2006 will be noted as the year that public perception changed in relation to climate change and acknowledged the phenomenon as ‘real’. New Zealand has not been an exception to this change. Most major political parties now present policies that acknowledge climate change and focus on sustainable development. The Prime Minister has declared an aim for the country to become carbon neutral. It appears generally accepted that major changes in climate change policy needs to occur.
In November 2006 the Climate Change Response Amendment Act was passed, introducing the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative (PFSI) and opening the carbon registry of New Zealand. While these changes could be placed at the minor end of the spectrum of policy changes, they are an indication of changes to come.
In December 2006 the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Minister responsible for Climate Change issued a discussion document titled ‘Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change - Options for a Plan of Action’. This discussion document aims to develop policies for the agriculture and forestry sectors to be developed and implemented through a plan of action. Submissions on the documents are due by 30 March 2007.
The discussion document is divided into four key pillars. Pillar 1 relates to adapting to climate change and the different ways in which we might do this. Pillar 2 relates to the policies that could be used to reduce emissions and create carbon sinks. Pillar 3 looks at business opportunities arising from climate change and Pillar 4 is how the sectors and government can work together to achieve the plan of action. It is intended that the final plan of action will contain a set of both goals and actions. In some areas the Government is seeking feedback on immediate action that can be taken. Specifically the Government is looking to find a preferred package of land management policies for the Cabinet to consider shortly after feedback on this document is received.
Policy options presented in the discussion document
The Government has presented 16 possible options from which a preferred policy package will be created after the consultation concludes. The package includes cost based and incentive based measures for both the agriculture and forestry sectors. Both reductions in emissions and increases in the amount of sinks are being sought from the policies.
Agriculture policy options
The 10 proposed policy options provided for the agricultural sector comprise long term options (most of which are currently underway - including research into technology), and options for encouraging reductions now. The options for reductions now include price based measures, regulations and options for focusing on land use change from forestry to agriculture. The pricing mechanisms include providing incentives for purchasing nitrification inhibitors and charging for nitrogen fertilisers. These charges or incentives appear to be an option that could be introduced with the immediacy indicated by the Government. Alternatively (or possibly in conjunction with) these changes could be market based mechanisms such as tradeable permits or offset schemes for agricultural emissions. A tradable permit regime could link into the carbon registry and help to create an emissions trading scheme in New Zealand. Regulation could be established through the development of a national environmental standard under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) to control agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. The options that focus on land use change are likely to be a RMA standard or a charge on land that is deforested.
These options signal significant change for the agricultural sector. Any changes will affect land managers, farm owners, local councils, fertiliser producers, and others involved in the agricultural sector.
Forestry policy options
The proposed policy options for the forestry sector are broken down into afforestation options and deforestation options. In relation to afforestation the options are a grant scheme or the provision of a choice between a grant scheme and devolution of sink credits and liabilities. The devolution of sink credits and liabilities from the Government to the owner of the forest land or the forest owner, would create a tradable right for that person. The PFSI introduced in November last year has, to some extent, provided the option of the devolution of credits and liabilities already. The deforestation options are broken down into government pricing, market based mechanisms, and regulation. The government pricing mechanism would be a flat charge on land that has changed from forestry to another use. The market based mechanism would be a tradeable permit regime. Regulation is likely to be either centrally through a deforestation level set by the Government or through the RMA. Under the RMA local authorities can control vegetation removal, however this cannot be done for the purpose of managing climate change unless a National Environmental Standard (NES) is introduced by the Government. A NES introduced by the Minister for the Environment could have the effect of setting thresholds on the amount of deforestation that could occur.
Overall the forestry policies are more detailed than those proposed for the agricultural sector. It is likely that this is a reflection of the discussions that have occurred between the Government and the forestry sector in relation to the Climate Change Response Amendment Act.
These proposed policies will have an impact on land owners, forest owners, those involved with forestry products and other in the forestry sector.
Submissions on this discussion document are due on 30 March 2007. The Government will be holding public discussion groups in February and March 2007.
- The changes provided in the document could significantly alter current land management practices.
- The government is looking to implement some of these policies and actions immediately.
- For these reasons it is important for those involved in both the forestry and agricultural sectors to make a submission.
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