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Caution urged over climate change bill

Proposed climate change legislation could make farming uncompetitive with forestry and result in severe consequences for the region.

When told this at a Gisborne District Council meeting, councillors were prompted to strengthen a draft submission to express fears the proposed bill could lead to Gisborne becoming “the carbon sink of the country”.

Reacting to a public submission from Kerry Worsnop, councillors called for changes to the submission then approved it (including additions made by staff).

Mrs Worsnop said the proposed climate change legislation was complex and not many people were well versed in it.

The draft council submission was generally supportive of the bill but this was something of a failure of those reviewing the draft legislation to grasp the full implications and what its potential effects could be, she said.

In her submission, Mrs Worsnop said the bill proposed the Emissions Trading Scheme be used as the mechanism for achieving zero emissions by 2050.

The present price for carbon under the ETS scheme was $25 a tonne but prices were projected to rise. At $25 a tonne, a farm was not competitive with trees. If you increased this to $100 the profitability of forestry would be even greater compared with farms.

An open market ETS would leave farmers no choice but to basically open their gates to broad scale afforestation.

Free markets responded incredibly efficiently to incentives.

This had been seen before with subsidies for agriculture and forestry.

There was also experience of some of those shortsighted decisions.

“Essentially my recommendations are that the council should exercise extreme caution in submitting to the select committee to this bill.”

She recommended the council support the establishment of a Climate Commission independent of government and urge the Government to resist forming legislation prematurely before the unintended consequences of enacting the bill could be widely understood and, if possible, quantified.

The council should reject the concept of net zero industrial carbon emissions.

It should highlight the risk of externalities that would result from a free ETS market, including social and employment costs.

And it should support the billion trees model for increased planting on marginal land, taking proper account of community needs, land capability, environmental and human resources.

The council should ask that biogenic methane reduction be made net to reflect the fact farmers were best placed to establish sustainable ecosystems and had more incentive than anyone to implement the right tree in the right place.

Councillors expressed concern about the impacts of the legislation on farming and asked staff to review the submission.

Brian Wilson said the council should support the Government moving on climate change but say they want further research and the flexibility to change.

The game had changed. It was for everyone to say the impacts of this were far too great to rest it with the free market.

The Government needed to be flexible in a highly farmed area like this.

He thought the Local Government NZ submission was a fairly good one.

Graeme Thomson believed the bill as it stood had the possibility to have all the region used up in trees. Significant income would be lost for the district.

At the moment trees were the only method identified to prevent the dire outcomes spoken of.

Gisborne had been proven as a place to grow trees, and land here was cheaper.

When people started speculating with carbon they would go where they could get the most and cheapest trees.

The consequences would be tragic for this region.

Pat Seymour said the council submission needed to be strengthened.

Transition to a more sustainable economy was great phraseology but what did it mean? It could mean planting trees and no jobs because people had all moved into the city.

When the submission was brought back, strategic planning manager Jo Noble said a comment had been added that when it came to afforestation the council wanted to see the right tree in the right place.

They would again highlight concern over unintended consequences of the bill in a region such as Tairawhiti, which could become “the carbon sink for the country”.

Also added was that a $5 increase in petrol prices would cause hardship in the district because of social deprivation.