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Carbon forestry as a driver for land use change

By Steve J Wakelin, Les Dowling, Juan J Monge and Graham G West , October 2018.


Land use change in New Zealand towards a mosaic of forested and pastoral landscapes may occur through regulatory and market drivers. The implications for natural resource research programmes and consultants in this area is quite significant. Carbon sequestration to meet the Paris Agreement limits by 2030 is likely to be the short-term driver. Longer term public expectation on water quality and animal welfare will add to this.

Government’s “one billion trees” proposal together with signals that agriculture sector emissions may be brought into the ETS have heightened interest in tree planting. However, modelling the carbon and financial implications of tree planting presents several significant complications for analysts, and there has been some inconsistency in how these are addressed. Tree planting can serve multiple purposes, and these multiple objectives need to be explicitly recognised in a more integrated analysis.

This paper describes work undertaken to “demystify” small scale carbon forestry for landowners, as a step towards removing some of the barriers to participation in the Emissions Trading Scheme. Difficulties arise in addressing the ‘permanence” of carbon sequestered by trees, affecting the degree to which on-farm emissions can be offset and the benefit to the landowners from ETS participation. While more demand for carbon units to offset agricultural emissions would go some way towards making carbon forestry more financially attractive to landowners, there is abundant evidence that this will not in itself lead to the desired land use change. There is a need to develop economic and financial metrics that resonate with land managers, and to understand their broader objectives.

More generally, sustainable land use and intergenerational equity requires analyses that consider ecosystem services, social license to operate, health and safety, and resilient cash flows. Through the integration of these factors, the use of NZs finite land resource may be better rationalised.

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