Climate Change Minister Minister James Shaw has snubbed recommendations from the environment watchdog for two separate Emissions Trading Schemes — one for fossil fuels and one for farming and forestry.
In his Farms, Forests and Fossil Fuels report late last month Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) Simon Upton said only farming-based emissions should be offset by forestry since the duration of cooling from forests is more closely matched with the warming effects of biological gases like methane and nitrous oxide.
He argued the current approach — which relies heavily on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and planting trees to offset fossil fuel emissions — allows companies to avoid reducing our fossil fuel consumption, which is the main driver of climate change.
Massey University's Prof Ralph Sims agreed with Upton's premise and told Radio New Zealand the tree-planting option companies like Air New Zealand and Z Energy have at the moment was "very much a temporary measure and it shouldn't ever be used as an excuse not to try and reduce their carbon dioxide".
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However, Catherine Leining, policy fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, didn't think splitting up the ETS was a good idea. She said if New Zealand was starting to design mitigation policy with a blank slate the proposed two-system approach could be a valid choice.
The issue was, we already had a system that could achieve the same options, she said.
The Crown responded to the report by saying there simply wasn't time to rehash the ETS.
Shaw said the Government was committed to retaining the use of forestry offsets for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Shaw and Forestry Minister Shane Jones later announced a change to the ETS that will change how forest owners are paid for the carbon their trees absorb from 2021. The changes were brought about by prompts from the forestry sector wanting a simpler accounting method that would incentivise planting trees. Jones told RNZ: "By taking a long-term view of the amount of carbon in a production forest, forest owners will be able to trade more carbon at lower risk, and not have to worry about finding units to repay when they harvest."
Meanwhile, Greenpeace said Upton's report seemed to have been influenced by the agricultural lobby.
Greenpeace adviser Steve Abel said while the report had some merit, it continued to treat dairy with kid gloves because it focused on offsetting the highly potent greenhouse gasses nitrous oxide and methane rather than actually cutting them.
"We expect the champagne corks will be popping at Ravensdown and DairyNZ this afternoon, because they are being let off the hook once again," he said.