No need for delay in forest planting

11 May 2017

Forest owners are saying the government needs to get extra forest planting under way and not wait until next year for a report to be presented on climate change.

The Minister for Climate Change, Paula Bennett, has announced the Productivity Commission will report back in June 2018 with recommendations for achieving a lower carbon economy, to enable New Zealand to achieve its Paris Agreement commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels, by 30 per cent, by 2030.

The Forest Owners Association President, Peter Clark, says the time to start acting on sequesting carbon out of the atmosphere, by using trees, should begin now.

"The government is already supporting the up-take of electric vehicles without waiting for the Productivity Commission. There's every reason to get the same impetus for tree planting, especially on farm and Māori owned land."

"I agree, It might make sense for the government to take time to carefully work out a process to bring agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme for instance."

"But if you want to lock up carbon dioxide, which is already in the atmosphere, there is only one option. It's a no brainer. It doesn't need a year to think about it. The answer is to get on and help get more trees planted. The recent Vivid Economics report on the need for up to nearly doubling the current 1.7 million hectares of New Zealand's plantation forests was quite clear on this," Peter Clark says.

The Vivid report stated "planting new forests is the only technology currently known and implementable on a large scale that has the capacity to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

Peter Clark says the planning must begin now to ensure labour availability and sufficient volume of seedlings to plant out these extra trees.

"As it is, if there is going to be any meaningful expansion of planting, then it'll take another year to build up seedling capacity, which will result in planting out in 2019."

"The government timetable will add at least an extra two years to that. More if legislation is required. That's far too long a delay, especially when you consider that, even on the most rapid government timetable, it would then take until at least until 2026 to grow trees big enough to become effective carbon sinks."

"In the 1990s there was up to nearly 100,000 hectares a year of new plantings. We certainly wouldn't get to that level again for many years, but we do need to make a start now to build up from a static, or even slightly declining, national forest area."

"For every year New Zealand landowners are putting trees into the ground there is an extra year of flexibility for policy makers to take other measures to reduce carbon emissions. Already, our plantation forests lock up, each year, more than half the carbon the whole of New Zealand agriculture produces. So, the forests are a substantial carbon sink."

An expected reduction in available harvest volumes from about 2030 is also a critical factor in expanding forest areas according to Peter Clark.

"The sooner we get more trees into the ground the more likely the New Zealand processing industry will have the confidence to invest in modernising production. Timber availability in the next few years is sawmillers' biggest concern. An efficient and high tech milling industry here would both reduce costs for New Zealand timber consumers and add value to our exports."

Peter Clark says there are specific things the government could do now around the Emissions Trading Scheme to encourage earlier planting.

"It could signal that if it was to allow imported carbon units, then they would not be linked to forest carbon units here. We've already seen the fiasco from importing basically bogus credits from the likes of Russia and Ukraine in the past, and we don't want that again."

"It would also be unfair if the government were to bring in an ETS regime that penalised anyone who planted before the government worked out its ETS rules, and so the government ought to signal a level playing field now."
Peter Clark says the government could lead by example in planting more trees itself – at least in the short term.

"We are talking about a huge change in our primary industries here. I absolutely agree we need to plan this all carefully, especially infrastructure with local government. But that's no reason to delay making a start now, rather than wait for another couple of years to get going."

For further information contact; Peter Clark - ph 021 726 197