Researchers have begun building a business case for a proposed bond that could be used to fund the planting of permanent native forests in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf and elsewhere in the country.

A new project, led by consultant Sam Lindsay and AUT policy researcher Dr David Hall, will investigate whether "impact investment" could be used to provide up-front capital for permanent forest planting, particularly on vulnerable, erosion-prone land and waterway margins throughout the gulf and in other places.

Impact investment involves gaining a financial return, alongside a measurable benefit for society and the environment.

With a $50,000 grant from Foundation North's Gulf Innovation Fund Together (GIFT), the two researchers will look at how the funding mechanism might work, given it would only the second time in the world the approach has been used.


The $5m GIFT initiative was launched last year to support innovative new ways of restoring the mauri, or life essence, of the Hauraki Gulf.

Lindsay said the grant meant a proposal could now be worked up to present to various groups.

"At a government level, there is a lot of motivation to progress the concept, but neither the mechanism or channel to innovate at this early stage," he said.

"If we can gather a better understanding on the concept execution and key benefits, we will have a much better chance of success."

Two potential planting locations are being explored in the Hauraki Gulf with assistance from Auckland Council and Sustainable Coastlines, which will help by bringing together community groups to run each of the projects.

Hall was the lead author of Pure Advantage's 2016 report "Our Forest Future", which argued that New Zealand needed to plant around 1.3 million new hectares of forestry to help the country's environment and economy.

It argued that planting huge new blocks of permanent native forest and fresh high-carbon commercial forests could avoid large areas of land being lost to erosion, help offset agricultural emissions and put the country on course for a net-zero greenhouse gas future.

Along with erosion-prone land, the report recommended new forest should also be planted along waterway margins and urban forest, where the environmental benefits of trees, such as protecting river ecosystems, would be much greater.

The approach is also being rolled out in a three-year trial on the East Coast, looking at the potential for erosion-prone, Maori-owned land on the coast to be used for native forest regeneration for carbon farming.

Niwa scientists say our forests and other land areas may be sucking up to 60 per cent more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than previously thought - and we could likely thank our native trees for much of it.

Another recent report led by Wellington's Motu Economic and Public Policy Research found establishing native forests is an environmentally and economically attractive way to decrease the risk for those high-emitting companies, which could face a carbon market where prices soar as high as $270 per unit.

Only 8 per cent of the forest land registered in our Emissions Trading Scheme was native - and only 500ha of new native forest had been established and registered since 2008.

Planting just 10,000ha of native forest could sequester 65,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually - which would be eligible to earn 65,000 NZUs per year under the ETS - and there was scope to create more than 1m ha, putting the country on track to a net-zero greenhouse gas future.