Thursday, November 11, 2021

Climate Change: Support for native forests

While the ETS has many, many flaws, one way it is working properly is encouraging displacement of unproductive agriculture by carbon farming. On current carbon prices - and indeed, anything over ~$20 / ton - its is more profitable to plant trees and collect carbon credits than farm sheep and beef cattle in much of the country. This change is one we should welcome - it reduces emissions, while replacing less profitable economic activity with a more profitable one - but it has led to a lot of angst from old farmers worried about land being taken out of production and communities being destroyed.

The trees planted are mostly pine, because that's what is used for forestry, and because it soaks up a lot of carbon. The Climate Change Commission doesn't like this, and would rather see more native forests (which soak up more carbon because they are longer-lived, and have greater biodiversity benefits as well). But movement in that direction is thwarted by the low rates of carbon absorbtion recognised in MPI's Carbon look-up Tables. Those values are based on regenerating indigenous shrubland, which is a low-cost way of restoring native forest and what people were doing in 2008 when the tables were calculated. But now work has been done on planted native forest, showing that carbon uptake is significantly higher, and comparable to pine after 50 years. They recommend that the look-up tables be updated to include an option for planted native forest.

This seems to be a good idea, and likely to help drive the change the Climate Commission wants. Pine will still be more profitable in the short-term (especially if harvested), but native forests will soak up farm more carbon (and therefore produce far more income from credits) in the long-term. And they can be planted on land unsuitable for forestry. While the work will no doubt need to be checked, and there's a process to follow to update the regulations, the sooner that process starts, the better.