Environment Minister: 'We thought it was right at the time'
Environment Minister David Parker says the decision to allow pine plantations on any class of land has been “a blunt instrument” for carbon offsetting.
Under National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry the ability had been taken away from local councils to protect swathes of high-value farming land from being turned into pine forests, which had knock-on social and economic impacts, he said.
“We thought it was right at the time but that is too blunt an instrument,” he said.
The incentivisation of monoculture pine plantations was broadly criticised by political parties in a Business NZ-facilitated discussion on Monday.
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Political parties were on a range of growth-related questions, including being asked for solutions on how to solve the distortions created by the carbon price, which made it twice as profitable for farmers to plant pine trees than to farm sheep or beef.
Labour’s David Parker, the Green’s Marama Davidson, NZ First’s Shane Jones, National’s Scott Simpson and ACT’s Simon Court all participated in the discussion facilitated by Sean Plunket.
Parker told Stuff the Government was trying to make good on the slogan “the right tree in the right place”.
Rural communities should have more say over their own destiny, he said.
Last month Damien O’Connor announced new policy which gave councils the ability to require consents for “anything over 50 hectares if they so choose”.
Labour has promised that within the first six months of the next term of Government it would revise the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry to enable councils to once again determine what classes of land could be used for plantation and carbon forests.
Farmers have long been saying that carbon offsetting was a threat to rural communities, as investors bought up productive sheep and beef farms to plant pine forestry.
Activist organisation 50 Shades of Green has voiced concerns that pine plantations used as carbon sinks destroyed biodiversity. It said carbon offsetting could include planting natives on farmland and sheep and beef farming should be recognised for putting carbon back into the soil.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said moncultural pine planting was not the solution to getting to carbon zero. More biodiversity was needed.
She outlined the Green Party’s new farming policy which would provide support to farmers to transition to regenerative farming and establish New Zealand as a leader in the organic market. The Greens want farmers to wean themselves off harmful fertilisers, improve water quality and become properly sustainable through adopting regenerative agriculture.
But NZ First MP Shane Jones said New Zealand had to meet the cost of decarbonising somehow, and asked what the alternative was if not pine trees.
However, he agreed with Parker that authority to protect swathes of land needed to be restored to councils.
ACT MP Simon Court said carbon offsetting offered a cash bribe to get investors hooked on carbon credits to keep them going.
“That only works because James Shaw has the almost unilateral power to set the carbon price,” he said.
National Party MP Scott Simpson said the country had to address massive offsets being allowed, rather than actual decarbonisation of the economy.
He said offsetting was akin to buying your way out of sin rather than changing actual behaviour.
Pahiatua sheep and beef farmer Lincoln Grant said the biggest threat to biodiversity and the economy was the Emissions Trading Scheme because of how it incentivised using productive farm land for pine plantations.
“A blanket of pines that will harbour pests and become a huge fire risk. We have just seen a big fire in the middle of winter with pines burning in the South Island.
“In the future what will happen to the dry East Coast of the North Island in summer with vast areas of deteriorating carbon pine forests,” he said.