ETS good for farmers - carbon expert

Some farmers don't realise the long-term benefits they will get from the ETS if they plant trees on their worst land, says the director of a Nelson carbon accountancy firm.

Carbon Farm director Murray McClintock said some landowners viewed the ETS "with suspicion", feeling it would increase red tape and the Government might change its mind in the future.

However, Dr McClintock, whose firm calculates landowners' forest biomass and its carbon sequestration, said some farmers would be able to diversify and be more flexible under the ETS if they planted trees and scrub.

"There are a lot of farmers out there who have blocks of scrub in the back country and you can earn carbon credits by allowing that scrub to grow. That's never been possible before," he said.

"Farmers switch from only having one or two products to sell, let's say meat and wool, and now they suddenly have a third one, carbon, which is growing on their worst land that's always been a struggle to maintain as farmland."

However, he said the scheme didn't go far enough and was "very soft and very weak" compared to Labour's.

He said that under National's revised scheme, householders would bear 90 per cent of the cost when they were only creating 30 per cent of the problem, because politically well-connected organisations such as Federated Farmers, energy and coal companies had lobbied "very effectively" that they should be insulated from the full cost.

Dr McClintock said his best advice for householders was that the ETS "wasn't an unavoidable cost".

"An ETS is not a bad thing. The more fuel and electricity you use the more you will pay. It's good because it at last provides an incentive for us to [reduce energy use]."

"The benefit to the country overall is twofold. It makes our farming agriculture more sustainable and we cut down on erosion, improve water quality and improve biodiversity, and it contributes to New Zealand's clean green brand which we're struggling to maintain.

"Low carbon is a great branding tool ... half of all the customers going into [UK supermarket chain] Tesco's are looking for low carbon products when they shop."

Transition Nelson co-ordinator Trevor Houghton said he was surprised that some people and businesses were only just finding out what the ETS would cost them, which he thought was "relatively common".

"It's going to take some time ... it's been promoted that electricity and petrol will rise, but it's all the flow-on effects as well, like how will that affect food prices?"

However, Mr Houghton said price increases were an effective way to influence behaviour.

"We saw that a year ago when the price of petrol was very high. There was an awful lot more people cycling, car pooling, riding public transport.

"So any increase in price will have some influence, and over time that increase will increase and there'll be more effect."

He said it was "a shame" the agriculture industry would not be involved until 2013 and then its inclusion would be dependent on overseas movements.

"Why are certain ones being favoured over others?"

Mr Houghton also said the revised scheme didn't go far enough to reduce carbon emissions.

"Scientists are saying we need to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, and the government's target is somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent.

"But it's a great starting place and with the reviews in place they can move either way – increase the targets or water them down if nothing's happening overseas."

The Nelson Mail