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Forest owners seek international help to fix Kyoto

6 Nov 2008

New Zealand plantation forest owners are working closely with their overseas counterparts to make carbon forestry a more practical proposition.

NZ Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes says the future shape of the Kyoto Protocol is now on the negotiating table, with talks next month in Poznan, Poland about rules for land use and forestry. Negotiations on these and other topics will hopefully culminate in Copenhagen in late 2009 with agreement on a revised protocol for the second commitment period starting in 2013.

Mr Rhodes has just returned from a meeting of the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) in Rome, where he lobbied to get the association to support two significant changes in the Kyoto rules.

“Plantation foresters need the ability to offset – to harvest a forest in one area and replant it elsewhere – without incurring an emissions penalty. While this is totally rational from a plantation management and C02 emissions point of view, we need to reassure environmental groups that, because it is only intended to apply to plantation forests, it won’t open the door to the clearfelling of natural forests.

“Also because European foresters come from a tradition of settled land-use, we need to take the time to explain the importance of land-use flexibility in countries – especially in the Southern Hemisphere – where plantations are the norm.”

The other big change sought involves carbon accounting rules for harvested trees. At present, these assume the entire tree is converted to CO2 at the moment of harvest.

“This makes for simple calculations, but is inaccurate and unfair – especially to exporting countries. Emission accounting for harvested trees should provide recognition for carbon that is locked up in buildings when wood is used during construction.”

Before the ICFPA meeting, Mr Rhodes met with representatives from forest industry associations in Brazil, Chile, Portugal and South Africa who have a common interest in the way plantation forests are treated under Kyoto rules. He then presented these views to the ICFPA meeting where it was agreed that he should develop a draft position paper for consideration by the association.

“The ICFPA is an important international voice and it has traditionally provided leadership on sustainable forest management principles so I am optimistic that forest issues that are critical for the sustainability of plantation forests in countries like New Zealand and Australia will be supported. We have made good progress, but there is a lot more ground to be covered before you could consider it a breakthrough.”

He says the value of working through a body like the ICFPA cannot be overstated.. No individual association has the clout needed to influence change at an international level.

“There is a recognition among many other countries that New Zealand has been at the sharp end of climate change policy development and that this has led to some perverse land-use outcomes. While our situation does not directly impact on some other countries, there is a common interest in having Kyoto rules that are workable, reflect what happens in the atmosphere and are positive for forests and forest products.”

Because environmental and human rights groups play a big role in international negotiations, Mr Rhodes has also been keeping in contact with a number of ENGOs, seeking their support.

“We don’t want to see changes to the protocol that would threaten natural forests, and nor are we saying that recognition of forestry’s role is a substitute for action on emissions,” he says.

Given the similarities with Australia and the developing ETS in that country Mr Rhodes has been working collaboratively with the industry there; as well as with New Zealand government negotiators and Maori forest interests.

With so many issues on the table, so little time, and so many countries clamouring to be heard, it is important that both the NZ industry and government negotiators do their homework and that their efforts are coordinated, he says.

“In order to make the protocol work for forest owners – and to realise the potential forestry has for mitigating climate change – we need the international big guns on our side. That’s what the NZFOA is working to achieve.”

For more information, please contact David Rhodes, Tel 0274 955 525