Recloaking Papatūānuku: The Largest Nature-based Solution Ever Proposed For Aotearoa NZ

Recloaking Papatūānuku is a nature-based solution to strategically restore and enhance 2.1 million hectares of diverse Indigenous forest across Aotearoa New Zealand over the next decade.

Today, Pure Advantage released a report on Recloaking Papatūānuku developed by McKinsey & Company and a collective of experts. The initiative is being presented to the world at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) 2023 in Dubai in December.

Recloaking Papatūānuku, which must work alongside nationwide gross emission reductions, is backed by a wide range of cross-industry leaders, many of which have outlined the reasons for their support here.

Papatūānuku, our Earth mother, is in trouble. And so are we, her people.

Aotearoa is facing a climate and biodiversity crisis with a number of interlinked ecological challenges. Many Indigenous species are declining, waterways are contaminated while pests and weeds overwhelm our Indigenous forests, impacting their ability to regenerate. Climate change is exacerbating all of these challenges, and creating new ones.

Guided by science-based research, mātauranga and te ao Māori (indigenous knowledge, values and wisdom), Recloaking Papatūānuku is an ambitious but cost-effective and achievable nature-based solution designed to address these interrelated issues together.

Recloaking Papatūānuku is not a substitute for urgent and deep gross emissions reductions. Rather, it recognises that enduring, high-integrity, co-beneficial carbon sequestration and storage will be needed alongside those reductions to draw down historic and hard-to-abate emissions.

The proposal, available in detail here, outlines the benefits of Recloaking Papatūānuku including:

Building climate and ecological resilience

Reducing the vulnerability of communities and ecosystems to climate-related risks

Securing an intergenerationally enduring and regenerative carbon sink

Healing the soils and waterways

Providing employment and nature-based income

Prioritising domestic climate action and reducing government spending on offshore carbon offsets

Enhancing sustainable food production

Restoring the richness of Aotearoa’s unique biodiversity

Preserving taonga species

The business case for Recloaking Papatūānuku

Based on carbon sequestration opportunities alone, Recloaking Papatūānuku would support Aotearoa’s future Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement at an average abatement cost of ~$32/TCO2, which is significantly lower than the average abatement cost of international offsets, which are currently priced around $60/TCO2.

Currently, Treasury estimates Aotearoa could spend up to $24 billion on international offsets to meet its first NDC, the period for which ends in 2030.

The costs associated with the changing climate extend far beyond carbon offsets. Treasury estimates the costs of Cyclone Gabrielle and the 2023 Auckland floods were between $9 – $14.5 billion. The fiscal impacts from increasingly frequent and severe weather events will continue to be significant, impacting agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism.

By way of comparison, the total expected cost of Recloaking Papatūānuku is in the region of $8.5 – $12.1 billion by 2050 through a 10-year programme starting in 2024 with ongoing maintenance and predator control between 2024-2050.

The initiative is expected to capture ~1,500 million TCO2 between 2024 – 2100, the equivalent of approximately 20 years worth of New Zealand’s current emissions. Pure Advantage Chair Rob Morrison says this is likely to be in excess of what will be needed to meet Aotearoa’s future NDCs and therefore could provide investment opportunities in international carbon markets for high-integrity offsets.

“We have an incredible opportunity to embrace the benefits of Recloaking Papatūānuku and position Aotearoa as a world-leader. This can be an intergenerational legacy for future generations and all living things. This is a long-term programme that needs immediate action.

“For now, Recloaking Papatūānuku is an idea that has been thoroughly researched and analysed by some of the brightest minds in the country. It’s a seed that needs to be cared for and nurtured into a mighty kauri. The new government has an opportunity to embrace it and make it part of their lasting legacy, leading Aotearoa to a brighter future,” says Morrison.

Who pays for Recloaking Papatūānuku?

The Recloaking Papatūānuku programme could be structured under one of three policy options:

Full Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) inclusion: Landowners receive Crown financing to reforest. Landowners own ETS revenue and use part of it to repay Crown loans.

Hybrid model: Landowners get an upfront grant for reforestation, sharing costs with the Crown. They use ETS income or carbon credit sales, sharing revenues with the Crown, which has a right of first refusal.

Crown funded: A combination of repurposed Nationally Determined Contributions and private funding will drive the reforestation, getting carbon credits in return. Crown covers all upfront costs, and landowners receive a yearly incentive payment to support land use change.

Morrison says Pure Advantage proposes the third option as the most beneficial.

“Further work is already underway to break down the incentive design, policy evaluation, market development and implementation planning.”

Where will we restore & enhance 2.1 million hectares of Indigenous forest?

The target of at least 2.1 million hectares represents 7.8% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s land mass, weaving ecological resilience into landscapes across Aotearoa New Zealand to help reverse the alarming decline of Indigenous plant and wildlife species.

Recloaking Papatūānuku supports a mosaic approach to land use, with indigenous forests strategically restored, enhanced, planted and managed in response to the land’s natural land use and typography, and interwoven with a diverse palette of land uses of varying scales.

The report outlines that up to 5.5 million hectares have been identified as potential locations, with mapping technology taking into account a tailored restoration approach regarding soil conditions, seed stocks, predator levels and more.

“It’s all about seeing the right tree in the right place for the right purpose, while enhancing and regenerating our existing forests to thrive. This is the largest climate and biodiversity initiative ever proposed for Aotearoa, with the 2.1 million hectares targeting a landmass more than two times the size of the Waikato region. Recloaking Papatūānuku is ambitious, but we’ve done the work to show it’s cost-effective and achievable,” says Morrison.

In support of Recloaking Papatūānuku

Pure Advantage and Tāne’s Tree Trust, with a growing alliance of signatories, including mana whenua groups with their ancestral connections to the land and knowledge and perspectives rooted in te ao Māori, are calling on Government, businesses, local communities, and every person in Aotearoa New Zealand New Zealand to support and commit to this urgent and ambitious national Indigenous reforestation and restoration initiative.