land planted for carbon farming will be losing money in 100 years, leaving behind potentially unsellable land covered in ageing pine, impacting on employment, forestry and farming.

Ekos is a leader in native carbon forestry. It grows and protects native forests, and where economically necessary uses exotic woodlots to fund the native forest element – because native carbon forestry on its own is very challenging financially. When using exotics, Ekos actively transitions the exotic forest to native forest through systematic small scale harvest and replacement over several decades.

“This approach is commercially viable and can be retrofitted into any permanent pine forestry operations. Then in the long term native timbers can be sustainably managed to create a permanent revenue stream,” Weaver said.

“Some have suggested that carbon farms across the country will all burn down, making it a waste of time and money. This doesn’t stack up with the NIWA and Ministry for the Environment climate projections which show many parts of New Zealand will actually get wetter,” Weaver says.

“Some regions, particularly eastern Hawkes Bay and parts of the Gisborne district are going to get hotter and dryer in coming decades, but further west and south annual rainfall will likely increase. But even on the East Coast, forestry can have a valuable role to play in the region’s economy, particularly if managed sustainably and in partnership with local communities.”

Forest insurance premiums would rise in areas of higher risk, steering some forestry activities towards lower risk regions, and lower risk forest types in dryer regions, he says.

“Native forest is far less fire prone than exotic plantations, making native reforestation of erosion-prone catchments and waterways a better option to protect biodiversity and deal with extreme weather events now and in the future”.

“We work with farmers to convert steep lands unsuitable for agriculture to restorative carbon farming,” Weaver said. “Some East Coast rivers have among the highest sedimentation rates on the planet, because the erosion lands upstream simply cannot cope with pastoralism.”

The way forward was a necessary balance of science, economics, local knowledge and working together, Weaver says.

“The reality is that carbon farming is a tool helping to fund the massive reforestation needed for climate resilience at little or no cost to the taxpayer. This is vitally important work. The country needs over a million hectares of permanent reforestation – costing many billions of dollars – to prepare for the increased intensity of ex-tropical cyclones we will see in coming decades,” Weaver says. “These cyclones promise to wreck a lot of downstream farms, property and infrastructure unless we reduce this impact by recloaking the hills.”

“Fire and wind damage will always be a threat and no area is immune to risk, but the bigger threat is climate change and not preparing for what is coming. We need to make massive emission reductions and grow as many sustainable and native forests as we can. We need to do this by working with our farming communities who are on the climate change front line – they are the ones whose livelihoods and wellbeing get broken in droughts and floods,” he says.

The most common patterns of annual precipitation change projected between 1995 and 2090. Source: Ministry for the Environment 2018.

Dr Sean Weaver is an expert in environmental financing and indigenous forest carbon markets. He is pioneering market-based models for sustainable land management in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. He has consulted to the World Bank, African Development Bank, the Pacific Community, Pacific Island governments, central and local government in New Zealand, as well as businesses, universities and community organisations. He is a former Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies and Geography at Victoria University of Wellington and the University of the South Pacific and has a PhD in Forestry.

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