“I am hopeful that the new Government will introduce additional controls over carbon farming on top of the changes to the National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry (NES-CF) introduced by Labour,” says Ruapehu Mayor, Weston Kirton.
"In response to calls for urgent action to address the threats posed to productive farmland and communities from the rapid pace of carbon conversions Labour developed new national standards to enable councils to manage carbon farming at a local level," he says.
"While the NES-CF changes are welcomed there are concerns that to activate the new tools for managing carbon forests we need to make changes to our District Plan which will take time and could be costly.
“Any changes to the District Plan rules to control where new commercial forests - including carbon forests - are located need to be developed in consultation with our communities, with any changes able to be challenged in court by stakeholder interests which could extend the timeframes and cost.”
These issues could mean that changes on the ground may not be as quick as many would like, warns Mayor Kirton.
"National promised to ban foreign investment in farms being converted to forestry for carbon farming which we would like to see implemented as soon as possible.
“We would also like to see changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) settings preventing polluters from being able to offset 100% of their emissions through carbon credits.”
Council staff are working to understand the new NES-CF and how to administer the new standards in relation to current policy and planning rules in the interim.
“Alongside this we will be looking at any District Plan changes and timeframes for consultation on these,” he says.
“There is quite a lot of work involved in getting to a point where we would be ready to consult. At this stage, the earliest this is likely will be as part of next year's 2024/34 Long Term Plan around March or April," he says.
"When I raised carbon farming threats at the LGNZ Zone 3 meeting last year, I received overwhelming support for my calls for urgent action.
If the incoming Government doesn't act quickly to put the brakes on mass carbon conversions the calls from rural communities are going to resume and get louder as councils and communities face a loss of local population, employment, economic activity, and their rating base.
“It is not about stopping carbon farming but stopping the way it is currently being allowed to take place," he adds.