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Carbon neutral no pie-in-the-sky

3 November 2006




Carbon neutral no pie-in-the-sky

The government’s goal of achieving a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 is no pie-in-the-sky, according to the NZ Forest Owners Association.

“New Zealand could meet its Kyoto commitments by 2017 and be carbon neutral by 2050, simply by putting sufficient value on carbon,” says Peter Weir, chair of the association’s environmental committee.

Mr Weir is speaking at the Climate Change Festival at Wellington’s Paramount Theatre tomorrow.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand is permitted to discharge 307.6 million tonnes of carbon during the first commitment period from 2008-2012. But according to the latest projections from the government’s Climate Change Office, the country will overshoot this by 41.2 million tonnes.

“New Zealand probably won’t be able to get its net discharges back to allowable levels by 2012. But it could be easily achieved by 2017 if the owners of Kyoto forests – those planted since 1989 – were paid for the carbon their forests are storing,” he says.

“With the right price incentives, farmers and other land owners would see forestry as a viable investment once again. Within a two or three years we could be back to planting 50,000 hectares of new forest a year.”

New Zealand’s 675,000 hectares of Kyoto forests are projected to remove about 150 tonnes of carbon per hectare from the atmosphere in the first commitment period: a total of 100 million tonnes.

However, because of the greater profitability of other land uses and uncertainty about the government’s proposed deforestation tax, new planting rates have plummeted in recent years. Last year, for the first time ever, there was a decline in the net area of plantation forest.

To achieve the prime minister’s target of being carbon neutral by 2050, land owners would need to keep planting 50,000 ha of new forest a year for 40 years, says Mr Weir. At that point, the area of plantation forest would have more than doubled to around 4 million hectares.

“Much of that forest would be very different from the forests we are familiar with,” he says.

“If the government gets its policy mix right, we will be planting a diverse range of native and exotic species to cater for various economic and environmental needs. We need hardwoods to replace unsustainable tropical imports and other species selected for bio-fuel production.

“At the same time we need to have more integration of trees into our farming landscape.

“There are many hill country areas, particularly in the southern North Island, where trees are desperately needed to arrest soil loss from erosion. In the central North Island, lake water quality is being threatened by excess nitrogen discharged by livestock.

“A patchwork of forests planted along riparian margins and on erosion-prone hillsides would help make farming much more sustainable, while providing land owners with additional income streams.”

Mr Weir says the forest industry recognises that emitting industries need time to adapt, so it does not expect the economy to be opened up to full carbon trading until the second Kyoto commitment period. In the meantime, Kyoto forest owners should be granted credits of sufficient value to make tree planting economic again.

“Other measures would include the introduction of carbon charges for high energy construction materials like steel and cement, to encourage greater use of wood in the construction of homes and commercial buildings,” he says.

“There also need to be strong incentives for bio-fuel production. Feedstocks would include forest thinnings and harvest residues, as well as plant material from species grown specifically for this purpose.”


NB: The following stats are from

New Zealand land-use (hectares)

Planted Forest 1 608 400
Indigenous Forest 6 215 000
Shrubland 2 678 700
Tussock 3 638 500
Pastoral 10 361 800


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