Recloaking Papatūānuku, one of the most ambitious forest restoration plans proposed anywhere, aims through active management to restore and enhance more than 2 million hectares of indigenous forest across Aotearoa New Zealand.
It is a bold proposal developed by Pure Advantage that will help reduce our reliance on international carbon offsets while also restoring biodiversity and enhancing the resilience of our landscapes.
New Zealand, like the rest of the world, is facing the twin ecological challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Climate change is causing increasingly frequent and severe weather events, such as cyclones and associated flooding, and severe droughts. Our extensive monocultural pastoral farming systems and exotic tree plantations are not resilient to these events leading to increasingly severe damage to ecosystems, infrastructure and communities.
At the same time, our unique biodiversity is in serious trouble. Plant and animal pests are overwhelming our natural ecosystems and the species they support. About 40 per cent of terrestrial birds are extinct and some 4000 further species are threatened with extinction or in decline. And climate change is amplifying these challenges and creating new ones such as fire.
To address the climate crisis, New Zealand and most other countries have agreed to emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. But we are failing to meet these reductions and our government, like many others, is looking at purchasing offshore carbon credits - to offset the carbon we’re continuing to emit.
It is essential that every country, including New Zealand, urgently reduces gross emissions. However, it is also important that we sequester atmospheric CO2 to address historical emissions and hard to abate current and future emissions. This is the focus of Recloaking Papatūānuku, which will sequester atmospheric CO2, while also building landscape resilience and addressing the biodiversity crisis.
Recloaking Papatūānuku is a Nature-based Solution to the climate and biodiversity crises. It aligns with traditional Māori knowledge and wisdom and is scalable and cost-effective. It is a holistic approach based on an interwoven landscape where indigenous forests are sustainably integrated with other land uses, and one that is based on genuine partnerships between government, Māori, landowners and communities.
Pure Advantage has modelled the cost of restoring and enhancing 2.1 million ha of indigenous forest. That is around $12 billion over 30 years (including fencing, planting, plant and animal pest control, and ongoing management).
For comparison, Treasury estimates the damage from cyclones Gabrielle and Hale, and the Auckland floods, alone cost $9-14.5b. On top of this, the Treasury has also estimated up to $24b will be required to pay for offshore credits by 2030 for Aotearoa to meet its Paris commitment.
The modelling work also suggests that Recloaking Papatūānuku will sequester over 300 million TCO2 by 2030. This equates to $32/ TCO2, which is lower than the expected international cost of purchasing offsets (Treasury estimates are $41-95/ TCO2).
Recloaking Papatūānuka is a multi-decade and multi-billion commitment, and the challenge is to get national buy-in to a delivery model that can carry the programme to a successful outcome - an intergenerational enduring asset and legacy.
The first steps will include catchment scale demonstrations and coalition building from Māori and farmers through business to national government.
Recloaking Papatūānuku then needs to be upscaled to deliver diverse indigenous forests across all of Aotearoa. Longer-term, Aotearoa has the opportunity to become the world’s first ‘nature positive’ country. To do all of this will require visionary and innovative leadership and political will to support its implementation.
Recloaking Papatūānuku is a well-researched, indigenous-knowledge based, cost-effective, multi-win and high-value opportunity for Aotearoa NZ to globally pioneer the implementation of nature-based solutions to address the climate and biodiversity crises at the national scale.
Emeritus Professor David Norton is strategic science adviser to Pure Advantage.