New Zealand's forests shrinking, warns greenhouse gas emissions report

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.4 per cent year on year in 2013, but deforestation is continuing apace, according to a government report out Friday.

The Greenhouse Gas Inventory report from the Ministry of the Environment estimated New Zealand’s total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions at 81 million tons in 2013.

The five sources that contributed most to the rise in total emissions were carbon dioxide from road transport and electricity generation, nitrous oxide from agricultural soils, hydrofluorocarbons from industrial and household refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, and methane from livestock digestive systems.

“New Zealand’s total emissions peaked in 2005, decreased from 2006 to 2009, and showed an increasing trend from 2009 to 2012 before lessening again in 2013,” it said.

However, it warned that the area of forests, which act as a carbon sink, had been shrinking since 2004 due to deforestation of planted forests.

“Since 2008, annual deforestation has averaged approximately 8, 500 hectares. This is more than the average area of new forest planting over the same period,” it said.

However, Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser, announcing the report, said, “For the past six years, our level of afforestation has exceeded our rate of deforestation.”

The country was “well on track” to meeting its international commitment to reduce emissions to 5 percent below the 1990 level of 66.7 million tons by 2020, Groser said in a statement.

New Zealand farmers were also getting more efficient at improving their emissions intensity, Groser said in a statement.

The opposition Green Party said the report contrasted with Groser’s “misleading comments.”

“Trees were cut down on twice the amount of land than they were planted on in 2013,” Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said in a statement.

“The key driver of this is the low carbon price, which is largely a result of the government weakening the emissions trading scheme,” he said.

“This government’s failure to make afforestation viable is resulting in a chainsaw catastrophe.”

Net greenhouse gas emissions had flatlined in the last recorded year and the decrease in 2013 was actually a return to “normal levels” because low water levels in 2012 had resulted in less hydro-electric power generation and a temporary high in non- renewable generation, said Norman.

The annual inventory report is a mandatory requirement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

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