Carbon Credits - the ongoing saga
The NZ Government can't see the native forest for the plantation pins.
by Jo Ritchie


The Autumn Newsletter contained a summary of a carbon credits workshop organised by the Trust with John Dentice from Kyoto Forests NZ and support from the Community Board. Those who attended were encouraged by the progress being made towards the inclusion of natural regeneration and native forests as a source of carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration refers to the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide gas into solid carbon containing compounds, such as wood, by the process of photosynthesis. However, since then progress appears to have slowed to snailís pace and some would say even this is optimistic.
At the time of the workshop, submissions were being sought on the Climate Change (Forestry Sector) Regulations. These Regulations give effect to the forestry components of the Emissions Trading Scheme or ETS. They include the fees and charges associated with the scheme and how carbon sequestration will be measured. The short version is that it bodes well for the production forestry sector but is unworkable for anyone else, i.e. those of us that would like to use our regenerating bush for carbon sequestration.
This is because the fees and charges are excessive and more importantly because it is proposed to set single sequestration default rate of 3 tonnes CO2/ha for all indigenous forest regeneration. Further there is no methodology included to enable landowners to measure carbon sequestration in indigenous forests and no commitment when or if such a methodology will be created and implemented despite the fact that Landcare Research has done a considerable amount of work in this area.
It is simplistic to state that indigenous sequestration rates do not vary significantly amongst broad vegetation types when there is quite wide variation in species composition, age of forest and climatic and soil conditions. For example: we all know how fast manuka/kanuka forests on Great Barrier can rapidly sequester carbon. Indigenous sequestration rates could also be artificially enhanced through plantings of faster growing more rapid sequestration species and by the removal of key animal pests such as possums. Wetlands, particularly peat-lands are also known to sequester significant amounts of carbon below ground as well as above.
In a submission prepared on the regulations I concluded the following: The current proposal of a conservative default value of 3 tonnes CO2/ha/yr for indigenous forests, in combination with the high fees act as a disincentive to land owners with suitable land who may wish to carry out restoration projects.
Indigenous forests should be treated the same as exotic forests in regards to having a fair and equitable measuring system. Hence landowners will be encouraged to restore land to indigenous forests which will be in the best interest to NZ due to the increased environmental benefits that indigenous forests provide compared to monocultures such as exotic pine plantations. A balance between these types of forests needs to be managed. Currently the scheme is severely disadvantaging restoration of indigenous forests.
The regulations are overly biased towards the management of exotic forestry with little consideration given to native forestry plantations and the significant role that indigenous forest regeneration could play.
It has been conservatively estimated that there is 250,000 ha of reverting scrubland that could, with sufficient incentives, be included in the ETS scheme. This represents 7.5 million tonnes of carbon sequestration for the first Kyoto Commitment period. The proposed system provides a disincentive to maintain and enhance this land. The downstream consequences of continued large scale clearance of scrubland particularly in erosion prone areas and at the head of catchments, will be significant. Cyclone Bola on the East Cape provided a relevant example.
Encouragement needs to be given to indigenous forest regeneration as by its very nature it is more environmentally sustainable in the longterm than rotationally felled exotic forest. It requires far less in the way of artificial inputs (e.g. fertiliser, herbicides, thinning), provides significant additional benefits (e.g. increased biodiversity, permanent forest cover, better catchment water quality, manuka honey production, tourism opportunities) than exotic forest. It is the combination of a fair and equitable system for inclusion of indigenous forest combined with its additional benefits that are likely to encourage landowners to maintain and enhance reverting scrubland as opposed to returning it to pasture.
Kyoto Forests (NZ) have become so disillusioned with the whole issue that they have put business on the back burner for a while as they can see no future while the regulators have a blinkered view which favours production forests over native forests.
Who knows what will happen next? Itís rumoured that if there is a change in government that National wants to throw the whole system out the window and start again. All I can say is better to build and amend the work that has been done rather than waste the considerable investment that has been put in to date. Donít bother watching this space as your eyes will glaze over as a result of the speed at which these things happen.