Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Questions in the house on forest sinks

Eric Roy: The point I was making was how do you get to the 49 percent. I am not arguing the relative merit, because grass is processed. Could you answer that—where do you get the 49 percent from?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: Forty-nine percent is the result of counting those gases that the Kyoto Protocol counts—methane, nitrous oxide, and so forth. It is the percentage of our gross emissions; nobody says it is the percentage of our net emissions. Under Kyoto, the carbon sequestered in animals and in grass does not count, but under Kyoto II that carbon might count. There will be more development of the whole question of land use and land-use change as the—

Eric Roy: So it is not a finite result?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: It is not a finite result, but it is the one we are liable for in this term, and that is why we have to count it.

I gave some figures this afternoon on the area of forest that would be required to sequester all of our emissions in order to meet the Prime Minister’s target of having a carbon-neutral economy. Members may have noted that those figures were very large. All of the land from Wellington up to Levin and the Wairarapa, for example, would be required to sequester just the outcome from our transport. I will update those figures a bit now. The Greens support this Permanent Forest Sink Initiative—as we have done all the way through—because we think permanent forest sinks are an important part of the answer. Let us look at just what they could achieve in neutralising the emissions that we are accountable for under Kyoto, which are the emissions that have grown since 1990. Under this bill, how much area of new permanent forest sink would we need to neutralise completely the growth in our emissions since 1990? The answer is that we would need 780,000 hectares of forest. That is not totally impossible. We can go a long way towards achieving a target like that if we want to.

Eric Roy: Is that per year?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: No, that is to offset everything that has grown from 1990 until now. How is it made up? This is where the figures become interesting. Although agriculture represents around half of our total emissions, it is not around half of the growth, and it is only the growth we are accountable for—this time—under Kyoto. Agriculture has grown enough to require 280,000 hectares of forest. Could we find on marginal land, on odd corners of farms that are not highly productive, and on areas that are steep and slipping, 280,000 hectares in New Zealand on which to plant permanent forest in order to completely wipe the debt of all our increasing agricultural emissions since 1990? I have not done those figures, but I think maybe we could do so.

But let us compare that with what has happened with transport—and this is the reason the Greens are so frustrated about the lack of action on transport by this Government and every preceding one. The transport emissions growth would require 330,000 hectares of forest. In other words, the growth in agricultural emissions would require the equivalent of 4.5 times the area of Lake TaupĂ´ to be planted in forest, but the growth in transport emissions would require the equivalent of 5.4 times the area. Electricity, by comparison, is piddling; it would take only 55,000 hectares—only 0.9 percent of the area of Lake TaupĂ´.

There is an awful lot of focus on electricity. Electricity is an easy target and we do need to take action everywhere, but the biggie is transport, and we are not looking at it. But it is not hard to do so. Our vehicles are using on average, across the fleet, twice as much fuel as they need to compared with best-practice vehicles, in order to travel the same distances and cart the same number of people. Surely, over the next decade or two that will be an easy target to reach.

So the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill is needed, it is overdue, and the Greens totally support it. Permanent forest sinks are an important way of meeting our Kyoto targets in the short term, and of restoring some climate balance in the longer term. They are only a temporary solution; in the long term there is not enough land to keep on expanding the planting area every year as we increase emissions. Therefore, permanent forest sinks will buy us some time. The real target has to be to reduce those emissions, to find clean sources of energy from renewables, to use energy much more efficiently, and to change the way we do things.

But this is a good bill. Let us support it, and let us recognise that 780,000 hectares of permanent forest sink would offset all of our emissions growth since 1990, which is what we are accountable for under Kyoto.

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