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Carbon forestry – what’s it all about?

Date: 16th December 2022

This is a topic regularly in the media and a land use that is gaining in popularity around New Zealand. Carbon forestry or carbon farming as it is also called is the planting of trees to offset carbon emissions. It is largely done with exotic species and mostly with pine trees or conifers because of the speed at which they grow and sequester carbon. Income is generated by eligible foresters entering their trees into the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) which is our regulatory carbon market.

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the Government’s primary tool for reducing
greenhouse gas emissions and meeting domestic and international climate change commitments.

New Zealand’s Parliament passed The Zero-Carbon Law (

To really delve into the detail, have a look at
Te Uru Rākau administers the Forestry component of the ETS on behalf of the Environmental
Protection Authority, a core regulatory role mandated by the Climate Change Response Act 2002.
Under the scheme, eligible foresters can earn NZ emission units (NZUs) as their trees grow and
absorb carbon dioxide. This encourages landowners to plant new forests, replant forests to avoid
deforestation liabilities, and undertake forest management practices to sequester more carbon
from their forests

Carbon farmers earn carbon credits that can then be sold to emitters in the NZ ETS. This is because forests can earn New Zealand emission Units (NZUs) as trees grow and absorb carbon dioxide. The price that NZUs go for in the NZ ETS can fluctuate over time, depending on what the market value is. The market value can be affected by lots of factors such as regulatory certainty, price limits, or the number of accessible units. An emissions unit represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide, or the carbon dioxide equivalent of any other greenhouse gas. 

Restoring Resilient Tropical Forests (

This means that both short- and long-lived greenhouses gases emissions reductions are interchangeable. Currently, the only eligible emissions unit in the NZ ETS is the New Zealand Unit (NZU).

Some foresters in NZ are required to participate in the NZ ETS while others can voluntarily choose to enter the scheme. Eligible foresters who enter voluntary want to earn money by selling NZUs into the carbon market (the NZ ETS) but it’s a market that is very sensitive to changes in government decisions such as whether to implement recommendations from the Climate Change Commission. Check out which explains the $13 drop from $86/ton to $75 almost overnight. Business Desk is a great media resource to subscribe too.

There are two main ways that a forester can earn an income from carbon forestry.  The first way is to ‘play the market.’ This applies the principle of buying (or gaining) units at a low price and selling them at a higher price. Another way is for foresters to sell their ‘lower risk’, or ‘enduring’ carbon units generated from planting new forests. These units are lower risk because unlike other units’ foresters who voluntarily participate receive, they are not required to surrender them to the Crown at harvest. These rules governing how carbon credits from forest growth and decay is accumulated and then surrendered to the Crown may change. The MPI websites listed above are the best place for additional information.

I am sure we are all agreed we need to do all we can to reduce carbon omissions and offset them, but we also need to ensure that the measures we use to offset them are effectively regulated and managed so that their potential impacts are proactively managed.

There have been a number of good media stories on this in recent months. I urge you to read and view them and form your own opinion. They include the following:

http://Watch Sunday PLANTING PARADISE | TVNZ+ Interviews with landowners, foresters and others around the growing carbon forestry industry. An article on a proposal to plant an area for carbon forestry in central Otago. Rob Morrison chair of Pure Advantage compares the sustainability of carbon offsetting using exotic with native species (this link includes a 2-part video) and some great photos like the one above. A view from Northland from Penetaui Kleskovich the operations manager for the commercial activities of Tai Tokerau iwi Te Aupouri about the importance of proactive and pragmatic management and working collaboratively together in this space.

WPN is about clearing wilding pines, many of the places we do this is due to previous tree planting policies. Communities and landowners have been working hard on this (putting in a lot of money and working methodically and over long periods of time).

We don’t want these mistakes repeated with current tree planting policies creating even more wilding pine spread. We are not opposed to carbon forestry – we just want to see it regulated and managed in such a way that it does not exacerbate the problem we are already challenged to deal with. There is presently little regulation of carbon forestry. This needs to change and we need to work together to ensure it does.

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