For quite some time organisations like Beef+Lamb have been raising concerns around afforestation and the ETS, and the negative impacts monoculture forests and indeed carbon farming will have on not only the primary industry and rural communities but there are wider environment. This is why it is so important ETS settings are reviewed and changed to put a brake on a run away forestry industry and the looming crisis that will ensue.
Over the next 2 episodes I am chatting with Rob Morrison of Pure Advantage which supports a broad range of sustainability, regenerative and green growth-focused research activities. Their goal is cutting-edge theory and practice to transform how New Zealanders understand and manage the relationship between the environment and the economy.
I asked him whether the current ETS settings are working in New Zealand?
“Well, the ETS is not currently fit for purpose, so I think that's it's abundantly clear. And what we're now seeing because it's not fit for purpose, and because of the policy settings around the ETS we're seeing a misallocation of capital pretty much across the country, and it's an accelerating misallocation of capital. And we're seeing that base of land conversion, people, landowners, international investors, iwi, chasing carbon credits and then it's a euphemism but chasing the so called carbon farming. And it is what we're ultimately going to see in the long term really devastating, I think socio economic impacts particularly in rural areas, but also massive by biodiversity impacts. So yeah, the ETS in simple terms is not fit for purpose.”
Why are we not incentivising and planting and regeneration of native vegetation, surely this has a more environmental benefit long term than exotics?
“Yeah absolutely. So I think we're a little bit caught ransom by the forestry industry. So clearly there’s been a lot of investment in forestry and we've seen significant plantings and those plantings are accelerating. If you look at the land use change in terms of forestry post 1989, there's roughly 400,000 hectares of forestry and something like 90/10, 90 into exotics and 10% into indigenous forests, so it's heavily overweighted. And the root cause of the problem is that the lookup tables in the ETS are all weighted to Pinus Radiata.”
“I think if you look at the ETS lookup table, there's only one lookup table for native trees, and that's based on regenerating Kanuka or Manuka, so if you're sitting there with a block of land and you go, Hey, I think I might go plant some trees here, you go to the ETS you look at the lookup tables and it's all about Pinus Radiata. And then you look at the one lookup table for native trees and that's for Manuka and Kanuka, regenerated Manuka and Kanuka at about five or six tonnes of carbon sequestration per annum and then you go well that's not great, because this Pinus Radiata is generating 20 or 30. So you go I can make much more money if I do that. So we've got this completely skewed regulatory framework, that is encouraging the planting of Pinus Radiata.”
“A lot of people who are in pine argue that it's more expensive to plant natives and so on, and who also argue wrongly that native trees don't sequester the same amount of carbon. So what we've had is a forestry industry that's been completely weighted towards plantation forestry, the research has all gone into plantation forestry, the developments gone to the plantation forestry, the genetic science has gone into that. And we really haven't looked at our native forests and said, what are we doing here? Why aren't we investing that sort of money into our native forests, and that just hasn't happened. And really, the leadership out of The MFE and out of a number of governments has been incredibly poor on this issue. I think sheep and beef (Beef+Lamb), Landcare Research they estimate around 1.2 hectares is of regenerating, you know scrub land in the country. Well, if you put the same amount of effort into looking at that as potential carbon sequestration sinks versus Pinus Radiata, we'd be having a completely different conversation about forestry in this country."
New Zealand’s primary industry needs a high level strategy which includes GVT, industry and farmers to ensure NZs image and our reality is a sustainable farming future, this needs to be captivated. This includes native vegetation on farms sequestering carbon, it includes increased biodiversity, it is a mixed farming model which does include pine trees, but it should not include the endless expansion of monoculture exotic forests. Nor should we allow big industry emitters to dump their pollution on good productive farm land through the ETS in the current manor that they are, large scale afforestation is short sighted and will not serve this country well in the long run.
New Zealand’s story should be one of sustainable food production which supports and enhances our natural environment, we now live in a world where the market is increasingly demanding sustainably sourced food and traceability, so we need to be driving this change in the right manor, we need to be keeping pace and exceeding market expectations.
This will in the long run allow us to command a premium for our products and farmers will be able to reap what they have sown and benefit, with increased farm gate returns for their efforts.
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Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.