How many hectares of new forest does he expect to be planted during the 2009 season, if any; and how will these plantings impact on New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions in 2020?
I am advised that through the Afforestation Grant Scheme and the East Coast Forestry Project, 3,235 hectares of additional indigenous and exotic plantings are expected this year. This planting will assist in meeting New Zealand’s 2020 emissions target, but insufficient data exists on the types of species to have an accurate estimate on what the carbon capture would be in that year. I have no advice about the level of private sector plantings.
Is the Minister concerned that, apart from the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative he has described, 7 million tree seedlings grown in nurseries last year in preparation for a boom in planting under the emissions trading scheme remain unsold and have no prospect of going in the ground? Some 7,000 hectares of forest will not be planted, because of investor and landowner uncertainty over his Government’s review of the emissions trading scheme.
I note that between 1951 and 2004, 34,000 hectares of trees were planted every year; over the last 5 years there has been huge deforestation. The worst 5 years ever have been the previous 5 years. I accept there is some uncertainty as the Government works through its changes to the emissions trading scheme, but I assure the member and, more important, forest investors that this Government is committed to carbon credits for forest owners, and they can have confidence that those credits will be transferred in good time so that plantings can occur and we can reverse the appalling record of the previous Government.
Has the Minister received any reports or advice on what caused the collapse in forest plantings during the term of the previous Government and the record high levels of deforestation, particularly given that the previous Government throughout much of its tenure was supported by the Green Party?
There were three factors. Firstly, there was a wave of deforestation in response to the deadline of 1 January 2008, whereby the previous Government provided a perverse incentive for people to cut down their trees. The second factor was the relative economics of pastoral farming, particularly dairying, and forestry, which resulted in a greater level of investment in farming. The third factor was the uncertainty created by the previous Government’s flip-flops on policy. It firstly said that foresters would get carbon credits—
—then Mr Anderton, who has interjected, changed his mind and said that they would not get carbon credits. Two years later the Government changed its mind again. That sort of uncertainty destroys investor confidence and is one of the reasons that New Zealand’s forest estate declined over the last 5 years.
Is the Minister aware that as a result of his Government’s so-called suspension of the emissions trading scheme, which the forestry sector had actually entered into, the Forest Owners Association says that New Zealand has lost one deal worth more than $100 million worth in plantings, the Kyoto Forestry Association says that New Zealand has lost new forestry investment worth over $125 million, and the New Zealand Stock Exchange has sold its carbon registry business to an offshore owner, blaming the uncertainty caused by the Government’s suspension; how is all this in New Zealand’s interests at a time of recession, when we desperately need inwards investment?
I hate to plagiarise my colleague Bill English, but hearing Labour lecture us about forest plantings is a bit like Jack the Ripper talking about domestic violence. This Government will change the record on forestry. I invite members opposite to consider that forestry is a long-term investment. It is an investment whose horizon is likely to be about 30 years. I invite members opposite to constructively engage with the select committee on the review of the emissions trading scheme, so that we can get long-term certainty. The last point I make is that the emissions trading scheme, according to officials, has mistakes in its forestry provisions, and they will need to be amended regardless of any policy changes from the new Government.
Has the Minister seen his own ministry’s projections of New Zealand’s future net greenhouse gas emissions, which show a huge spike around 2020 as today’s forests are harvested; and what will he do to ensure that those 7 million seedlings go into the ground this year so that they will be big enough to offset that carbon loss in 2020, instead of just blaming the previous Government when he is responsible for the current lack of certainty?
I point out that we have little control today over the extent to which emission levels are offset by forestry in 2020, because it depends on what trees were actually planted in 1992. There is that spike because the previous National Government, from 1990 to 1999, caused a huge amount of new forest plantings, and those trees will be harvested in the 2020s. Regardless of what any future Government might do, that peak will be there. Underlying this, though, is the trade-off; the trade-off in terms of our taking our time to do the review of the emissions trading scheme properly, and the long-term gains of doing it right, compared with the short-term uncertainty arising from the review. I think the Government has that balance right.
Will the Minister acknowledge that trees planted this winter would be just the right age to offset that peak in 2020, and that is being delayed; and will he also acknowledge that the 7 million unwanted seedlings sitting there today represent one of the best shovel-ready job schemes he could find in a recession?
What surprises me about that member is that for the last 9 years, when she was part of a Government, she did not so much as raise a finger when there was a chainsaw massacre of trees, yet she is demanding action from a Government that has been in office for less than 3 months. I ask that member to reflect on the record of the previous—
Members opposite should simply reflect on their record on deforestation—the worst of any post-war Government. I assure them that this Government backs the forest industry. With the work that David Carter is doing with that industry, I have confidence in its future.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is bad enough to hear a lengthy answer to a question; it is worse when the lengthy speech does not even address the question.
I do not blame the honourable member for his concern, because answers have been too long—I must say to my friend the Hon Dr Nick Smith. But the dilemma was that the question asked whether the Minister would “acknowledge” something. Where a question asks that, it is very difficult to expect a precise answer.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister knows very well that the Greens have never been part of a Government, and did not contribute—
Can the Minister then answer his own 2007 questions to the previous Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: “What sort of incompetent Government is it when it ... cannot tell foresters who are about to contemplate planting trees in June, July, and August of this year whether they will get credits for those trees? … when this very day nursery and forestry contractors are making decisions about whether to plant commercial trees this season; … can he not see that that is critical to their making investment decisions … say to the Minister that they do not want options or discussion papers but a simple answer:”—do we have an emissions trading scheme, or not, Minister?
Before the Hon Dr Nick Smith answers, I ask members that if they expect Ministers to give brief answers, could they please focus the questions a bit more.
I have made plain to that member and to those who want to plant trees that this Government is committed to providing carbon credits for them. I stress again that forestry is a long-term investment. Over the last 7 years we had the previous Government saying that foresters would get carbon credits, then it said that they would not get carbon credits, then it changed its mind a third time and said that they would. That is not a way to encourage long-term investment, and that is why I would encourage all political parties in this House to build consensus around this issue of forestry so that we can restore confidence to that industry.
I seek leave—bearing in mind, Mr Speaker, your ruling about the tabling of documents—to table a document, in light of the Minister’s exaltations to members on this side to take their time and participate in the scheme. This document is a media release from Nick Smith and David Carter saying that the select committee—
—it is the Ministers’ press statement—that Nick Smith expects the select committee to report back in April.