Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Consultation on forestry management plan begins

The Government is inviting feedback on plans to improve the way New Zealand manages forestry to ensure it works for nature, the climate, local communities, and the economy.

Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor said the consultation was a step toward delivering the Labour Party Manifesto commitment to empower local councils to decide which land can be used for plantation and carbon forests through the resource consent process.

Proposals including broadening the control by local authorities over the planting of exotic forests in their districts, including whether to widen the scope of the regulations to include permanent exotic afforestation (exotic carbon forests), with the opening of public consultation on the National Environmental Statement for Plantation Forests (NES-PF).

“This consultation supports the Government’s aim to balance the type and scale of afforestation happening across New Zealand – to get the right tree in the right place,” Mr O’Connor said.

”We are addressing concerns about the impacts to the environment and on rural communities from the potential conversion of productive farmland to exotic carbon forests.

“The forestry sector makes an important contribution to our economy, communities, and the environment and it is vital that the sector grows in a way that is productive and sustainable. This step helps build a high value, high wage and low emissions future for New Zealand,” he said.

Forestry Minister, Stuart Nash said New Zealand was seeing greater investment in forestry due to the significant increase in the carbon price, forestry’s role in reaching national emissions reduction goals, and demand for wood products.

“However, large-scale change in land use for exotic carbon forestry, if left unchecked and without any management oversight or requirements, has the potential for unintended impacts on the environment, rural communities, and regional economies,” said Mr Nash.

“The proposed changes include local government having more discretion to decide on the location, scale, type and management of plantation and exotic carbon forests in their districts.

“We’re seeking feedback on options for giving local councils more control over which land can be used for afforestation including both plantation and exotic carbon forests, through the resource consent process. Councils would be able to decide based on social and economic factors which are specific to their areas and communities,” he said.

Associate Minister of Local Government, Kieran McAnulty said uncontrolled planting of permanent forestry undermines the sustainability of rural communities.

“That’s why the Government has expanded Labour’s Manifesto commitment, and want to give local councils the ability to determine where and to what extent exotic carbon forests can be planted across all land classes.”

“Local councils know their communities best, and I encourage everyone, rural and urban, to submit to allow their council to permit exotic carbon forestry in a way the community wants,” said Minister McAnulty.

Minister of Climate Change James Shaw added that it was crucial to make sure the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry and the Emissions Trading Scheme work together to deliver Government priorities on climate action and biodiversity.

“Planting trees is no replacement for reducing gross emissions. Even so, the NES-PF and the Emissions Trading Scheme still have to work together to make sure the settings are right for restoring and replanting native forests. It will take some time to get this right, but that is what we are working to achieve,” he said.

“Right now, the rules put in place by previous Governments are not working. A rising price for carbon credits has created a strong financial incentive to establish new exotic forestry plantations. At the same time, the NES for Plantation Forestry doesn’t apply to permanent exotic forests.

“Now we have Aotearoa New Zealand’s first ever plan in place to cut climate pollution in every part of the country – backed with $4.5 billion of investment – we need to make sure forestry is done in an environmentally sound way. The forestry sector needs to contribute to emissions reduction, better environmental outcomes, and a resilient rural economy.”

Ministers also confirmed that the Government will maintain its long-term goal of enabling permanent forests to transition to natives over time. Further work will need to be done to determine the best way to achieve this, they said. To allow time for this work to be completed, and following consultation, the permanent forest category will remain unchanged for now and come into effect on 1 January 2023.

“Exotic afforestation is a key component of New Zealand’s response to climate change. However, increasing carbon prices in the NZ ETS may lead to higher-than-expected levels of exotic carbon forestry,” Mr Nash said.

A group of Māori and other technical forestry experts will help redesign the settings of the ETS permanent forestry category so it better supports long-term indigenous carbon sinks.

“For decades, successive Governments have tried to deal with our biodiversity and climate crises separately. But the reality is, neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together. This is why we need to make sure we are genuinely reducing emissions, while also enabling restoration and replanting of our native forests, in which our indigenous wildlife can thrive – and that we are doing so in a way that works for tangata whenua,” Minister Shaw said. 

The changes are intended to come into effect from 1 January 2025.

Ministers encourage anyone involved in forestry or with an interest in the primary sector to provide feedback through the consultation process.

Meanwhile, Energy Resources Aotearoa has today urged a a more moderate approach be taken to proposed changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme.

“The Climate Change Commission’s proposals are a departure from a focus on a least-cost transition and the embracing of gross emissions targets instead of the net targets passed by Parliament,” said Energy Resources Aotearoa chief executive, John Carnegie.

“The proposals would frontload the costs of the transition at a time when households and businesses are already grappling with rising costs, and supply chain and labour constraints. They don’t reflect the reality that innovative technologies become more affordable over time.

“We unambiguously support the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. But why make that already challenging task more expensive and disruptive than it needs to be?

“There is a better way. We support a least-cost approach based on stable, predictable ETS settings. This would impose far fewer unnecessary costs and make it much easier for households and businesses to plan for the long-term transition.”

He said Energy Resources Aotearoa’s analysis shows that compared to today, an emissions price of $170, could see the average household spend:

  • $200 (9%) more for electricity each year;
  • $150 (12%) more for natural gas each year; and
  • $300 (10%) more for petrol each year.

Mr Carnegie says that that frequent and significant tinkering with the ETS will encourage market speculation and ultimately imperil New Zealand’s climate goals.

“New Zealand has a world-leading emissions trading scheme that enjoys widespread public and political support. That support should not be taken for granted.”

“We are therefore calling on policymakers to take a more moderate approach that recognises the need for stability and predictability in the ETS,” he said.

Find out more about the consultation and have your say at https://www.mpi.govt.nz/consultations/national-direction-for-plantation-and-exotic-carbon-afforestation

Find out more about the next steps for the NZ ETS permanent forest category at https://www.mpi.govt.nz/consultations/managing-exotic-afforestation-incentives

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