Deforestation policy not as simple as it appears

Thursday 28 February 2008, 10:17PM
By Hon Jim Anderton

The Labour-Progressive Government today welcomed the contribution to the climate change policy debate from the ‘Flexible Land Use Alliance’ but warned that the issues are not as straightforward as the group portrays.

Forestry Minister Jim Anderton said that it may seem pretty simple to cut down one forest and plant another one somewhere else, but, in climate terms, there is a period when we have lost carbon and it will take several decades to get it back.

“This matters because while we are slowly recouping the carbon the lost carbon is having a warming effect on the planet. Furthermore, because agricultural emissions would increase as a result of this proposal, New Zealand would be increasing as opposed to decreasing its overall carbon footprint.”

Jim Anderton said the Flexible Land Use Alliance’s ‘first preference’ of all pre-1990 forests being exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme was a non-starter.

“This is inconsistent with the Kyoto Protocol’s rules, it would create a huge liability for the taxpayer with no benefit for the environment, and would destroy any credibility for New Zealand in taking a leadership position on global deforestation.”

Climate Change Minister David Parker said: “It is not true that the Government can give effect to Kyoto by any means it choose, we have to live within the rules. Rules negotiated by over 100 countries will always involve compromise and if every country refused to make commitments that didn’t suit them then we would never reach agreement on anything.

“It is an inescapable fact that our plantation forests hold carbon that will be lost to the atmosphere if the land is deforested so at the very least we need to do something to remedy this. As such we reject the view that any controls on deforestation are retrospective and therefore unfair – the controls are not on the past practice of planting a forest, they are on future practice of changing land use. There is no liability for foresters who replant the same land after harvest,” David Parker said.

Jim Anderton said the Government acknowledged that the Kyoto’s Protocol’s rules created an anomaly between the replanting of existing forest land and the planting of new land and looked at an offset scheme, such as that proposed by the Flexible Land Use Alliance, when developing policy last year. At the time the Government concluded that the disadvantages outweighed the benefits.

“We are happy to relook at the issue, have the proposal evaluated and discuss it with stakeholders. However, today’s proposal lacks detail and there are some difficulties that need to be considered, such as how to ensure the new land use, which will usually be agriculture, pays the full emission costs of the new activity. No one can argue that the taxpayer should subsidise the felling of forests and also the new emitting activity on the land as well,” Jim Anderton said.

He also said the Alliance were silent about the Government’s allocation of 55 million free units for deforestation, worth $825 million to $2.75 billion, to landowners.

David Parker noted that some members of the Flexible Land Use Alliance had made different proposals regarding deforestation policy through the Climate Change Leadership Forum. These proposals are currently being independently analysed by the University of Waikato and Covec, and the results of this work are due shortly.

Jim Anderton also noted, “The Government is heavily engaged with Maori over forestry policy under the Emissions Trading Scheme and making good progress on addressing their concerns.”