How farmers, forests and greenies found a friend in bearded bureaucrat, Dr Rod Carr

by | Apr 26, 2023 | Opinion

This week’s draft advice from the Climate Change Commission has achieved a rare win: it’s given farmers, foresters and environmentalists all reason to cheer. 

The document, out for consultation, is the second formal advisory from the Commission and is designed to help the government shape climate policy for the period 2026-2030. The main points in the advice are set out below and there are excellent summaries online by Newsroom and Stuff. If you suffer from insomnia, you can read the full document here.

What’s in it for the food sector? Strong words is what. The Commission warns that New Zealand is heading for a cluster of problems if it continues to address emissions in such an unsophisticated way, that is, planting pine trees. 

In the headlong rush to meet sequestration targets, the government has strongly incentivised the conversion of farmland to permanent, exotic forests. The Commission says that under current settings a sheep farmer would earn about $400 per hectare after tax, while forestry credits will give about $1500 after tax. As a result, some 60,000 ha of new, exotic forests were planted in 2022 – a significant increase on previous years. Some 90% of exotic forestry is pine, and the rest is Douglas Fir and Redwoods.

The trend is enraging farmers, who warn we are losing precious food-producing land. Rural community leaders worry about a loss of jobs and income for service towns. Conservationists hate it for the expansion of permanent, exotic mono-crop forests that pose pest and fire risk and, as seen in Cyclone Gabrielle, are vulnerable to storms. It’s certainly perplexing that currently there’s no financial incentive to plant permanent, native forests.

In addition to all that the current settings will fail to do what they set out to do: reduce emissions. Commission chair Rod Carr: “The current pathway we are on seems to reward sequestration in forests above gross emissions reduction …If we are on that pathway, the commission’s conclusion is, we will not meet the target.”

Moreover, “every time we offset an emission you or I make today with another hectare of forest, we are committing New Zealanders to maintain that forest cover for a very long time, so we are removing choices, options and opportunities from the future.”


Good for growers, farmers and land owners

At issue here is the Emissions Trading Scheme, which allows polluters to simply trade their emissions with NZ Units, most of which are derived from permanent exotic forests. 

Late last year, Carr told a conference that “Aotearoa is the only country in the world with an ETS that allows companies to offset 100 percent of their pollution with forestry … Anytime anyone plants enough trees to sequester a tonne of carbon, we automatically generate an NZU, which is a permit to pollute a tonne of carbon into the atmosphere. Which means, technically, unlimited forestry allows unlimited pollution.”

The Commission strongly advises the government to change the ETS to reduce the incentives for planting permanent, exotic forests. It also wants to see the He Waka Eke Noa proposals implemented “to create more long-term incentives to reduce emissions”.

Despite all the huffin’ and puffin’ from farm lobbyists, this is good news for growers and farmers. If the government can create the right incentives it will reward land-owners for doing the right thing. For farmers, the right thing is growing food in a sustainable, low-emission way. For foresters, the right thing is growing trees that can be harvested and turned into long term carbon storage (timber). For permanent plantations, the right thing is planting and protecting native forests.

As Dame Anne Salmond says, “the planting and restoration of natural forests in New Zealand is declining, and many sheep and beef farms are going under pine trees. This is a shameful outcome that should make our politicians blush.”

Let’s hope this report is the slap they need.


What the Climate Change Commission recommends

  • Accelerating EV charging infrastructure roll out to keep up with demand.

  • Bringing new renewable electricity generation online faster and making sure local lines companies are able to support growth.

  • Scaling up efforts to move industry away from coal and other fossil fuels.

  • Preparing for the rapid roll-out of low emissions technologies and practices on farms.

  • Retrofitting buildings so they are healthier, more resilient, lower emissions and cheaper to run.

  • Avoiding new installations of fossil gas where there are affordable low emissions alternatives.

  • Making it much easier for people to use public transport and active transport.

  • Improving the capture of methane at landfills.

  • Accelerating Iwi/Māori emissions reduction by allocating resources directly.

  • Sorting out the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme and the role of forestry.




About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

Related Posts