Lessons from the 1990s vital for next expansion in forest plantings

Planting more trees is one of the most cost effective mechanisms for New Zealand to meet its COP21 Paris Climate Agreement target and generate many environmental and regional co-benefits. Indeed, the Minister for Climate Change Issues Hon Paula Bennett has stated “Forestry is so important because it’s currently our most important source of domestic emission removals. It can deliver at scale and is likely to cost less than purchasing international emissions reductions”¹.

At this stage, New Zealand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels (or 11% below 1990). Under the Paris Climate Agreement, this NDC may ‘ratchet-up’ at the five yearly reviews in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.

While New Zealand’s NDC target might appear modest compared to some countries, it will be a ‘stretch’ because of our national greenhouse gas emissions profile, the age structure of our plantation forests, recent land-use change to higher emission enterprises and lack of tree planting. Combined, the latter factors mean the removal rate of carbon from forests due to harvesting will exceed the amount stored from the early- to mid-2020s. As well, reducing emissions from pastoral agriculture is not straight

All of this means, a lot more talk about the potential to plant 1 million hectares of new forests over the next 13 years. Planting rates therefore will need to ramp up to 1990s levels, which peaked in 1995 with almost 100,000 hectares of new forest established.

Planting more trees will also help to alleviate a critical issue facing wood processors and manufacturers – security of long-term log supply.

While this is great for forestry it is important to apply the lessons of the 1990s, which are distilled as:
  • Pick your planting sites wisely – consider topography, ease of harvesting, and distance to main road infrastructure.
  • Think about the end markets for the trees including proximity to a wood processing site or port – transport costs to mill or port are an important determinant of net returns to the land owner. Where distances are large and slopes are steep it may be better to plant forests for carbon storage (see "would a carbon forest work on my farm?”) and other purposes.
  • Choose the correct silviculture regime – Scion’s latest research indicates that having the right final stocking of trees is critical to maximising the volume recovered at harvest and therefore to forest profitability.
  • Select the best possible genetics for the site location and climate expected for the locality over the next 20-40 years. Consider local changes in weather, such as increased drought or exposure to strong winds.
  • Understand the policies, tax and other rules impacting forestry, in particular the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Forests that qualify under the ETS can earn carbon credits – currently around $18 per tonne CO equivalent and expected and projected to increase towards $50/t plus from 2013. Carbon payments can ease the cashflow challenges for forestry. The present review of the ETS is about half way though and based on Minister Bennett's comments is expected to provide increased policy stability and be more attractive to foresters.
Finally, it is important to get up-to-date, robust advice – much has been learnt by forest owners and researchers since the 1990s and markets are evolving quickly as a low emission, renewable and bio-based economy gains traction.

This is an exciting time for the forest industry. As the world adjusts to a low carbon renewable future, it will lead to an increase in the global demand for products from trees. By learning from the valuable lessons of the 1990s we can ensure the full potential of forestry’s substantial contribution to New Zealand’s future prosperity is realised.

I welcome your comments on this topic or any of the other articles in this edition of Scion Connections and would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas and New Year.

WarrenWarren Parker

Dr Warren Parker
Chief Executive

1Speech to the Climate Change and Business Conference, 11 October 2016.