Emissions returns

Participants in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) must file emissions returns at certain times to calculate changes in the carbon stock of their forest. This determines whether they should pay or receive New Zealand Units (NZUs). Find out how and when to file a return.


What is an emissions return?

An emissions return is a calculation of the changes in a forest's carbon stock during a certain period. This is based on how much carbon is stored in your forest.

When do you have to complete an emissions return?

If you have post-1989 forest registered in the ETS, you must complete an emissions return:

  • at the end of each mandatory emissions return period. The next period ends on 31 December 2017
  • when making changes to your registration, such as:
    • removing forest from the ETS (for example, through deforestation)
    • granting a forestry lease or right
    • selling forest to another party.

You can also choose to submit a voluntary emissions return for post-1989 forest each year to claim carbon credits (NZUs). You must file your return between 1 January and 30 June to claim or surrender units for the previous calendar year (or years).

If you are deforesting pre-1990 forest land, you'll need to submit an emissions return between 1 January and 31 March in the year immediately after.

File online

Some emissions returns can be completed using MPI's ETS online transaction system:

  • Deforesting pre-1990 forest land
  • Mandatory emissions return for post-1989 forest land
  • Voluntary emissions return for post-1989 forest land.

To use the ETS online system, you'll need to:

  • be registered with the government online identification service RealMe
  • set up a login and password.

If you don't have a RealMe account, you'll be given the chance to set one up when you go to log in to the ETS online system.

Emissions return forms

Land sale or start or end of a forestry right or lease (post-1989 forest land)

Removing post-1989 forest land from the ETS

End of a mandatory return period

The next mandatory return period ends on 31 December 2017. The new form will be made available from 1 January 2018.

Deforesting pre-1990 forest land

Claiming and surrendering carbon credits (NZUs)

Calculating changes in forest carbon stocks

When submitting your emissions return, you'll need to calculate changes in the carbon stock of your forest. The carbon stock is how much carbon is contained within the forest.

How you calculate this depends on the forest size.

For areas less than 100 hectares

Use the look-up tables (taken from the Climate Change (Forestry Sector) Regulations 2008). These give pre-calculated values for a forest's carbon stock based on its age, region (if the forest is Pinus radiata), and forest type.

Download the:

For areas 100 hectares or more (post-1989 forest)

You must use the Field Measurement Approach (FMA). This involves measuring the trees at specific sample plots and submitting this information in the required format to MPI. MPI then uses the data to create participant-specific look-up tables for you to use. These tables provide the carbon stock in your forest.

These rules apply whether you're registered under the ETS or the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative (PFSI).

Filing your return

You'll need to provide:

  • the participant name, contact details and New Zealand Emissions Trading Register (NZETR) holding account number
  • details of the relevant carbon accounting areas (CAAs) – post-1989 forest land only
  • net changes in carbon stock for each CAA during the relevant period
  • details of the overall net changes in carbon stock and net units to be claimed and/or paid.

You also have to pay to file emissions returns that relate to post-1989 forest land.

Find out more:

Claiming or paying units

If your emissions return shows a net increase in carbon stocks, you will be able to claim NZUs. Units are typically transferred to your NZETR holding account within 20 working days of submitting your emissions return.

Paying units owed

  • Post-1989 forest land – if the carbon stock of your forest has decreased, you must pay units owed within 20 working days of submitting your emissions return.
  • Pre-1990 forest land – if you've deforested pre-1990 forest land, you must pay units by 31 May of the year you submit your emissions return.

Penalties and offences

MPI monitors and audits post-1989 and pre-1990 forest land participants.

You may face a penalty, fine or conviction if you:

  • don't file mandatory emissions returns by the due date
  • are late paying units that you owe
  • have calculated returns incorrectly and have surrendered the wrong number of units.

Download the ETS penalties and offences fact sheet [PDF, 190 KB]

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about emissions returns:

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