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Feds welcome district council’s cautious stance on carbon bill

Gisborne District Council moved last week to join a growing number of rural and provincial councils calling on the Government to exercise caution over unintended consequences of proposed amendments to the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill.

The stance has been welcomed by Federated Farmers.

“While councils like Wairoa have been vocal in their alarm over increasing rates of afforestation, opposition to the proposed bill is beginning to grow,” said Federated Farmers Gisborne-Wairoa provincial vice president Kerry Worsnop.

“In other centres, community leaders and businesses are gaining a better understanding of the potential consequences of adopting the bill in its current form,” Mrs Worsnop said.

In essence, the intention of the bill was to alleviate and eventually eliminate the warming influence of carbon dioxide and equivalent gases (methane and nitrous oxide) by putting into law emission reduction targets of “net zero” in the case of carbon dioxide and a total reduction of up to 47 percent for methane, she said.

“The Emissions Trading Scheme is the mechanism used to incentivise these reductions by imposing a carbon liability for each tonne of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) emitted and allocating credits for each unit (tonne) of carbon sequestered by forests,” Mrs Worsnop said.

Currently the price of these carbon units at $25 has reached the cap imposed on the ETS when it was originally instated.

“The Government has indicated this cap will be lifted in the near future and has not disclosed whether another will be imposed.

“Projections from a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment estimate that by 2030 the domestic carbon price will have reached $50 per tonne, making carbon forestry (without harvesting logs) twice as profitable as hill country farming. Given that the EU carbon price is already $44/t, this estimate is likely overly conservative,” she said.

“Where the ETS as a mechanism for change begins to come unstuck is where the assumed $50/t is related back to the consumption of fossil fuels.”

Mrs Worsnop said at $50/t, the price of fuel for the average motorist will increase by only $2.50 per week.

“While not being enough to end the consumption of petrol and diesel, this price point is more than enough to result in a shift to the wholescale conversion of pastural farms into forests.

“At $200/t (the price anticipated by 2075) the transition to carbon forestry will be complete; however, the average motorist or industrial coal-fired factory will still not have reached the point where substitution is necessary (estimated to be more than $300/t) based on price. And by then we will have exhausted our available land.”

She said for those reasons the intention of the bill could not be reached using an ETS mechanism which allowed fossil fuel emitters to offset their emissions under a net-zero, free-market approach without resulting in huge afforestation incentives and ultimately dramatic land-use change.

“The urgency to move away from fossil fuels is delayed by using afforestation as a stop-gap but it is not removed, and ultimately our ability to fight climate change in real terms may be hindered by the economic costs of leaving our fate in the hands of carbon forestry investors,” Mrs Worsnop said.

“For regional centres whose resilience is dependent on maintaining a healthy diversity in the regional economy, the implications of reconfiguring the industrial and employment landscape under such a law need to be well considered.”

The environment select committee has invited submissions from the public on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill.

“Anyone living in provincial New Zealand would be well advised to contribute.”

Submissions close on July 16.

• Mrs Worsnop is running a petition calling for MPs to reject legislation which allows industrial carbon emissions to be offset by the afforestation of farmland, which can be viewed at http://chng.it/FY2JSdnSZX