New Zealand Public Land Opened for Private Climate Projects

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, July 5, 2007 (ENS) - Six pilot projects to store carbon on public conservation land are to be tendered to commercial investors in a climate change initiative announced by New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter Wednesday. The projects will cover about 40,000 hectares, or 154 square miles.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter (Photo courtesy DOC)
"A unique opportunity exists to significantly increase the level of investment in the conservation of New Zealand's native forests and species while at the same time offering New Zealand companies a way of offsetting the carbon emissions of their business," Carter said.

Companies have been approaching the Department of Conservation with multi-million dollar conservation and carbon storage proposals, the minister said.

"To capitalize on this opportunity," he said, "the government has agreed to permit the development of six pilot projects on public conservation land, which will be offered to commercial investors in a competitive tender run by the Department of Conservation, DOC." Green Party Conservation Spokesperson Metiria Turei welcomed the proposal but said the projects would need to be closely monitored to ensure the benefits were not entirely captured by the private sector.

"The Greens welcome any initiative offering genuine climate change and conservation benefits. On the surface, these pilot projects may have both," she said.
Greens Conservation Spokesperson Metiria Turei (Photo courtesy NZ Greens)
"It will be ideal if this proves to be a mechanism for the government to obtain credits for the public through private investment in public land. Currently though, we do not know what conservation areas will be involved, and how the outcomes will be managed," Turei said.

Details of the projects are still being developed, Carter said, but they are likely to be of two types.

The first will set aside specific areas of conservation land for either replanting or natural regeneration of forests on land which was not forested before 1989, which makes these measures compliant with the Kyoto Protocol.

For storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, companies can earn credits, or Kyoto Protocol emission units, which are internationally tradeable.

Emission units will be transferred to project owners annually according to the emissions they reduce in that year. The awarded units are for reductions that will be delivered during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, 2008-2012.

The second type of project, likely to be the largest of the two, will involve pest control initiatives on conservation land to measure and assess increases in carbon storage, both through the removal of pests which may emit methane and through increased growth in shrubs and trees with the pests gone.

The Department of Conservation considers deer, wild horses, possums, rats, stoats, and weasels to be animal pests.

Possums introduced from Australia are considered pests in New Zealand. (Photo courtesy DOC)

For instance, the Australian brush tailed possum was introduced into New Zealand in 1837 to establish a fur trade. Now the New Zealand possum population tops 70 million and chomps its way through seven million metric tons of vegetation a year.

While the animal pest control measures are not Kyoto compliant, said Carter, they can be traded on the international "grey" or unofficial, market and they do comply with the ultimate objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"The benefits for conservation from this initiative are potentially very substantial indeed because they will result in intensive management of areas of conservation land not currently targeted," Carter said.

"By putting the projects out to competitive tender, the Crown may attract some high bids," said Turei, "but the track record of public/private partnerships is that there is an incentive for the tendered price to then be recouped via jacking up costs and skimping on the quality of delivery."

"There are also questions on whether the public will retain access to the conservation lands involved," she said. "No opportunity for public input is envisaged before the conservation areas are selected, and the projects are put on the rails."

By putting the projects out to tender, all New Zealand companies are put on a level playing field in the tender process for the carbon storage opportunities conservation land offers, Carter said.

Turei questioned why the government is allowing the private sector to reap the carbon credits for these projects instead of taking on the projects and earning the credits itself.

New Zealand rainforest on public land in the Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre (Photo credit unknown)
"One has to ask why the government isn't enabling the Department of Conservation to set up, manage and onsell the subsequent credits for these projects itself," she said. "After all, plans are well advanced for DOC to use conservation land to help other government departments achieve carbon neutrality. It is hard to see why DOC will not have a similar managerial role with respect to these projects on conservation land."

"The government intends to evaluate the conservation and carbon storage value from these projects after two years. At this point, we will decide whether to permit further carbon offset projects to proceed on conservation land," Carter said.

"New Zealanders have always understood the social value of protected landscapes, but climate change is starting to demonstrate just how important an economic resource our native forests could be in future," he said.

In a separate initiative, the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation are examining the use of public conservation land to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of government departments to help them achieve their stated goal of carbon neutrality.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.