Carbon credit farming far from ideal solution

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One of the major challenges for communities everywhere in New Zealand is dealing with the issues surrounding climate change.

Unfortunately, one of the major problems facing our community right now is the unintended consequences resulting from carbon credit farming.

The Government has incentivised people and companies to carpet-bomb landscapes with pine trees which are strangling indigenous vegetation, destroying habitats and generally wrecking the environment, all in the name of saving the … environment.

This damaging activity has been going on further north of Waitaki for the past two years or so.

Farms have been bought up, de-stocked, and planted with trees over every square metre possible.

In the worst cases, this includes planting in waterways, no observation of rules or best practice around tree management, no fire breaks, no provision of firefighting dams, and no management of pest weeds and animals.

These forests become huge sources of wildfire fuel and they are a neighbour’s worst nightmare. You only need to talk to some of the neighbours who have properties next to the wildfire that engulfed 611ha at Livingstone last October to understand the threat they live with every day.

These forests are ticking time bombs waiting to explode, and there seems to be little enthusiasm from central government to put proper safety measures in place.

Then there is the social cost.

With no ongoing farm management, there is no need for people to live and work on the land; there are no services required from agricultural companies; and there is little to no maintenance carried out.

That affects rural communities – those farms are no longer homes to kids who would have attended the local school, there are no customers for the local shop, pub, or service station. Where this happens to too many farms in a community, the community dies.

The companies investing in the transformation of these farms receive payments for the carbon credits which are then used to offset pollution by companies elsewhere. Many are not even in New Zealand!

This is all the more likely because companies buying farms to plant trees are not required to go through the usual Overseas Investment Office process to seek permission, but instead get a free ride.

Furthermore, they can afford to pay ridiculous money for these farms – prices that no traditional farming activity can justify. These farms are lost to these domestic or overseas interests, and the likelihood of them ever returning to Kiwi ownership and productive farming ranges from slim to zero.

Waitaki is at the crossroads.

We have this issue right now, and it is about to get worse.

We have to support our community.

We have to support our farmers.

And we have to support our economy and our environment.

Planting trees without controls is taking us down a disastrous path, and we need to respond quickly. Where a company ignores the rules and plants without consent, or ignores consent conditions, we must act. If it requires prosecution, then we should not shy away from that action. If we are able to build greater protections into our district plan, then we must do that. If we can lobby central government to bring greater scrutiny into their processes, then lobby we must.

This is not a call to remove all trees; this is a call to make sure we have a healthy, biodiverse and sustainable environment where our communities can thrive.

The time to act is now and our community needs us to do just that.

  • Gary Kircher is the Waitaki Mayor