Auckland’s carbon-riddled trees for sale

Take a stroll in Auckland’s Te Muri Regional Park and the pūriri seedling you spot could contain sequestered carbon an Australian non-profit has sold to offset car emissions.

What’s more, the carbon in the tree could be protected by 50-year contract preventing anyone, including Auckland Council who own the park, from cutting it down.

This contract covers several hectares of regional parks in North Auckland where the Australian non-profit Greenfleet are undertaking a five-year indigenous tree planting programme and covers the carbon sequestered in the trees.

Greenfleet CEO Wayne Westcott said his aim to protect the forests his organisation creates for 50 to 100 years and the contract is “a bit like a pre-nuptial agreement” which he hopes will never need to be enforced.

The planting and maintenance of planting is done for free by Greenfleet with the proviso they own the carbon trapped in the trees. This sequestered carbon is sold as offsets to companies and individuals.

“It’s an unusual new product. It’s quite a strange thing we do. A lot of people go ‘I don’t quite understand how this works’”.

Westcott said the average Australian car emits 4.2 tonnes of carbon per year. Greenfleet charge A$15 per tonne meaning someone wanting to offset car use would pay A$64.50 per year. Greenfleet ensures they have planted sufficient trees to sequester the 4.2 tonnes of carbon the car emits.

The Ministry for Primary Industries estimates a 50-year old indigenous forest will sequester 323.4 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

So far Greenfleet has planted five hectares of forest at Te Muri and Atiu Creek Regional Parks. They plan to plant up to 50 hectares over the next four to five years.

The New Zealand plantings are funded only by offsets sold in New Zealand to companies such as Europcar and Ebos and are not sold to Greenfleet’s Australian customers.

Westcott said he thinks private sector money is essential to improve the environment and restore ecosystems.

“I appreciate there are some people, who think it should be all public, government money, but the truth is the government money is going to go hospitals, schools, parks. If we want to do the sort of work we’re talking about, there will never be the money.”

Westcott said as well as sequestering carbon the forests Greenfleet plant promote biodiversity.

“You are great foresters over here [New Zealand], but you don’t focus on this type of forest, you focus on harvesting over 25 years. We don’t harvest anything. For us the wildlife which comes back to the forest is as important as the carbon.”

It’s these ecological benefits in Greenfleet’s approach which Auckland Council found attractive enough to sign over 50 years of tree-cutting rights to an Australian non-profit.

Auckland Council general manager of parks, sports and recreation, Mace Ward, said Greenfleet’s ecological restoration approach gave it the edge over other New Zealand-based schemes.

The 50 hectares Greenfleet are planting represent a tiny portion of the 41,000 hectares of Auckland park land, 800 hectares of which the council hopes to revegetate with indigenous trees.

Ward said extending the Greenfleet agreement beyond the initial 50 hectares may be impacted by the government’s plan to plant one billion trees over the next ten years

“With the billion trees programme we have been able to accelerate beyond what we would have been when we entered into this with Greenfleet.”

The issue of a contract over the trees is not one Ward sees as problematic as there is little chance the land could ever be sold by the council because it is protected under the Local Government Act and is not subject to treaty settlements.

“That’s the simple answer – it can’t be sold. What we would have to do is get the Governor General, essentially the Queen’s representative, to get that order in council revoked. Land is a significant asset, we would have to consult the public about that.”

The responsibility for keeping the trees alive lies with Greenfleet and the council is not liable if the trees die for any reason. If they all die due to a disease such as myrtle rust for example, Greenfleet would replant them.

For Ward, the benefits of arrangements like the council arrangement with Greenfleet goes beyond offsetting carbon.

“Anything that does advance the locking up of carbon is good. Our consideration of entering into this relationship really focused on ecological outcomes as well as amenity and restoration of larger areas of native vegetation. Typically, these areas are joining up existing vegetation. It’s making the sum of the parts greater than the whole.”

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