Kyoto officials face forest lock-out

29 Jun 2005

The NZ Forest Owners Association is suggesting to its members that they refuse entry to government officials intending to set up carbon monitoring plots in private forests.

President Peter Berg has confirmed that the association has suggested to its members that they not allow such entry to their forests until far more substantial consultation has taken place. He says it is a decision that has been taken in response to members' concerns, that it has not been taken lightly, and that it is not a preferred course of action.

The plots will provide baseline data to measure what the real levels of carbon are in New Zealand forests. This information will be required for determining how many credits are available and who may be facing liabilities and taxes associated with land-use change.

Mr Berg says the government, by their estimate, has nationalised around $2.5 billion worth of privately-owned carbon credits. Government estimated that half of this was surplus to meeting NZ’s emissions target, representing a very large "windfall" for them, in the minister's own words. It is therefore particularly galling that they have also made forest owners liable for the loss of nationalised carbon credits if they don’t replant pre-1990 forests harvested after 2007.

"The very sector that New Zealand is relying on to meet its Kyoto obligations is the same one that is being penalised," says Mr Berg.

"The government has a real cheek expecting forest owners to help them find a way to calculate a tax for changing land-use, after taking their carbon credits from them."

The tax forms part of a package of government Kyoto policies which the association says is scaring forest investors away and encouraging owners of older forests to convert to them to dairy farms after harvest. For the first time in 100 years, the area of New Zealand in plantation forest is likely to fall.

Mr Berg says if forest owners got all or most of the value of their carbon credits then forest plantings, instead of falling, would be significantly increasing and soaking up greenhouse gases.

"New Zealand needs to be planting 60,000 new hectares of forest a year to meet the country's greenhouse gas targets. If we fail to meet this target, every New Zealand family will be paying hundreds of dollars more in tax, to fund the carbon shortfall."

He says the association would be working against the interests of its members if he asked them to co-operate with Kyoto officials.

"A number of them are so incensed with the government's policies and minister Hodgson's refusal to have any discussions with us, that they have already barred officials from entering their forests. I am happy to support them."

The association — along with many other industry groups — advised the government to delay ratification of the Kyoto Protocol until the true costs to New Zealand had been established, and until the country's major trading competitors had made their move.

"But the government went ahead anyway on the erroneous premise that New Zealand stood to make billions on dollars from signing. This windfall is now shown to have been a mirage," Mr Berg says.

"This is very unfortunate for New Zealand. But unless there is a change of approach, the collapse in new plantings is likely to continue.

"The result of this will be a massive increase in New Zealand's carbon liability, which will need to be funded by higher taxes and possibly reduced spending on social services."

Mr Berg says forest owners want climate change minister Pete Hodgson to agree that positive changes to the government's Kyoto policies are needed, so that further tree plantings are encouraged for the benefit of the environment and the economy.

"Minister Hodgson's refusal to even discuss the need for a policy change demonstrates an extremely cavalier attitude and a lack of commercial understanding."

For more information, contact
Peter Berg Tel 021 421 291 or Peter Weir, Tel 0274 547 873