Ways to #CutTheGap: Carbon Forestry

There’s a growing gap between New Zealand's rising carbon pollution and the Government's commitments to reduce it. The good news is there are a bunch of practical things we can do now to #CutTheGap and invest in a better future. It might sound simple, but planting trees can be a big part of that.

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When it comes to stopping climate change the priority is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. In the end it's a long-term game, and science has demonstrated that the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted will be the main factor in how much global warming we will have to deal with.

Planting trees in order to soak up carbon is part of the solution as well. Planting new permanent forests can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well as help protect biodiversity. More plantations of crop forests such as pine on land currently in unproductive use (being careful to avoid competition with food production) will also help. Sustainable wood has an important role in the future as a low carbon building material and energy source to replace fossil fuels - especially with the prospect of turning it into advanced biofuels.

From New Zealand's perspective, planting trees now could make a big contribution to reducing our net greenhouse gas emissions under the international carbon accounting system. This is now a political and economic necessity as a result of the mess we're in due to lack of action from successive governments.

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As the graph above shows, despite our rising gross emissions we have “kept up” with our emissions commitments since 2008, purely by virtue of a boom in pine forest replanting in the mid-1990s (and rules that allow us to account for this). However this has been something of an illusion, as in the coming years these forests will be harvested and all that carbon will have to be repaid – so it's just like putting the bill on the credit card. This is the reason our net greenhouse gas emissions are about to skyrocket by 50% by 2025, posing a massive liability to our economy and our international reputation.

By getting planting new forest area now we can reduce some of that impact. It's important to emphasise that none of this is a substitute for taking action now to cut our emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture though.

So how much is possible? Analysis by the Iwi Climate Change Leaders Group suggests that restoring a steady price on carbon of at least $15 per tonne would significantly increase forestry investment, with up to 100,000 hectares being planted per year over the next ten years.

If started next year, these new plantings could be absorbing up to 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2025. This would singlehandedly reduce our net greenhouse gas emissions back to roughly 1990 levels, rather than the current massive projected overshoot of over 60% (see the graph above).

On top of this, there are real economic gains to be had from the boost to the forestry industry. The planting will mainly occur on marginal land (that wouldn’t otherwise be used for farming or other productive purposes) and in regional areas. Forestry requires jobs, for planting and maintaining the forested areas, which means this change would provide an economic boon to currently struggling regions. The Iwi Climate Change Leaders Group claims that the scenario described above would generate 50,000 new and permanent forestry jobs.

The Government could act immediately to achieve this by announcing the phase-in of a 'price floor' of $15 per tonne in the Emissions Trading Scheme, as the Iwi Climate Change Leaders Group has called for.

By creating the right incentives for tree planting and taking other practical actions in areas such as transport, the Government could quite quickly turn around New Zealand's poor climate change performance and be a real part of the solution.

Help us tell Tim Groser to take action and #CutTheGap

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