Carbon credit proposal could have big impact on Māori landowners

There are fears a proposal to stop exotic trees from receiving carbon credits could have a multibillion-dollar impact on Māori landowners, who rely heavily on forestry.

Some are set to meet with the Government tomorrow to demand that the proposal be scrapped, and warn they are willing to take the matter to court.

"We started off with 27 million hectares, fast-forward 150 years and we're now down to 1.6. Not only are we down to 1.6, but 80% of it is marginal, remote, erodible, steep," chair of the Māori Forestry Association, Te Kapunga Dewes said.

"The ability to generate income from that land is exceptionally difficult. We can't lend against our land and we can't mortgage it because its not saleable."

That is why the Emissions Trading Scheme is so important, because it allows Māori to utilise the little land they have left, land mostly suitable for forestry, and make money through carbon credits.

"The Māori land that the Government suggests that could be eligible for this category is roughly 146,000 hectares, so the maths is $7 billion.

"There are Māori trusts around the country who have tens of thousands of carbon units, some of them have already monetised them and sold them," said Dewes.

Penetaui Kleskovic, the commercial operation manager for the Far North iwi Te Aupōuri, said that enormous economic opportunity would no longer be accessible if the Government excluded exotic trees from the permanent category of the scheme.

"It's the first time in 180 years that Māori in Te Tai Tokerau have seen commercial light on their barren land, and we don't want that financial flame to be extinguished," he said.

"You only need to take a trip to Hokianga to realise that a lot of the former marginal land there is now paying rates and its enabled hapū to purchase back their former estate."

The value of carbon credits has doubled to $80 a unit in the last year, and the proposal is being driven by concerns this might lead to a rapid increase in exotic species being planted.

Exotics such as radiata pine also have potential environmental and ecological risks.

But the scheme is estimated to be worth $800 million for Māori landowners in Northland alone.

"The land we received back through our treaty settlement was thousands of hectares of marginal land and it means we can bring that land back into a viable economic state," said Kleskovic.

"Now we're having our option taken away from us by the current forestry minister to the point where we can't use our land, in a commercially rational way, without the creep of too much red tape."

He said court action could be on the cards, and Māori landowners are meeting with the Forestry Minister Stuart Nash tomorrow.

"There's a lot of water to go under the bridge with this because it is contentious, and you know with forestry you have got to make decisions that are out for 100 years, its not a three year sort of thing," said Nash.

"If you get it wrong, then those decisions have huge implications. So there is a lot of work to do with our treaty partners, we absolutely recognise that, but with all Kiwis who are affected by this as well."