Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Conflict on climate change? Plant more trees

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To me it seems that planting trees is a no-brainer, particularly when it comes to land alongside the riparian strip that should not be farmed anyway. Photo / iStock
To me it seems that planting trees is a no-brainer, particularly when it comes to land alongside the riparian strip that should not be farmed anyway. Photo / iStock

The aftermath of the historic signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change is a good time to take stock of where we are at on this important issue.

With nearly 200 nations coming to an accord in Paris - never has it been clearer that the world has come to a consensus that climate change is real and legitimate action is urgently needed.

But less clear is, what we are going to do about it? And how can we ensure that the action we take is proportionate to our status as a developed country and something we can be proud of?

Climate Tracker - an independent scientific analysis carried out by four research organisations, described New Zealand's policy as 'inadequate'
- which doesn't seem to fit in with keeping up the clean, green image that is so valuable to our exporters and tourism industry.

I was shocked to see that our policy framework is lagging behind that of the United States, who have long been the barons of bad behaviour when it comes to emissions. It concerns me that this might do a lasting damage to our reputation.

The usual retort to taking action on climate change is that it will negatively impact our economy.

Perhaps our conservative concerns here are why we have come up short?

The dramatic US-led progress (in particular the way that they have been able to collaborate with China to have a joint position between the world's two top polluters) on climate action has squashed critics' concerns, with Barack Obama being proud of the fact that they have "driven (their) economic output to all-time highs while driving (their) carbon pollution down to its lowest level in nearly two decades".

Coinciding with the historic signing of the Paris Agreement, three key reports have been issued giving a helpful overview of New Zealand's position and mapping a way forward.

The Royal Society of New Zealand explains that the risks faced by New Zealanders in the face of a changing climate are very real.

With so many people who have made a fortune (doing very little) with the rise of coastal property values - I would have thought that the issue would have more traction considering how prone our seaside cash cows are to sea level rise.

In addition, two thirds of New Zealanders live in areas prone to flooding - which is set to increase with a hotter climate. Last year's floods in the Western lower north island caused $270 million of damage alone.

So what is the solution to all of this drama?

Not to buy cheap fake carbon credits from organised crime it seems.

Geoff Simmons from the Morgan Foundation has charged in with a scathing criticism of the New Zealand Government for allowing the purchase of fraudulent credits from Russian and Ukrainian sources.

We have the highest percentage of Emissions Reduction Units - which have been shown to be dodgy - in the world.

The total spent on this - $200 million - achieved nothing for reducing carbon emissions - money he says could better have gone towards reducing our impact at home by for example, investing in forestry and legitimate tree planting.

Instead - partly due to the oversupply of fraudulent credits, the price of carbon crashed. This has made many farmers generally cynical about carbon credits and tree planting and in recent years we have - embarrassingly - seen deforestation occur in New Zealand.

Dr David Hall's excellent Pure Advantage report thankfully proposes a solution and calls for tree planting on a massive scale. This is seen as the best legitimate way to reduce our carbon footprint, but at the same time, planting trees has a large suite of other benefits.

These include water quality, soil protection, reputational benefits and air quality to name just a few. Even more helpfully, some actual figures are given to show that help to give us an idea of what forests are actually worth when it comes to ecosystem services.

To me it seems that planting trees is a no-brainer, particularly when it comes to land alongside the riparian strip that should not be farmed anyway.

The benefits of tree planting are clearly in the public interest, so I think we should put aside our ideological differences and work together to enable people to chuck on some gumboots and plant more trees.

Do you think we should recognise the public benefits of tree planting by incentivising it so that it can be done at scale?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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