Low carbon prices may spur deforestation in New Zealand according to a survey by a researcher at Canterbury University.
As reported last week by The New Zealand Herald, a collapse in carbon prices on the country’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) has undercut an incentive for farmers to preserve forests.
Large forest owners — those who hold concessions greater than 10,000 ha — now plan to clear 39,000 hectares by 2020, a sharp increase from the the same survey taken in 2011. Accounting for small forest owners, more than 50,000 ha of forest may be harvested and replaced with dairy, sheep, and cattle farms during that time frame.
The forest area consists of plantations, rather than natural forest. Under New Zealand’s forestry law, owners of forest plantations established after 1989 can earn carbon credits as their forests grow, while owners of pre-1990 forest must make payments based on the market price for carbon if they deforest. Old-growth indigenous forests are not part of the ETS.
New Zealand is one of a handful of countries outside Europe that has a legally-binding carbon trading system.
According to the U.N., about 31 percent of New Zealand is forested. A quarter of that area is characterized as primary forest.