Green groups and foresters call for effective and fair climate policies

30 Oct 2007

Major environmental groups and forest owners have joined forces to call for stronger climate change policies that introduce a price on all greenhouse gases in all sectors without delay, that are fairer across the sectors and that protect indigenous biodiversity and natural carbon stores.

In a show of unity on the issue, the groups last night formally signed the New Zealand Climate Change Accord, an extension of the 1991 New Zealand Forest Accord.

"The Emissions Trading Scheme and associated forestry policy provides a potential platform for dealing appropriately with greenhouse gas emissions and is a step in the right direction, but the policies need to adequately recognise the climate change and other environmental benefits of indigenous and plantation forests," says Peter Berg, President of the New Zealand Forest Owners Association.

Unfortunately, the scheme fully shelters agriculture from the costs of their emissions until after 2013, with partial shelter continuing until 2025. This means intensive farming in particular will be subsidised by taxpayers who will pay for their emissions obligations, while forestry is not getting full recognition for storing carbon out of harm's way, says Cath Wallace for ECO.

"The exemption provided for farmers had created an incentive for various other business lobby groups to demand similar privileges," says Jörn Scherzer of Ecologic. "Today's Accord is a call for the Government to stick with the polluter pays principle in its emission trading scheme, and not to water it down. Instead it should be strengthened further."

"The price on greenhouse gases from the Emissions Trading Scheme is welcomed," says Kevin Hackwell of the Forest and Bird Protection Society. "But the present policy could encourage the felling of native scrub that is regenerating to forest, or the planting of pines on pristine tussock lands. The Accord partners want the government to put more effort into protecting and enhancing forests, wood products and other carbon sink eco-systems."

"We want the policies to be equitable and to recognise the environmental benefits of both indigenous forests and exotic plantations." says NZ Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes. "In contrast to other sectors the forest industry is facing immediate and significant inequities."

"Forestry can make a major contribution to New Zealand meeting its emission reduction targets, and even to improving security of energy supply," says Molly Melhuish of the Sustainable Energy Forum.

"Some logs that were virtually uneconomic to export are now being solar-dried in the forest, and used for fuel to replace coal and electricity. Carbon is stored in trees, and wood products substitute for materials such as steel and concrete that produce greater greenhouse gas emissions when they are being manufactured. Mill and forest residues could provide almost as much energy as today's hydro resource."

Professor Andy Buchanan of the Timber Design Society adds that timber used as a building material can make a major contribution to carbon emissions reductions through carbon being stored in wood products, reduced emissions in the manufacturing process compared with other materials, and carbon neutral energy obtained from wood waste during manufacturing, construction, use and demolition of buildings.

Under the provisions of the original NZ Forest Accord, forest owners agreed not to clear native forests to establish plantations and to protect remnants of indigenous vegetation within their plantations. For their part, conservationists acknowledged the importance of plantation forests as a means of producing wood products and on a sustainable basis.

The key policy points of the new Accord are:

  • Carbon sequestration by forests should be utilised to help New Zealand's transition to a carbon neutral economy.
  • Wood is a renewable, reusable and recyclable resource that can play a significant role in the production of energy; and can be substituted for materials that cause greater greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Government policies must be consistent with the polluter pays principle -- be broad-based, equitable, efficient and cover all greenhouse gases in all sectors;
  • They should have clear, early, time-bound targets that lead to net greenhouse gas emission reductions;
  • They should promote the retention and expansion of indigenous forests and the replanting and expansion of plantation forests and associated use of wood products to recognise their positive climate change benefits, and encourage the maintenance and enhancement of existing carbon reservoirs and carbon sinks;
  • They should avoid perverse outcomes such as the loss of indigenous forests or greenhouse reservoirs in other indigenous ecosystems; and should avoid net increases in green house gases;
  • Be consistent with customary rights and responsibilities of Maori; and with the Treaty of Waitangi;
  • Be non-partisan and politically durable; and
  • Recognise the contribution of the post-1990 forests to New Zealand's Kyoto Protocol Commitments.

The Parties to this agreement are:

  • Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Ecologic Foundation
  • New Zealand Farm Forestry Association
  • Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand
  • New Zealand Forest Owners Association
  • Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand
  • Sustainable Energy Forum
  • WWF-New Zealand
  • New Zealand Timber Design Society
  • Pacific Institute of Resource Management