The Flexible Land Use Alliance, which has announced it has a parliamentary majority for its forestry offset scheme, needs to realise that the Green Party's support is conditional.
“We are enthusiastic about finding win-win solutions where sustainable business can prosper with no harm to the environment or the economy,” Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says.
The Alliance is proposing a scheme which will allow landowners who want to harvest trees planted before 1990 and convert the land for farming, to plant an equivalent area of forest elsewhere. Under the present rules they must replant the same piece of land or pay for the deforestation under the Emissions Trading Scheme.
“It makes sense that the atmosphere does not care whether a forest is replanted on the same site or a different one, as long as it absorbs the same amount of carbon, does not destroy other environmental values, and can be accommodated within the Kyoto rules. However, our support for the Alliance's proposal is conditional on these conditions being met,” Ms Fitzsimons says.
“The Kyoto rules allow harvesting and replanting on the same site to ignore the sudden loss of carbon and the gradual rebuild. Clearing from one site and replanting another requires the forester to pay for the sudden loss of carbon and gain credits again only at the rate it re-grows. That is the essence of the Alliance's complaint.
“We think it is acceptable for the Government to cover the cash flow effects so long as the fiscal effect over the life of the forest is neutral. If it is not, there is no reason why the public should pay.
“Also, there is land which was in grass in 1990 and which therefore qualifies for new forest planting under Kyoto. However, in the 17 years since then it may have regenerated into dense manuka and the early stages of native forest with associated wildlife. There is other land that is native tussock land which would be eligible for afforestation under Kyoto but has important biodiversity values. We do not agree with destroying indigenous ecosystems for pine trees just so that other forest can be converted to dairying.
“On some soils the growth rate may be slower than on the land which is currently under forest. If a company wishes to offset planting on less fertile land, more may need to be planted than is being cleared, to store the same amount of carbon.
“I applaud the forestry industry for looking for alternatives that will create benefit for them with no long term harm to the climate or our economy, and I welcome the debate we will have in select committee. However, the Greens will be looking very hard at the total economic and environmental impact of any offset scheme.”