As yet, few Annex I countries have adopted national schemes that allow industries to meet their targets by offsetting emissions through forestry plantations. New Zealand's emissions trading scheme (ETS) is one of the first and it encourages forest carbon sinks of either exotic or native species or 'assisted indigenous reversion' (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2008: 2). (Under the Kyoto Protocol, reforestation includes the 'human-induced promotion of natural seed sources, on land that was forested but that has been converted to non-forested land' (UNFCCC, 2006: Annex A)).
A question addressed in research into forestry offsets in tropical Australia was: are the goals of carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation through reforestation mutually exclusive or complementary? The favorable climate and soils of the Wet Tropics Region of north Queensland have enabled the evolution of unique ecosystems. However, some of these have been reduced to only a very small proportion of their original area by conversion to agriculture. While an official priority is the encouragement of rainforest plantations on private land with the aim of augmenting the endangered ecosystem and the habitat of iconic species, this reforestation is heavily subsidized by the Australian government and it is not deemed to be at a sufficient rate to guarantee the ecosystems' survival.
Economic analysis finds that, at 2007 prices, payments for sequestered carbon defrayed only a small proportion of reforestation costs, providing a level of incentive insufficient to stimulate restoration. Moreover, comparative analysis shows that plantations of monocultures sequester carbon at a much lower cost per tonne than plantations of native rainforest species. The asymmetry between the availability of credits for carbon and the lack of credits for biodiversity, and the consequent need for public investment in conservation and restoration, is thus highlighted (Hunt, 2008).
Once trading units (NZUs) equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)u have been allocated according to the carbon sequestered in plantations or in reverted forest, they can be bought and sold in New Zealand and traded in the international market under the Kyoto Protocol, being interchangeable with AAUs (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2008).
From a biodiversity conservation perspective, New Zealand's ETS is important because the ability to trade the value of carbon in regenerated forests provides an incentive to landowners to provide habitat that would otherwise be absent. The New Zealand Emissions Biodiversity Exchange will audit the carbon and biodiversity gains during the regeneration process, then market the credits to businesses or individuals wanting to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. Typically, sites are on privately owned land that cover areas in excess of 100 hectares. Regeneration is encouraged
Environmental Harvested Unharvested Unharvested planting softwood softwood hardwood
Note: The cost of replacement of pastures with softwood plantations, which are invariably monocultures, is much cheaper and more likely to be profitable as a carbon sink than the establishment of mixed species environmental plantations.
Source: Hunt (2008: Figure 5).
Figure 4.6 Costs per tonne of carbon sequestered by environmental plantings and softwoods for harvesting compared, 0.01 discount, Wet Tropics of Queensland
Carbon price $45 per tonne
□ Cash, plus labor cost ■ Cash, plus labor, plus beef opp.cost ---Carbon price
by the following: removal of grazing animals, fencing to prevent grazing, weed and pest control, disallowing harvesting and consigning the land to reforestation in perpetuity (Emissions-Biodiversity Exchange, 2008).
There are already large areas of exotic plantations in monocultures in New Zealand and it remains to be seen to what extent native plantations that harbor biodiversity will be encouraged, compared to exotic plantations grown with a view to providing harvestable timber along with carbon credits. It also remains to be seen to what extent the biodiversity value of individual regenerating plots can be enhanced by corridors.
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