Carbon Sink

14 Aug 2010

The Carbon Forest - working on a guide to setting up a forest carbon sink in New Zealand

12 Jan 2010

The difference between CO2 and CO2-e

and The climate science translation guide

24 December 2009

I'm now working on slicing this evolving text into main issues:

4 December 2009

I've started ruminating on a Carbon Sink idea that my brother Jonathan mentioned a while back.

Get a bunch of people to each pitch in to buy a block of land and let it regenerate into native forest

[If you have any questions or suggestions please email me: paul at kennett dot co dot nz]

Some background:

  • In 2008 Jonathan and his partner spent their life savings on Project Rameka. The goals include; carbon sink, mountain bike tracks, community involvement
  • My household emissions are about 3 tonnes per year (1 tonne per person); what else can I do?
  • I don't have a lot of life savings, so can't purchase a block of land without taking on a lot of debt (which I think is a bad idea) [explain why]
  • Landcare Research say [citation needed] one effective carbon sink strategy is to buy a block of land, fence it, maybe remove some pests, then walk away. I.e., this strategy says - do not drive out to your block to "improve it" because each time you do you eat away at your carbon sunk. A minimalist approach appeals to me personally because I like finite projects (I find it hard to sustain energy for projects beyond 5 years).
  • Landcare also say [citation needed] you should calculate your sunk carbon on an annual basis, not the total theoretical amount in 50, 100 or 200 years time.
  • If this idea comes together I'd like to document it online (you're looking at it) so that anyone else can replicate the idea. A small example; Cheap wall insulation
  • Landcare are working on a detailed "sequestration" map of NZ that will tell you roughly how much you could expect to sequester (per annum) from a regenerating block of land. Their current conservative baseline (for the whole of New Zealand) is 3 tonnes per hectare per year. They thought Jonathan's location is more like 10 tonnes per hectare per year.
  • Land can be had for as little $2000per hectare if you buy it in the right places and size. Land with native already on it is cheaper than good pasture.
  • If a sequestration project is left out of the government's Permanent Forest Sink Initiative ( then any carbon sequestered will be in addition to the govt's efforts (and in addition to Kyoto).
  • I'd like to explore setting up a "Carbon Co-op" where as many people as possible throw money in to buy a block of land for sequestering carbon - with the intention of not visiting the land.
  • The Co-op would put a covenant on the land to prevent development. (Some Councils provide rates relief for covenanted land.
  • The Co-op would need to pay rates, and ongoing fencing, and other maintenance costs.
  • I'd like to design the project in a way that makes it as easy and cheap for others to replicate as possible. There'd be a web site with step by step instructions.
  • The carbon sequestered would be completely self validated. I.e., the plan would be to not be part of any carbon trading scheme.
  • I think the climate change problem is such that it requires responses at every possible scale - personal, neighbourhood, community, business, regional, national and global. I think we need to try every meaningful strategy we can. We shouldn't get too hung up about "The" solution. Let's throw everything we can at it, and now.
  • I like using Landcare's data and carbon calculator because it looks robust.

Current status

So far I've discussed this idea with a small bunch of Wellington and Lower Hutt friends who include these characteristics:

  • 1 set up a carbon sink in Golden Bay
  • 1 owns a block of old pasture in the Wairarapa which he's planting in natives
  • 1 works for DOC
  • 2 lawyers
  • 1 works for a low-carbon transport NGO
  • 1 is an eco-designer
  • several community garden and organic gardening enthusiasts of varying competence
  • several Transition Towns enthusiasts
  • several concerned about risks associated with peak oil/peak resources
  • all are trying not to freak out about climate change

The key issues that have come out of this discussion are:


It's vital that this project be in addition to what might otherwise have occurred. So - if we buy a block of scrub land that is likely to be left to grow, then all we're doing is changing the name on the ownership - we're not sinking more carbon.

If we buy a block of scrubland that is about to be cleared for dairy farming - then we're heading in the right direction.

Land that is already native forest is real cheap - but fails the additionality test (the land is probably going to stay native without your help).

Prime pasture is expensive - so planting it would very likely mean you are adding new carbon sink. Howeever good pasture close to cities may be better used for growing food (or even a )? I think food forests are cool - but I don't have the skills to pull it off. So I'm not going down that path with this carbon sink idea.

Here's Jonathan's range of land type and suggested action:

  1. Pasture currently being farmed - boot of the methane dispensers and plant
  2. Pasture not being farmed - plant
  3. Marginal farmland with bits of scrub, being farmed - boot off animals then mix of planting and natural regen
  4. Marginal farmland with bits of scrub, not being farmed - mix of planting and natural regen
  5. Low native scrub with high potential to clear and farm - needs protection
  6. Low native scrub that is unlikely to be farmed - probably doesn't need protection
  7. Land that is established 20+ year-old regenerating forest - needs no action except perhap legal protection
  8. Land that is established 20+ year-old forest and is legally protected - no action required
  9. Land that is mature native forest, but has stock roaming through it - remove stock.
  10. Land that is mature native forest, with no stock and is legally protected - no point in taking any action.
Most of these ten categories have the potential to sequester carbon dioxide. Option ten has the least potential to sequester carbon dioxide - option one has the most potential. Option ten is usually the cheapest land - option one is the most expensive.
It would be interesting to do a study to work out what type of land would provide the best sequestration per dollar spent. I suspect the categories one, two, three, four or five would be most effective. Probably category three gives the best carbon uptake for your buck because the land is so cheap.

Here is what Landcare think is important Ibex21:

  • Is the patch of scrub at least 50 ha in area?
  • Was the patch in pasture or in less than 30% tree cover (include only trees that can reach 5 m in height) at 31 December 1989? For example, pasture with the odd scrubby manuka bush, or, gorse or broom with no native plants underneath.
  • Are there now a significant number of plants present that can reach 5 m in height at maturity?
  • Are there sources of native seed within a kilometre of the patch, e.g. forest remnants containing coprosma or totara or mānuka trees that are flowering/fruiting?
  • Is the patch at a sufficiently low altitude that tall forest can actually grow there, i.e. it wouldn’t ‘naturally’ be covered in tussock or subalpine species?
  • Is the regenerating forest protected by a covenant (e.g. QEII) or are you prepared to seek a PFSI covenant in the future?

My list (currently) looks like this:

  • 50 ha or more
  • has a pasture/scrub/bush/tree mix
  • is close to a native block
  • low altitude
  • costs less than $6000 per ha
  • Is close enough to public transport so that someone can cycle to the block once a year with a low carbon footprint. Ie, not so far away that it's a mission to get there.
  • is or was recently in stock. Therefore it would quite likely have stock again in the future - and so to regenerate the block would be additional to business as usual.

My vision is to have a project that is additional to the current "market based solutions". I.e., in addition to whatever New Zealand manages to achieve with it's Kyoto commitments, and in addition to New Zealand's emissions trading scheme.

Walking away is hard

The current plan requires participants pay some money, then let it go. This could be hard. It is a selfless act.

The project will be worthwhile if participants continue to reduce their own carbon emmisions. It will be a waste of time and money if participants think of this as a carbon offset; that it lets them off-the-hook. Yes - we really do need to stop flying and get out of our cars, and consume less stuff.

Which carbon sink strategy

  1. My current idea is looking to optimise for minimal ongoing management. This is mostly because of my own character - I like finite projects. Not so good with things that require disciplined/boring never-ending work. That is probably wishful thinking on my part, but I'd like to explore the "walk away" strategy to see what it could deliver.
  2. An alternative is to plant and manage a harvest that is optimised for soaking up carbon (eg by planting ????? which soak up a lot of carbon).
  3. Another option for someone with a little money who wants to "do something" is to buy "additional" carbon credits from CarbonZero - the more the better. Currently their system does not allow you to buy more than you've calculated. So you could simply set up a second account on their system and pay twice. That way you would be causing more carbon to be sequestered/sunk/offset. How comfortable you feel about CarbonZero's "offsets" depends on how much faith you have in their certification process (ie are they really additional). Offsets is a topic that generates a lot of debate. I'm going to try to avoid using that word/idea. Read more thoughts on carbon offset schemes; pro? and con?.

Keeping it safe

What is the best ownership setup that will ensure the block stays "safe"?

Thoughts so far:

  • a legal covenent of some sort
  • an ownership structure designed to make it hard to sell, divide, develop the land, ie, lot's of owners.

Keeping it simple

I'd like this plan to end up being simple to replicate. (This may work against the "lot's of owners" idea.)

Cheers, Paul Kennett

If you have any questions or suggestions please email me: paul at kennett dot co dot nz

Page last modified on 14 August 2010 at 11:46 PM