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The Recloaking Papatūānuku Proposal is a living document open for input as we continue to engage with the Government, Māori, experts, environmental and community groups. This Proposal outlines some possible features thereof, in the expectation of further developing and progressing these in collaboration with stakeholders.


Seizing a multi-win opportunity: Why is this initiative critical?

Taking the lead on addressing climate change and biodiversity loss together

For millions of years, indigenous forests cloaked Aotearoa, protecting the land with their tiered canopies and entangled root networks. Different kinds of forests across Aotearoa cleansed waterways, enriched the soil, and provided habitat for a vast array of indigenous species.  

Since human occupation, many indigenous forests have been cut down or burned, leaving the land bare and exposed, stripping it of topsoil; choking waterways and harbours with sediment; and coupled with the impacts of invasive exotic species, driving many indigenous species of plants and animals towards extinction.  In many places they have been almost entirely replaced by exotic monocrops of trees and herbaceous plants.

A significant part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s contribution to global warming is a result of deforesting our indigenous forests. As the first Emissions Reduction Plan notes:1
“Since human arrival in Aotearoa, deforestation to make space for settlements, farms and other land uses has decreased native forest cover from around 80% to 23%. That deforestation has released an estimated 12 Gt CO2 into the atmosphere. Today, native forests cover around 7.8 million hectares and store approximately 1.8 Gt CO2.”

The first Emissions Reduction Plan thus recommends that:2
“Looking after these forests is one of the most important contributions Aotearoa can make to combating global climate change. We also have a significant opportunity to develop native forests that both act as long-term carbon sinks and support biodiversity, which aligns with the goals of the Biodiversity Strategy.”

In recognition of the opportunity to secure these synergistic outcomes, Chapter 4 of the first Emissions Reduction Plan sets out the Government’s commitment to taking an integrated approach to climate policy, planning and regulation that protects, enhances and restores nature, including prioritising nature-based solutions.

Aotearoa has made international commitments to similar effect having adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in late 2022. This framework acknowledges how fundamental thriving biodiversity is3
“to human well-being, a healthy planet, and economic prosperity for all people, including for living well in balance and in harmony with Mother Earth. We depend on it for food, medicine, energy, clean air and water, security from natural disasters as well as recreation and cultural inspiration, and it supports all systems of life on Earth.”

The framework also observes that “biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide at rates unprecedented in human history”4 and that a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach is critical to restoring the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems, arresting the alarming decline of our indigenous flora and fauna.

Our indigenous forests are home to a vast range of unique plant, animal, fungal and microbial species. Their diverse structure and composition are key to maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems, which cannot be replicated on intensive farmland or in monoculture tree plantations.

Indigenous forests and their flora and fauna are taonga and are central to Māori whakapapa or genealogical ties. For Pākehā and New Zealanders from other backgrounds, they are a key part of our cultural and national identity, and our spiritual and recreational wellbeing. Recloaking Papatūānuku presents a crucial and compelling pathway to their restoration.

Widening the lens: from optimising short-term profitability to maximising co-benefits for long-term prosperity

The desire to optimise short-term profitability has resulted in land-use intensification and a lowest-cost (exotic) monocultural approach to pastoral farming and forestry management practices. A permissive regulatory regime has supported this singular focus. As a result, most of our exotic tree plantations fail to secure a holistic set of values, or to realise the many ecosystem benefits that diverse, indigenous forests provide, and which are vital to our long-term prosperity. 

Exotic monocultures also impose considerable risk and liabilities for current and future generations, risks and liabilities that are not accounted for in regulatory frameworks or economic systems. 

Recloaking Papatūānuku is both an opportunity and an imperative to fundamentally transform our forest future. It seeks not only to incentivise carbon storage in perpetuity, but also the optimisation of ecological integrity, indigenous flora and fauna biodiversity and habitat protection, long-term climate and hazard resilience, soil health and stability, water purification and secure yields, air quality, temperature management, sustainable timber and bioenergy production, visual amenity, spiritual connection, recreational and cultural opportunities, and associated livelihoods.

Securing an intergenerationally enduring carbon sink

Reforesting and restoring our indigenous forests is not a substitute for deep and urgent emissions reductions.  Rather, it is a necessary complement to it.  Securing an intergenerationally enduring, biodiverse, climate-resilient and naturally regenerative carbon sink is necessary to draw down and store historic and hard-to-abate emissions, and to achieve a net-negative emissions and nature positive future.

Recognising that to fully remove carbon emissions can “take thousands of years”5 and that the “addition of fossil carbon into the atmosphere is therefore effectively permanent on human timescales”6, the role of forests to sequester carbon in perpetuity. Old growth native forests have done this for millennia.

The Climate Change Commission has been unequivocal in recommending that:7
“[i]n general, permanent forests established as carbon sinks should be native species and support biodiversity gains. To provide a long-term carbon sink beyond 2050, … such forests would have long-lived tree species that grow and sequester carbon for hundreds of years.”

Although indigenous species capture carbon at a slower average rate than exotic species, biodiverse indigenous forests are longer lived, self-sustaining, more resilient to disruption and sudden shocks due to their species richness and ecosystem complexity, and ultimately store more carbon8 for centuries, securing an enduring carbon sink for future generations. Carbon stocks in New Zealand’s temperate rainforests are also amongst the highest in any forest system globally9. Enhancing and expanding native forests will enable Aotearoa’s landscapes to thrive, while achieving carbon removals in support of its 2050 target and net-negative obligations beyond.

Prioritising domestic action to meet our nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement

Under the Paris Agreement, nation states commit to “nationally determined contributions” (NDC(s)) towards holding the increase in global temperatures within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. 

The New Zealand Government updated Aotearoa’s NDC on 4 November 2021, which requires us to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below gross 2005 levels by 2030. The International Monetary Fund recently warned that Aotearoa remains significantly off-track to meet this commitment10.

According to Climate Action Tracker, that target is “insufficient” having regard to our fair share, and reliance on significant offset purchasing to meet our 2030 NDC target. It submits that:11
“New Zealand is set to meet by far the highest proportion of its target (two thirds of the action required) through buying international offsets compared with any other OECD country” [which] “would set an alarming precedent”.

This is contrary to the emphasis on meeting our global commitments primarily12 through domestic efforts (as required under the Paris Agreement and first Emissions Reduction Plan), and our responsibility, capacity, and quite simply the need to do so.

As it is not currently clear when, how, or at what cost New Zealand will source its significant NDC offset shortfall, it also presents an uncertain level of fiscal and reputational risk to the New Zealand economy.

By contrast, Recloaking Papatūānuku presents a multi-win domestic investment opportunity that could materially reduce our economy’s NDC exposure whilst potentially attracting international climate and biodiversity/nature-related financial investment.

Weaving climate and ecosystem resilience into the landscape

In addition to tackling climate change by drawing down carbon, indigenous reforestation and restoration will strengthen Aotearoa’s climate, ecosystem and landscape resilience, and reduce the socio-economic and ecological costs associated with increasing climate-related risks. In this regard, the health of our indigenous forests should be viewed as vital natural infrastructure, and insurance against future risks.

Like other land uses, indigenous forests are also subject to sudden shocks, including storm events and fire risk, as well as gradual onset events like drought, disease and pest incursions. But the natural ecology, heterogeneity and complexity of indigenous forests, in age and species, ensures that climate-related risks are less uniform and severe, making them better able to withstand, absorb and naturally regenerate from disturbance13, and less vulnerable to catastrophic loss14.

Recloaking Papatūānuku aims to increase landscape resilience by promoting a mosaic land use approach. Under this approach, the mixing, mingling and co-existence of a diverse palette of land uses at varying scales is supported over single use, single system, monocultural intensification, and opportunities to interweave indigenous trees and forests with other land uses are encouraged15

Rebuilding Aotearoa’s clean, green brand: an opportunity for global leadership

Restoring and regenerating the mauri of Aotearoa’s ngahere and indigenous biodiversity will help to rebuild the clean green image that we have historically traded on for tourism and primary export competitiveness. This has been undermined by weak leadership, variable efforts in land stewardship, poor environmental standards, and by prizing short-term profitability over long term ecological sustainability.

In an era of increasing international scrutiny of plans to deliver on climate and biodiversity commitments, implementing an ambitious programme of action to re-establish and restore our indigenous forests is a huge opportunity to enhance our clean, green credentials and to pioneer this nature-based solution at scale. 

If successful, Recloaking Papatūānuku could even enable Aotearoa to champion a nature-positive economy.

Counterbalancing the incentives that prize short-term carbon sequestration

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is Aotearoa’s primary tool for driving the transition to a low emissions economy through pricing emissions and rewarding removals. Fast growing exotic species that bring higher carbon stock yields across a 50-year horizon comparative to other species, are favoured.

By adopting a short-term approach to carbon accrual, the ETS fails to recognise, and therefore secure, the much longer-term and enduring carbon yields that our indigenous forests deliver (aside from their multiple and superior co-benefits). 

The ETS also fails to account for the risks and liabilities associated with short lived exotic tree monocultures beyond 50-years. These risks and liabilities are effectively being “kicked down the road” for future generations in Aotearoa to deal with. This is not the legacy we should be leaving our children and grandchildren.

For ETS registrants relying on the ETS’s carbon stocks look-up tables, which present default yields according to species and region, indigenous species are presented as one homogenous category. No differentiation is made for individual species, or for regional carbon stock variances, thereby failing to accurately recognise and account for the true carbon sequestration potential across a range of indigenous species and forests. The look-up tables also do not go beyond 50-years when most carbon sequestration occurs in native forests.

The differences between planted versus regenerating indigenous forest are also ignored. Furthermore, the measurements are based on naturally regenerating shrubland (not, for example, planted and well managed indigenous forest stands, or strategically enriched regenerating indigenous forests)16.

Recent research has shown that, with regard to relative growth and carbon sequestration rates, “[t]he difference between exotic species and well managed planted indigenous forest is much less than is often suggested”17.

Furthermore, the accrual of New Zealand Units is not discounted for emissions across the value chain for New Zealand exotic plantation forests18, nor the limited additionality rotational clear felled exotic forests achieve if any (for “replanting pines only restores the carbon lost from harvesting rather than increasing our sequestration”19, and the implications of clear fell harvesting on our soil carbon stores are not well understood).

Carbon prices, agreement to reverse the original proposal to restrict the ETS’s permanent forest category to indigenous species only from 1 January 2023, and the absence of a countervailing biodiversity credit scheme are making these market distortions worse. As a consequence, the quantum of exotic planting committed and forecast is well in excess of the Climate Change Commission’s net-zero modelling recommendations20. The resulting oversupply of ETS units and its effect on carbon prices will stymy the rate of gross emissions reductions in Aotearoa21, with attendant reputational22 and market risks.

The implication that large areas of even-aged Pinus radiata represent ‘permanent forest’ is misleading. Given their comparatively short natural lifespan (relative to most indigenous species), increased vulnerability to fire, windthrow, disease and pest incursions, and the ability to harvest ETS-registered ‘permanent’ forests down to just 30% canopy cover per hectare of forest (and a prohibition on clear-felling of just 50 years), the claim to permanence is inappropriate. 

It is often submitted that exotic carbon forests can be transitioned to indigenous forests. However, the costs, practicalities, timeframes and risks associated with realising these proposals is presently unproven universally or at scale23. The risk of their failure will fall to future generations, while critical time is lost to establish slower growing indigenous species in the meantime24.

Facilitating the retirement of production forests that cannot or should not be harvested

Permissive regulatory settings under the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry have allowed large scale exotic afforestation and clear fell harvesting to occur on land highly vulnerable to erosion. This was confirmed in the findings of the “Ministerial Inquiry into Ministerial Inquiry into land uses associated with the mobilisation of woody debris (including forestry slash) and sediment in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne District and Wairoa District”, which consequently recommended (among other things):
(a) prohibiting plantation forestry on ‘extreme’ erosion-prone land and returning it to permanent forest, preferably indigenous; and
an immediate cessation of large-scale clear-fell harvesting within Tairāwhiti and Wairoa districts and adoption of staged coupe harvesting methods instead. 

Despite the uncertainties, practicalities, long timeframes, risks, and costs associated with transitioning exotic plantation forests to indigenous forests (to which we refer in ‘Counterbalancing the incentives that prize short-term carbon sequestration’ above), we accept that there are some plantation forests that will not, cannot, or should not be harvested, for economic and/or ecological reasons, and will need to be carefully managed for transition. 

Support for, and alternative opportunities, that facilitate regenerative land use and align with indigenous values, kaitiakitanga and community wellbeing will be needed to facilitate and manage the transition of these forests to permanent indigenous forests.

Recloaking Papatūānuku similarly provides a transition pathway for farmers looking to retire and destock marginal and low productivity land through indigenous reforestation.

Supporting an integrated work programme that will deliver climate, biodiversity and wider ecological outcomes25

In Ināia tonu nei26, the Climate Change Commission recommended a comprehensive national programme to establish more indigenous forests. It noted that:27
“There is an estimated 1.2 to 1.4 million hectares of erosion prone land in Aotearoa, some of which is government owned. Much of this is not suitable for production forestry but could be suitable for indigenous forest”; and
(b) “Manaaki Whenua estimated in the Aotearoa Circle Native Forests Report that there is around 740,000 hectares of less versatile private land, which is not suitable for commercial forests but could naturally revert if pests are managed. Some of this will be pockets of land within the existing farming system that might be steeper and/or erosion prone.”

Although the Climate Change Commission recently observed that:28
“There were a few steps toward this in the first emissions budget period, including more accurate yield tables in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) and research into the reduction of costs associated with native afforestation… progress to date is unlikely to deliver large-scale native planting or reversion in the second budget period.” 

This is the goal of Recloaking Papatūānuku.


1.2. Guiding Principles


1.4. Implementation

The Recloaking Papatūānuku Proposal is a living document open for input as we continue to engage with the Government, Māori, experts, environmental and community groups. This Proposal outlines some possible features thereof, in the expectation of further developing and progressing these in collaboration with stakeholders.

Join the movement.


  1. Aotearoa’s first Emissions Reduction Plan (2022), at 85.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Section A(1).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Climate Change Commission, 2023 Draft advice to inform the strategic direction of the Government’s second emissions reduction plan, at 47.
  6. Ibid.
  7. As referenced in the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Permanent Forest Category 2022 consultation document, at 26.
  8. Aotearoa’s old growth native forests are among the most carbon dense in the world: Keith et al. 2009 , Paul et al 2021,
  9. Paul et al 2021. Forest Ecosystems 8,
  11. (accessed 26.07.2023).
  12. It is acknowledged that we will not be able to meet our global obligations 100% through domestic efforts, nor should we; that is because international funding is part of our obligation as a wealthy developed nation, whether via carbon markets or climate finance.
  13. Ogden et al 1991 J Vegetation Science, Wyse et al 2019 NZ Journal of Ecology SOI:10.20417/nzjecol.42.18.
  14. The vulnerability of even-aged monocultures of exotic trees, especially under clear-cut harvest regimes, to extreme weather events was well-evidenced by the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle, where catchment and landscape scale resilience were compromised.
  15. For more on the merits of an interwoven approach to land use, see Hall, D (June 2018) The Interwoven World | Te Ao I Whiria: Toward an Integrated Landscape Approach in Aotearoa New Zealand (Discussion Paper) Auckland: The Policy Observatory.
  17. Ibid. We understand that research is underway with a view to addressing this through the Maximising Forest Carbon Programme.
  18. See also
  19. Oram, R., “World has co-crises it must solve in tandem”,
  20. The Climate Change Commission’s net-zero pathway modelling estimated that Aotearoa New Zealand could meet its net-zero goals by planting around 25,000 hectares of exotics per annum (in addition to complementary actions). Current and projected exotic afforestation rates appear to be around double that.
  21. In addition to a range of ETS design (and re-design) flaws:, and all refer.
  22. shows that New Zealand’s approach to offsetting and the inclusion of forestry in the ETS makes us an outlier by international standards.
  23. Forbes & Norton 2021 Transitioning Exotic Plantations to Native Forest: A Report on the State of Knowledge. MPI Technical Paper No: 2021/22.
  25. In accordance with Action 4.2 of the Aotearoa New Zealand’s first Emissions Reduction Plan.
  26. Climate Change Commission, (31 May 2021) Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa – Advice to the New Zealand Government on its first three emissions budgets and direction for its emissions reduction plan 2022 – 2025, Chapter 18.
  27. Ibid, at 318.
  28. Climate Change Commission, 2023 Draft advice to inform the strategic direction of the Government’s second emissions reduction plan, at 126. Ibid.

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