Carbon Mining – Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain.

Opinion from Pure Advantage

There is a new risk to you – the taxpayer – from the government’s recent decision to back off from excluding exotic species like pine from the permanent forest category of the emissions trading scheme. 
Pine, Pinus radiata. We use it for everything from housing construction to farm posts, furniture, decks, paper and cardboard. 
Fast growing and hardy, it’s a very useful resource – from flood plain and erosion protection to a successful, albeit low value add, log export industry.  Exotic pine plantations have meant for the last 60-70 years our native forests have been protected from pressure to harvest.  
Pine, like all trees, are useful in combating climate change by taking CO2 out of the atmosphere as they grow. What’s not to like?
Well Pinus radiata  is an introduced species, unlike native forests with diversity and climate resilience. With increasing impacts from climate change, pine plantations present heightened risks. 
They burn well, creating risks for neighbours and releasing COback into the atmosphere. The recent wildfires in the Landes forest, the largest planted forest in western Europe, saw thousands of hectares burnt and thousands of people evacuated. 
These are monocultures, at a time when a biodiversity crisis and collapsing ecosystems are posing risks to human survival. In NZ, they are also monoclones, with a lack of genetic diversity that makes them very vulnerable to climate change. In many parts of the world, pests and diseases are wiping out huge areas of pine plantations.
Pinus radiata is also a relatively short-lived species, especially in New Zealand due to intensive genetic modification. Compared with native forests, pine plantations sequester carbon for a relatively brief period. As the trees age and die, the risks of fire and disease increase, along with the risks that the plantations will be abandoned.
From 1 January 2023 forest owners can lock up pine plantations, as ‘permanent forests’. In return, while the trees are growing, owners will be able to earn credits which they can sell to polluting industries to offset emissions.  When the trees stop growing those revenue streams finish. 
Virtual Mining
This means pine plantations will increasingly be planted with no intent to harvest. A new exotic carbon farming industry will rapidly spread across the land– an industry we can think of as carbon mining.  
Just like its traditional format, carbon mining is an extractive industry. Once there is no resource left – in this case, when the pine trees stop growing – the mine is of no value and becomes a liability. 
In addition to the long term costs of managing a plantation in its ‘permanent’ state, any deforestation requires the owners to buy emission units. There is a very real risk of a ticking time bomb with the price of emissions units increasing significantly over time. 
But what if plantation/landowners have no cash 30 years down the line? With the revenue exploited they are left with obligations into perpetuity. Good intentions will surely weaken over time, with the potential for owners to walk away as the plantations reach the end of their natural life cycles.
There is a new risk to you – the taxpayer – from the government’s recent decision to back off from excluding exotic species like pine from the permanent forest category of the emissions trading scheme. 
Pine, Pinus radiata. We use it for everything from housing construction to farm posts, furniture, decks, paper and cardboard. 
Fast growing and hardy, it’s a very useful resource – from flood plain and erosion protection to a successful, albeit low value add, log export industry.  Exotic pine plantations have meant for the last 60-70 years our native forests have been protected from pressure to harvest.  
Pine, like all trees, are useful in combating climate change by taking CO2 out of the atmosphere as they grow. What’s not to like?

Carbon Farming, Marlboroughs Waihopai Valley

Risks
Well Pinus radiata  is an introduced species, unlike native forests with diversity and climate resilience. With increasing impacts from climate change, pine plantations present heightened risks. 
They burn well, creating risks for neighbours and releasing COback into the atmosphere. The recent wildfires in the Landes forest, the largest planted forest in western Europe, saw thousands of hectares burnt and thousands of people evacuated. 
These are monocultures, at a time when a biodiversity crisis and collapsing ecosystems are posing risks to human survival. In NZ, they are also monoclones, with a lack of genetic diversity that makes them very vulnerable to climate change. In many parts of the world, pests and diseases are wiping out huge areas of pine plantations. 
Pinus radiata is also a relatively short-lived species, especially in New Zealand due to intensive genetic modification. Compared with native forests, pine plantations sequester carbon for a relatively brief period. As the trees age and die, the risks of fire and disease increase, along with the risks that the plantations will be abandoned.
From 1 January 2023 forest owners can lock up pine plantations, as ‘permanent forests’.
In return, while the trees are growing, owners will be able to earn credits which they can sell to polluting industries to offset emissions.  When the trees stop growing those revenue streams finish. 
This means pine plantations will increasingly be planted with no intent to harvest. A new exotic carbon farming industry will rapidly spread across the land– an industry we can think of as carbon mining.  
Extractive Industry
Just like its traditional format, carbon mining is an extractive industry. Once there is no resource left – in this case, when the pine trees stop growing – the mine is of no value and becomes a liability. 
In addition to the long term costs of managing a plantation in its ‘permanent’ state, any deforestation requires the owners to buy emission units. There is a very real risk of a ticking time bomb with the price of emissions units increasing significantly over time. 
But what if plantation/landowners have no cash 30 years down the line? With the revenue exploited they are left with obligations into perpetuity. Good intentions will surely weaken over time, with the potential for owners to walk away as the plantations reach the end of their natural life cycles. 
There is always recourse to the courts, but we’ve seen what happens when mines are abandoned when owners go bankrupt. In 2013 tax and ratepayers picked up a $22m bill to remediate Tui mine in the Waikato. 
Promises may be made that instead, pine plantations will be converted to native forests. This is a very difficult and high risk process, however. Take for example Maungataniwha pine plantation. 
It can take at least a decade to clear logged land of wilding pines and to get it to the point where it can be described as fully regenerated – supposing  you are lucky enough to have native seeds in the soil already. It’s costing the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust around $70,000 per year, plus a lot of volunteer hours. 
If land owners are not inclined or able to meet their obligations, these sorts of projects will be extremely challenging.  Government and communities will pick up the costs of remediation.
Money Source?
Millions more would be needed to pay for the purchase of emission units to offset the felled pine, and it is hard to see where this money would come from. 
As designed, the ETS  is encouraging the misallocation of capital towards carbon mining, with the potential for damaging long term socio-economic and biodiversity outcomes. 
Ultimately, taxpayers and society will be left with the bill. The environment will suffer, biodiversity will be negatively impacted, resilience to climate change will be reduced and you, me, our children will be picking up the bill. 
It is not too late to chart a different path. Initiatives such as native nurseries and recognising carbon sequestration in native forests are important, yet not enough to put native forests on a competitive footing with pine plantations to remove carbon. 
We need new thinking. The value of using native forests to sequester carbon (with their long-term climate resilience, biodiversity and other benefits) should be reflected by the offer of premium grade units in the ETS. 
Premium units based on native afforestation will  be sought after, driven by the demands of consumers and industry conscious of brand value, and alert to the risks associated with carbon mining.
Pure Advantage has engaged widely with experts who back our views, which are at odds with those of the government and vested interest groups fighting to keep Pinus Radiata in the permanent category of the ETS.
We, New Zealanders, must convince our government to take the right actions here, for ourselves and our children.



Wilding Pines, Public Lands, Leatham Valley Marlborough


Footnote: Pure Advantage believes that through the adoption of transformative economic strategies based on green growth, the people and businesses of New Zealand will realise a healthier, wealthier future that is more sustainable in every sense.


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8 Responses to Carbon Mining – Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain.

  1. Phil Black says:

    Vast areas of the countryside are being bought up by speculative foreign companies for carbon farming . Monocultures result. This is environmentally damaging with loss of bio-diversity. Pines are not good with acidification, runoff increased (compared to native vegetation) wilding pines. Economically its a total loss to NZ with foreigners taking money offshore.
    There’s the loss of sustainable farming and food production as productive sheep and beef farms are swallowed up by foreign speculators.

    “Pine forests provide poor habitat, are a biosecurity and fire risk, produce massive slugs of sediment that pollute rivers, streams and estuaries at harvest, and degrade landscape values at an industrial scale.

  2. Charlie Dickens says:

    Wilding pines are a major problem and virtually out of control. Millions is being spent on their eradication, yet governments have allowed and are still allowing, more pine forests to be planted in the name of investment (speculation) and the ETS.

  3. H. Mecken says:

    This government is hopeless with carbon farming converting huge areas of production sheep and beef farms to pine monoculture. Where are the Greens on this? Too busy social engineering? Where is the Labour government? What was the Key National government thinking when it brought in the ETS and carbon trading?
    Money for corporates – short sighted greed.

  4. J B Smith says:

    Pure Advantage deserve a pat on back for exposing this issue.
    One can subscribe to Pure Advantage’s site on the prompt when visiting.

  5. J.B. says:

    Quite apart from acidifying soil and runoff, increasing runoff compared to native vegetation, wilding pine spread, silty runoff etc., pines seem bad for air quality. I came across an article from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, USA) that says pine trees are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution.
    They give off gases that react with airborne chemicals — many of which are produced by human activity — creating tiny, invisible particles that muddy the air says research from Carnegie Mellon University.

  6. Stewart Hydes says:

    We’ve got Predator Free 2050 .. while at the same time our government are complicit in incentivising the planting of pine trees .. which as wildings, are a significant introduced pest .. go figure.
    Why are we picking on the poor ole possum, stoat, and rat .. while at the same time proliferating pine trees?
    Pine trees are an insidious environmental disaster, quietly growing in the background.
    And they are low value-add. Increasingly, we are foregoing productive farmland (that would add more to our local economy), to grow them. As part of Overseas Investment Office approvals for foreign entities to buy our pine forests (now mostly foreign-owned) .. at last count, NZ was promised at least seven (7) state-of-the-art new timber mills, to add more value onshore. None have eventuated.

  7. Frank Murphy says:

    While I don’t like Pine trees, I would rather have a pine plantation on the banks of my favorite river than a equal sized dairy farm, Maybe you other contributors would? But I certainly would not? Frank Murphy.

  8. "Hiawatha" says:

    Frank, both pines and dairying, in excess, are bad.
    Monocultures of pines are deceptive. People “can’t see the wood for the trees” as the saying goes. Dairying especially the corporate type, is so bad. I think in time people will realise how so damaging large scale pine forests are with acidification, silty runoff at clear felling time if logged, polluting pollen dust, excessive absorption of water with dried up streams and depleted water flows and others.
    Carbon farming is a big hoax, a playground for speculative corporates. I suspect Shane Jones one billion trees was more about carbon farming for corporate benefit than anything else.

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