NZ needs to expand its forest cover: report

22 April 2016

Pure Advantage today launches its new report, Our Forest Future, as the Government signs a landmark UN agreement to rein in global warming. The group calls for a new national forest strategy that would halt deforestation and ultimately create 1.3 million hectares of new forest.

It argues that planting huge new blocks of permanent native forest and fresh high-carbon commercial forests could avoid large areas of land being lost to erosion, help off-set agricultural emissions and put the country on course for a net-zero greenhouse gas future.

Along with erosion-prone land, new forest should also be planted along waterway margins and urban forest, where the environmental benefits of trees, such as protecting river ecosystems, would be much greater.

New Zealand needed to expand its forest cover, prioritise forest that would remain permanent, allow for diversity in forest stocks and bolster measures to protect them, the report's author, Dr David Hall, said.

It pointed to a shortage of capital as the biggest obstacle to new forest planting, but suggested ways that tree-planting could pay off - particularly by strengthening relations of responsibility between polluters and "anti-polluters".

 

Further, it recommended options to fix the Government's under-review Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which has been criticised for failing to incentivise planting trees through carbon pricing.

This week, the Government was slammed by a Morgan Foundation report that pointed out how its emissions reductions goals had been partly met through buying dodgy foreign carbon credits.

A key motivation for the Pure Advantage report was to help "re-frame" the way the public thought about tackling climate change in New Zealand, where sea level rise would likely exceed the global average, Dr Hall said.

Just like pushing for more renewable energy, planting more forestry was a "tangible target" that delivered other environmental pay-offs and made good economic sense, he said.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, forest removal was averaging around 8,500 hectares per year, while Global Forest Watch put our net loss of tree cover between 2001 and 2014 at 139,793ha - an area most of the size of Stewart Island. The growing of new forests has meanwhile declined from a peak of 98,200 hectares in 1994 to just 2500 in 2014.

To better incentivise planting, he suggested that landowners should have a "smorgasbord" of funding options to pick from depending on their circumstances.

Beyond the Afforestation Grant Scheme and other Government mechanisms like the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative and Erosion Control Funding Programme, he suggested bigger and bolder measures.

These included creating a meaningful carbon price, greater support for community conservation through voluntary offsetting and donations, slashing the actual capital required for planting, state-guaranteed "climate bonds" for forestry investors, funding more QEII covenants and exploring a polluter-pays "environmental consumption tax" independent of the existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

As for the ETS itself, he argued that its lack of credibility could be solved by making either ministers or an independent body, similar to the Reserve Bank, accountable for its outcomes.

Source: NZ Herald. To read the full story >>