The Carbon Forest

by Bryan Walker on December 24, 2010

The Carbon Forest: A New Zealand Guide to Forest Carbon Sinks for Investors, Farmers, Foresters and ConservationistsA suburban section has long been the limit of my landowning ambition and I’m too old now to start thinking of anything more, but the prospect opened up by a newly published small book had me imagining I could well become interested if I were younger.  The book is The Carbon Forest: A New Zealand guide to forest carbon sinks for investors, farmers, foresters and conservationists (publisher’s site here). The four authors themselves appear motivated by climate change but the detailed advice they offer is far from tied to that concern. People looking to engage in a forestry venture for any reason, including reasonable financial return, will find the book very useful.

It is not written to engage the idly interested reader, though I can report it reasonably accessible for such. The aim is to provide practical information for people wondering about establishing a forest carbon sink on land they either already own or buy for the purpose. The authors describe forest sinks as currently by far the most effective form of carbon sequestration that humans can initiate. In New Zealand the government has identified forestry as the primary tool for meeting our Kyoto target for emissions reduction and has accordingly provided financial incentives for afforestation and reforestation. The book explains the four different government schemes available, the kinds of afforestation each of them is likely to suit and the kinds of carbon credits each can earn. It also acknowledges the voluntary schemes which may be preferred by those who wish to offset their carbon emissions voluntarily, and schemes which avoid trading in carbon credits such as those initiated by people who are purely interested in offsetting their own carbon emissions.

The procedures involved in carbon trading, both statutory and voluntary, and the currency of the carbon credit are made clear. The statutory schemes have been designed to help NZ reach its Kyoto target, though the book notes that this target falls short of what the science recommends, and that the most effective way of achieving the extra reductions is through the voluntary market. However the vast majority of forest sink owners now choose to trade through the statutory schemes which are generally easier and cheaper to deal with.

The analysis of different forest types and their sequestration rates is interesting. It shows that over a one-hundred-year period exotic trees, particularly Pinus radiata, absorb more carbon dioxide than native trees, but over longer periods native trees absorb more than exotics. The two options are not mutually exclusive for forest sink projects and the book indicates ways in which they can be usefully combined, sometimes to suit different soils and aspects within one block of land. The kind of management strategies that are proposed for a sink are an important ingredient in making decisions, and the book sets out some of the costs and returns for both low and high management approaches.

Finding the right kind of land for forest sinks at the right kind of price takes time and careful research. High value pastoral or agricultural land is patently not on the cards, but there is often marginal farmland on existing farms that may provide better return to the farmer if livestock are cleared out, the gate closed, scrub left to grow, and carbon credits claimed. Additional benefits such as erosion control may well accrue. Lifestyle block owners may find that the less intensive management required for growing trees than for raising livestock is appealing, along with the environmental benefits. Small pine plantations that turn out to be of poor quality or are difficult to access may be more profitable farmed as carbon than milled. Urbanites with environmental concerns may find suitable blocks of land for sale, and venture on a carbon sink which will return enough in carbon credits to at least cover costs and provide some additional financial benefit. The writers see good value in any sink which can sequester carbon at a cost of less than $20 per tonne of CO2, especially since the price of carbon is forecast to rise considerably. However they warn that it would be illusory to regard forest sinks as get rich quick schemes. Owners need to have regard for environmental as well as financial returns.

The structure of ownership may be influenced by the degree of financial return sought from the forestry. Multiple options, particularly companies, trusts and incorporated societies, are canvassed and broadly explained with pointers to further information and a warning of the importance of obtaining good legal and business advice. The place of statutory covenants or forestry right in obtaining long-term protection for a forest sink  is discussed, along with the finance, tax, and insurance matters that need to be taken into account in establishing the sink.

For one who had no idea of what might be involved in establishing carbon sinks under the regime which now obtains in New Zealand it was an eye-opener to see the wide ramifications explored in this practical guide book. It was also very encouraging to think that there will probably be many in the country who are starting to think about entering the various schemes available and that we have reason to hope for a big increase in tree planting and growing. A late chapter of case studies of existing forest sinks was reassuring after immersion in all the complexities explored earlier in the book. The case studies cover quite a range: a sink of 600 hectares on a 1600-hectare Marlborough farm; a 157-hectare exotic forest sink in Wairarapa established on a previous hilly sheep and cattle farm; the 642-hectare Queen Charlotte Wilderness Park; a 49-hectare block in Golden Bay of originally marginal farmland; and a 7.6-hectare Wairarapa lifestyle block managed by a Wellington owner.

One of the book’s four authors, Jonathan Kennett, has several years of experience managing reforestation projects and helped initiate the Golden Bay project listed above. Another, Simon Johnson, is a trustee of a forest carbon sink project and has worked as a resource management consultant. A third, Paul Kennett, an author, editor and web-designer, is described as living on a budget of less than 1 tonne CO2-e per annum. Finally, Tom Bennion, who has written some guest posts for Hot Topic in recent months, is a lawyer specialising in environmental and Maori law. It looks like a happy mix of environmental concern and relevant experience that has produced this informative book to help forest projects develop and flourish in the New Zealand landscape.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

John D December 24, 2010 at 3:32 pm

This is great! Plant a forest and watch the money come in, while others do the real work.

The ultimate socialists dream

Have a nice Christmas [insult snipped. No more please. GR]

bill December 24, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I guess they do! Spend your break wisely and learn to punctuate, John.

Richard C1 December 24, 2010 at 8:19 pm

“The ultimate socialists dream”

Did you study politics at the same place you studied science?

bill December 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Yes, the notion that socialism is about sitting back and earning money off the labour of others is rather an entertaining one!

Artful Dodger December 25, 2010 at 2:40 am

Hi Bill,
This was played from the Denialists’ Deck of Cards:
8♠ “Duh!

With “Duh!,” the denalist deliberately misunderstands, misinterprets, or plays dumb (in this case, switching Capitalism for Socialism).

This is also a variant of the Straw man argument (carbon sequestration is independent of economic philosophy). When employed as the opening comment to a post, it is known as a “piñata” argument (one hoping to attract wild swings at a comically poorly-formed construct).

rotflmao. Still better to DNFTT.

Cheers, and Merry Christmas!

Thomas December 25, 2010 at 10:41 pm

….while others do the real work…. such as shoveling more coals into the firebox, adding speed to the proverbial freight train before it hits the proverbial brick wall……

Carol Cowan December 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm

It will be good to see marginal land that was cleared for pastoral use returned to forests. There will be ‘downstream’ benefits besides carbon sequestration – a reduction in erosion and increased habitat for native birds, for instance.

Artful Dodger December 25, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Carol, thanks for pointing out these synergies. The best climate solutions will be grass roots and have woody stems!

adelady December 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

And don’t forget that “proper” full-scale re-forestation (or initiating it as at Ascension Island) has massive impacts of the hydrology of a region. More rainfall – and properly absorbed into soil rather than running off taking the topsoil with it – has got to be a boon.

John D December 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

Well, you took the bait. Of course, I don’t regard these “carbon forests” (what other kind are there?) as a feature of socialism. Quite the opposite in fact.

Every dollar paid to one of these “investors” is a dollar taken out of the productive economy.A dollar that could be spent on, for example, healthcare or education.

While we pay “entrepreneurs” to grow weeds (radiata pine) that does not support much in the way of biodiversity, we still require someone to actually burn the coal or oil to pay for it in the first place. That is how the ETS works.

Keith Hunter December 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Hey John: It’s Xmas. Time of good cheer and good will to all men & women. Didn’t you notice? Even trolls need a holiday, surely?

John D December 27, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Happy Xmas?

It’s the 27th, and your comment might upset people of non-religious or non-Christian faiths.

And please don’t say Happy Holidays. Holiday is derived from Holy Day.
And please don’t say happy, it might upset unhappy people.

And please don’t say day-off, it might upset those who have to work.


(that will probably upset people too)

Keith Hunter December 27, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Hey John: That is a bit crass. Indeed, very crass

Actually I am an atheist. But I’m not so rude that I wouldn’t want to wish “Merry Xmas” to you and everyone else at this time of year. So Merry Xmas to you

As far as those who have to work, all I have to say is “let those who live In glass houses cast the last stones” .

And yEs, I am still working in case that matters to you.

Keith Hunter December 27, 2010 at 11:47 pm

And just in case you didn’t notice I never said “happy holidays”‘ “happy” or even “day off” although I am sure that Artful Dodger will have some cards to deliver in that regard. All would seem to hit the mark!

Once again, a very Merry Xmas to you!

John D December 28, 2010 at 10:23 am

Prof Hunter,
You are correct that you did not say “Happy Holidays”.
My statement was a form of future imperative, such as “don’t walk on the grass”.

It was intended as a form of parody, of political correctness, a construct of cultural Marxism, that one finds amusing as the proponents of such find my calling a 25 year old a “kid” offensive.

Yet, the same people, yourself included, can refer to me as a “troll” for expressing what I consider to be a valid criticism of so-called carbon farming

“Denier”, “crank” “troll”, all words we have come to expect from the “liberal” intellectual elite from which you presumably classify yourself under.

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm

“what I consider to be a valid criticism”
what a troll considers to be valid is not a test of validity that the rest of us generally bother with.

John D December 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm

what a troll considers to be valid is not a test of validity that the rest of us generally bother with.

Replace “troll” with “Jew”, “Black” or your favorite minority group, and see how you sound to me matey.

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Being a troll is about how you behave not a genetic property of an individual. You are labelled a troll because you consistently behave like one. You claim to want discussion and debate but really never engage beyond the standard troll toolkit.
I’m sorry if you think you’re some kind of persecuted minority but I’m not going to waste my energy having earnest debates with someone who is plainly only interested in disrupting useful dialogue about climate change…

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm

“all words we have come to expect ”
if you behave like a troll – and you do – then you should, of course, expect to be labeled as such. but feel free to whinge about it, as I’m sure there are a host of trolls willing to sympathise…

John D December 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm

It also never occurred to you that transferring wealth from the general public to private forestry owners might actually be construed as unfair by some. Even, perhaps, a scam.

You are so busy defending your turf against “the troll” that you cannot under any circumstances actually admit that I might have a point, that I am defending the rights of the punter and you are defending rich corporates.

Macro December 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm

“It also never occurred to you that transferring wealth from the general public to private forestry owners might actually be construed as unfair by some. Even, perhaps, a scam.”

In our Capitalist economy John – that’s how it works.
Some like it. Most don’t even know that is what it is all about, Others (and maybe your one – or coming to that realisation) – see it for what it is – a big scam to line the pockets of the wealthy.

Up until now and, at the present time, fossil fuel companies (coal gas and oil) have been, and are, subsidized heavily by the general public and future generations as we and our descendants pick up the tab for pollution of the environment and the atmosphere. These externalities (as the economists call them) are not paid for by Mobil, Exxon, Shell, BP, et al but by you and me and those in the future.

So with that in mind – what are you going to do about it?

John D December 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Explain to me how fossil fuel companies are subsidised by the general public.

Surely, if this is the case, then we just remove the subsidies and the wind and solar power all becomes so compelling?

I have never ever heard this argument put forward.

Macro December 28, 2010 at 4:36 pm

“I have never ever heard this argument put forward.”

Maybe you have cloth ears John. But yes your right! Wind Solar and other alternative Energies are, compared to FF, way more cost effective when the externalised costs of FF are taken into account.

For an overview of what externalised costs, in relation to FF is all about there is this:
Its not just adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm

you mean the costs of the gulf war are an externality of fossil fuel reliance? why, wouldn’t that make them about the most ridiculously expensive source of energy ever?

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm

“Surely, if this is the case, then we just remove the subsidies and the wind and solar power all becomes so compelling?”

surely… and yet you see to be pretty vehemently against any kind of carbon tax or other measure to make those corporations (whom you are supposedly defending us punters against) pay for the damage their products are doing to global ecosystems…

adelady December 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Explain how FF is subsidised by the general public?

Heavens. There are direct subsidies and grants for both exploration and mining itself – who pays for the rail lines that coal mining needs to get to port? Who pays for the ports? Who pays the rates and other charges to local governments when those local governments have granted exemptions and concessions to refineries or cement or aluminium manufacturers?

And that’s all on top of direct subsidies and exemptions of various kinds that FF companies get for various reasons all around the world.

You really need to get out more or stay in and read lots of information..

Macro December 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm

“you mean the costs of the gulf war are an externality of fossil fuel reliance? why, wouldn’t that make them about the most ridiculously expensive source of energy ever?”

Many argue that the primary reason for the 1st and 2nd Gulf Wars were substantially just that! The need to secure the continued supply to the US of Middle Eastern Oil with the “unstable” Iraq controlled by Hussain. That may not have been the publically stated reason for the unilateral invasion resulting in the continued occupation. But there is no doubt it was a contributing factor. And yes! It would make Oil the most expensive energy source there is! But this is not the only occasion that wars have been waged over securing a supply of Oil. You may also note that it was the insecurity of supply from the Middle East to Japan that was a contributing factor for the entry of Japan into WW2, as it fought to secure a sea route via the Straits of Singapore and the China sea and the pre-emptive strike on Pearl Harbour.

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm

oops forgot to (/sarcasm)

Macro December 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Perhaps one of the most harrowing of stories concerning securing the supply of oil is that of the convoy to Malta in WW2 when it was vital to the defence of the Island that at least one Oil tanker arrived.
An externalised cost in ships and lives on both sides.

Macro December 28, 2010 at 5:18 pm

nommopilot – I did understand your ironic tone.
I do think though that the point does need to be made and made forcefully that the externalised costs of FF are not insubstantial nor inconsequential to human life.

Richard C1 December 28, 2010 at 10:47 pm
nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 4:43 pm

“I am defending the rights of the punter and you are defending rich corporates.”

ha ha you live in a topsy turvy world…

Carol Cowan December 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Don’t presume to know how we classify ourselves, John.

Keith Hunter December 30, 2010 at 12:52 am

All I can say is ” bullshit”

John D December 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm

What an utterly mindless argument.

Do you really imagine that we are going to live in a Utopian paradise full of windmills, never to fight another war?

How, exactly, do we manufacture a windmill? Do they grow from seeds?

And how do we provide the backup generation for wind?
In the recent cold spell in the UK, wind provided precisely ZERO percent of the grid on several days. The shortfall was made up of coal.

How do you power a country like that?

UK electricity prices are expected to triple over the next ten years. It will be the most expensive electricity in the world. All because of so-called renewables which close to being completely useless.

nommopilot December 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm

“How, exactly, do we manufacture a windmill? Do they grow from seeds?”
the wooden ones do!

What is your point, John? this argument is mindless because you aren’t really saying anything coherent. are you arguing that coal is limitless? that in order we to keep UK power prices low, environmental impacts should be ignored? that we shouldn’t consider the external costs of relying on fossil fuels? or that it is right for governments to subsidise fossil fuel extraction and pollution in order to maximise profits for big corporations?
since your arguments tend to consist of barely-formed soundbytes it is hard to tell.

no one is arguing your straw man utopic rubbish. the main argument (which you’ve failed to acknowledge or refute) is that fossil fuels are artificially cheap because the true costs are not borne by the extractor or the consumer, but by current and future generations collectively (and without their consent).

Macro December 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm

“What an utterly mindless argument.”

So you have no answer then John. Thought not.

“Do you really imagine that we are going to live in a Utopian paradise full of windmills, never to fight another war?”

No I do not, and the Wars that are being fought now are just the start of it if we continue with BAU. But humanity will need to develop reliable alternative energies quickly if it is not to suffer a huge energy shock as the cost of FF escalate with both Peak Oil and Governments finally factoring in the externalised costs to the price of FF.

“How do you power a country like that?”

How do you indeed? The western world is presently wedded to FF and it is not going to be an easy time for us all in the years ahead. I do not for see a future of all goodness and light. But Humanity has to all intents and purposes brought this upon itself – some may call it karma I guess. We reap what we sow.

“UK electricity prices are expected to triple over the next ten years. It will be the most expensive electricity in the world. All because of so-called renewables which close to being completely useless.”

I think you overstate the cost of renewables – and are seriously understating the escalating cost of FF. FF cost are increasing world wide unless you hadn’t noticed – why even in the USA I saw today that Gas was heading up to $3 per Gallon! :)

John D December 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm

$3 a gallon, wow!

Let’s step back here.

If your output from wind is zero, what is the cost per mW?

Hint: NaN = infinity

Macro December 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm

If you can say anything sensible John – best not to say anything at all.
(And division by zero does not equal infinity)

Thomas December 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm

The ultimate consequence of “no alternative energy generation” is simply “no energy generation”. Coal and Oil and Gas will one day run out. Already Oil can not keep up with demand and we are going towards $100 US/barrel again despite being stuck in the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
I would prefer wind when its available to no power any day.
Btw: In Summer we live often for weeks on a boat. We have two solar panels totaling 120W peak. These gather enough energy to run house lights and a small fridge for weeks.
I prefer this over the need to run the diesel every day for an hour by far.
Alternative energy concepts will always need to take more intelligent and less resource hungry lifestyles into the equation. The dream of the century past to consume as much as we want whenever we want it has always been a pipe dream. An unsustainable illusion.

As I have calculated before the European wind farms have collectively produced the energy equivalent of hundreds of millions of tons of coal equivalent already.

The idea that we should not make use of the wind energy stream in the light of the coming times of energy scarcity is simply idiotic.
JD can not see the beyond the rim of his fossil fuel addiction hat and he probably never will. In the end who cares about JD anyway.

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