Although tiny on a global scale, New Zealand’s emissions were still rising before the pandemic, and it is one of the biggest carbon polluters among developed nations on a per capita basis. The agricultural sector is New Zealand’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, largely through methane released by animals.
Today’s policy decisions, in response to the long road ahead to tackle climate change, essentially lock in land use for decades, Woodford said. Permanent carbon forests must remain planted with trees, and timber forestry that earns carbon credits is required to replant trees after they are harvested – usually at 28 years – or face a financial penalty.
Already, the amount of farmland being sold to forestry interests has skyrocketed, with many being sold to overseas buyers from places like Australia, Malaysia and the United States. In 2017, cattle and sheep farms sold in their entirety for forestry totaled around 10,000 acres, according to a report commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, an industry group. Two years later, the figure was 90,000, and although sales fell at the start of the pandemic, they should have increased in 2021.
Land sales have increased as the price of carbon credits has tripled in the past three years, reaching NZ$80. The increase reflects an imbalance between supply and demand for credits as New Zealand’s emissions remain heavy, as well as the influence of speculators who expect carbon credit prices to continue to rise as the country faces the need to further tighten climate policies to deliver on its promises.
At current prices, credits can generate carbon farm revenues of over NZ$1,000 per acre per year, compared to around NZ$160 for sheep and cattle stations.
David Hall, a climate change policy researcher at Auckland University of Technology, said the price of credits is likely to rise above NZ$100 in the next few years, but a price above NZ$200 would be necessary to bring about changes in the transport sector. which are necessary to achieve the objective of carbon neutrality.
It is unclear how many trees New Zealand needs to meet this commitment. This will partly depend on how quickly the country transforms into a low-emissions economy, with advances in technology reducing the need for carbon farming.
Under current projections, the country’s Climate Change Commission has estimated the figure at 2.7 million acres of carbon forest by 2050, but other models have seen a need for more than 13 million. acres, or about 70% of the area occupied by sheep and beef farms in New Zealand. Zeeland.
Shaving 2.7 million acres from the sheep and beef sector could result in a loss of NZ$2 billion a year in exports, Woodford said. Meat and wool are New Zealand’s second largest export category, totaling around NZ$12 billion, or 15% of total exports.
With no obvious industry to fill the export gap, the exchange rate would be under pressure, which would ultimately increase import costs for New Zealanders, Woodford said. “That in itself is not going to cause a disaster, but it is certainly significant,” he said of the loss of large areas of cattle and sheep farms.
For rural communities, carbon farming risks creating “green deserts” of trees that generate few jobs. Permanent carbon forestry provides about one job per year for 2,500 acres after planting, according to a report by Te Uru Rakau, New Zealand’s forestry department.
Forest forestry generates dozens of jobs during planting and harvesting, but few during the nearly three decades between. Cattle and sheep farming provide regular and seasonal employment of approximately 13 full-time jobs per 2,500 acres.
Horehore Station, the farm that was recently sold, employed three people full-time and many more part-time, including shearers, fencers and helicopter pilots, Hindrup said. Then there were the truckers, cafe owners and others who depended indirectly on farm income.
“It’s just going to demolish those communities, decimate those regional economies,” said Kerry Worsnop, a farmer and council member from Gisborne, one of dozens of areas affected by the conversion of ranches to forestry.
“As a society, we have to do something about climate change, and it’s going to be expensive.”
Niven Winchester, Professor of Economics at Auckland University of Technology
A report by a business consultancy found that if all of the steepest and most challenging land in the Gisborne region became permanent carbon forest, almost half of its jobs – around 10,000 – would be lost. would evaporate.
Farmers face a range of pressures due to New Zealand’s environmental goals. The government considered rule changes that would remove some of the heat from rural land sales – and address concerns about the potential damage of carbon farming to biodiversity – but backed down in the face of opposition from Maori landowners . As more farmers sell their land, operating costs will rise for those left behind as they share the expense for things like veterinary care, said Toby Williams of Federated Farmers, an industry group.
In addition, the agricultural sector will soon face a financial penalty for its emissions after being exempted from the carbon trading program. And new environmental regulations have sparked protests from farmers in which they have cluttered city streets with tractors.
“It just wasn’t worth my mental health, my physical health,” said Charlie Reynolds, who sold his farm this year after facing a NZ$250,000 bill to comply with new regulations.
Ultimately, the extent to which New Zealand farmland becomes carbon forest will be determined by farmers’ choices. Some plant their own properties in the trees. Others derive income from livestock and carbon by turning underutilized ranch areas, such as erosion-prone gullies, into forests.
Niven Winchester, professor of economics at Auckland University of Technology, said sectors of the economy that have contributed significant amounts of greenhouse gases, such as agriculture, should be cut.
“As a society, we have to do something about climate change,” Winchester said, “and it’s going to be expensive.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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