Friday, September 26, 2008

Climate change: a backdown on forestry

Writing in the NBR this morning, Ben Thomas points out that the National Party have backed down completely on the issue of deforestation offsets. During the debate over the Emissions Trading Scheme, they pushed for forest owners to be allowed to cut down their trees provided they planted an equivalent area elsewhere. But in their forestry policy [PDF], they commit to offsetting "subject to a full assessment of the costs involved".

Those costs are significant. The Kyoto Protocol does not recognise forest offsetting, which means that any such scheme will leave the government liable for the full cost of carbon. At current rates of deforestation, that would cost the government about $600 million. Even National recognises that that is a non-starter:

Mr Ardern says he does not envisage a National government offering any kind of subsidy along those lines.

“I can’t imagine any National government coming up with any sort of multi-million dollar package that in effect was a transfer of taxpayer funds to a particular sector, because that’s a subsidy in anyone’s language.”

Instead, they're promising to try and renegotiate the international climate change regime so that it recognises the issues of commercial plantation forestry rather than focusing on the problem of strip-mining tropical rainforest. But this is already government policy, and the ETS already allows the activation of an offsetting scheme if the international regime changes. So, despite all the noise to the contrary, National has adopted the government's policy. It would be nice if they were honest enough to admit it.