New Zealand: The consequences of carbon offsetting
For about two decades, New Zealand has become one of the world leaders in the resale of CO2 emissions rights. On the other side of the world, companies such as IKEA, Shell and Boeing are working on carbon offsets by buying back the carbon absorbed by New Zealand’s forests, giving themselves “pollution rights”. Most of them are monocultures consisting only of exotic pine trees, which absorb carbon dioxide more quickly but offer little resistance to southern storms and cyclones.
Every time a natural disaster occurs, thousands of trees wash up on beaches, farms, and homes, affecting many areas across the country. (replay)
Our correspondent in New Zealand reports:
” Here we breathe fresh air! », laughed Warwick James. Warrick and his wife Cece’s farm, located in the middle of the Southern Alps, New Zealand’s largest mountain range, has recently undergone a makeover.
A few years ago, they traded half of their livestock to start carbon offsetting. The couple planted a pine forest on more than 500 hectares of land specifically for the resale of CO2 emissions: ” As livestock farming rises and falls, carbon at least gives us some stability “.
Because the price of carbon is soaring as big companies around the world are forced to reduce their CO2 emissions. Every year, Warwick’s forests absorb 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare. tons, converted into units and bought back by the emissions trading system at a price of approximately thirty euros. ” I always thought I was just a southern farmer raising cattle and sheep, never thought that one day I would have trees to sequester carbon “, joked Warwick. If the couple keeps smiling, it’s because last year they earned almost 800,000 euros from carbon offsets.
This shift is increasingly attractive to livestock keepers. In 2022, 50,000 hectares of livestock farms will be transformed into carbon compensation forests.
On the east coast of the country’s north, Gisborne and its area are known in Māori as “Tairāwhiti”. Here, carbon offset farms have a considerable impact on the population. Recently, during the Southern Hemisphere summer, hurricanes Hale and Gabriel hit the region, which has been continuously affected by the downing of forest trees. ” We are tired of this chaos! “, said Bridget and her husband, Mike.
The horticulturist couple lost almost their entire kiwi farm, destroyed by tons of tree trunks. ” We have been impacted by these carbon farms three times in five years. Trees washed onto our property and our house was surrounded by pine trees. All these trees come from a carbon-offset forest 25 kilometers above sea level. »
Economic disaster is also an ecological disaster
In this catastrophic environment, where mud and trees cover rivers and local farms, Hera Ngata Gibson’s voice rings out. The Tolaga Bay resident has watched her region be decimated by the carbon industry in the space of a generation.
A few months ago, she launched a petition calling for an independent inquiry to reveal the harmful impact of this activity on the region. The initiative was repeatedly rejected by New Zealand’s forestry minister. “ Through this experience, I realized that the government and the industry do not know what is important to us as people in this community. The environment is our most valuable asset and affects our entire way of life. We were overwhelmed by the splinters of wood lying around…the trees reappeared on the beach every time the tide came in. Once at sea, they destroy our seafloor.For this small community with a very simple lifestyle, the ocean is one of our main dietary resources, but today, this has become impossible. »
Because the problems in this part of New Zealand are mainly related to its geology. The east coast of the North Island has the highest erosion rates in the world. The fragile soil is not suitable for monocultures of these exotic pine trees. Given the attractive price of the land, some forestry companies prefer to turn a blind eye.
For Renée Raroa, also from the region, the future of carbon offsetting includes a return to New Zealand’s unique trees. She took the issue to the United Nations headquarters in New York. In recent months, with the help of other organizations, it has developed a sustainable forest model dedicated to carbon. ” These monoculture forests in the area are no longer viable. However, these pine forests currently offer the best profitability for carbon offsets. So, across more than 900 hectares, we implemented a new model that looked at data from old-growth forests and used it to regenerate those lands while also providing carbon offsets. This data proves that we can conduct economic activities while respecting the environment, and we hope to prove that we can change the industry towards a more sustainable carbon offset system. »
Today, 90% of New Zealand’s carbon offset farms are made up of exotic pine trees.
Some communities hope to change that trend. Regardless, New Zealand hopes to earmark 2 million hectares of forest for carbon offsets within the next five years.