Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Climate change: Fudging on trees

So, it turns out that the government's "billion trees" policy isn't a billion extra trees, but maybe only half a billion:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is denying that the Government is backtracking over its goal to plant 1 billion trees over 10 years, saying it was always going to be in partnership with the private sector.

Forestry and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told the National Business Review today that the Government was going to plant about half of the 1 billion trees, while the private sector would plant the rest.

"[The one billion goal] is not something that is going to be pursued in isolation from the industry. If we work together, if they continue with their 50 million [a year] over 10 years and we continue with 50 million [a year] over 10 years, you get to a billion."

Partnership with the private sector is one thing, but misleading the public about the ambition of the policy is another. Because the 50 million trees a year private industry currently plants is almost entirely replanting, replacing trees which they've already cut down. In other words, that's just planting to stand still. Worse, the required replanting rate is going to soar over the next decade, as the forests that were planted in the 1990's are harvested. If private industry wants to avoid deforesting land (and paying the carbon costs for doing so), it will probably end up planting that billion trees itself.

Meanwhile, if we want to get the emissions benefits, we need to plant additional trees, not just replant harvested land. The billion trees policy looked like it was an ambitious target to do this, and bring our emissions under control. Instead, it looks like it is just more bureaucratic fudging, designed to give the impression of action while deliberately avoiding achieving anything substantive.