4 Sep 2018

'Delaying action is likely to make the transition costlier'

3:15 pm on 4 September 2018

Over half of New Zealand will likely have to be covered in trees if it is to progress to a low carbon economy, a Productivity Commission report says.

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Photo: 123RF

Moreover, the government will probably have to pay people to buy electric cars, and those who do not will pay a lot more for petrol.

The commission was asked to do this work after New Zealand agreed in Paris to reduce its emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The government wanted to know how to achieve this best, and with the lowest risk.

In its report, the Productivity Commission replied the government would have to move fast to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

"The period to 2050 will pass quickly," commission chairman Murray Sherwin said.

"Delaying action is likely to make the transition costlier and more abrupt, and limit viable and cost-effective mitigation options."

The report proposed three strands of action: Less use of fossil fuel, more forest planting and lower emissions from agriculture.

On fossil fuels, the recommended method was to use less fossil fuel in industry and encourage electric cars, with incentives such as refunding registration.

The report said forest planting would have to be intense and cover up to one tenth of New Zealand's land area with trees.

Adding Department of Conservation land, which is already covered with forests, and commercial pine plantations, the final share of New Zealand covered with trees would be estimated at more than 50 percent.

The report also said there would have to be changes to the structure and methods of agricultural production.

This will include diversification of land use towards more horticulture and cropping, away from cattle and sheep, and greater adoption of low-emissions practices on farms.

It introduced separate long-term emissions reduction targets for short-lived gases, such as methane, and long-lived gases such as carbon dioxide.

Another change would impose mitigation costs on fertiliser manufacturers or importers, in order to pay for nitrous oxide emissions.

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