Deforesting forest land
You must tell MPI if you deforest pre-1990 forest land that hasn't been granted an exemption or offset. You also need to pay for any emissions you create through deforesting the land. Follow our step-by-step process to make sure you meet your obligations.
What is deforestation?
Deforestation has a specific definition in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Land is considered deforested when forest is cleared and:
- the land has been converted and is no longer used for forestry, or
- replanted or regenerated forest species don't meet certain criteria within set timeframes.
Deforestation: definition and obligations under the ETS [PDF, 235 KB]
Your obligations when deforesting pre-1990 forest land
You must follow the steps for deforesting when clearing pre-1990 forest land unless you:
- meet the criteria below for stocking and growth thresholds, or
- are deforesting only small areas of land (up to 2 hectares in any 5-year period commencing from 1 January 2008), or
- are clearing land for best practice forest management (see section 179A(1)(a) of the Climate Change Response Act), or
- have an exemption, or
- MPI has approved your application for an equivalent forest (offsetting forest land) elsewhere.
Deforestation obligations when pre-1990 forest land is sold
If pre-1990 forest land is deforested before it is transferred, the former land owner must meet the deforestation liability.
If pre-1990 forest land is transferred while it is temporarily unstocked, the new owner must meet the deforestation liability if:
- they do not replant, or
- the land does not regenerate as forest within set timeframes.
Stocking and growth thresholds
Forest land that has been cleared will be classified as deforested if it doesn't meet specific criteria 4, 10, and 20 years after clearance.
Four years after clearing
Four years after clearing, the land must have either:
- at least 500 stems a hectare of exotic forest species growing
- been replanted with at least 100 stems a hectare of willow or poplar species (used to manage soil erosion), or
- predominantly regenerated indigenous forest species, growing at a rate that suggests the land is likely to be forest within 10 years.
Ten years after clearing
Ten years after clearing, the land must have:
- predominantly exotic species growing, with a tree cover of at least 30% from trees with the potential to reach at least 5 metres high, or
- predominantly indigenous forest species and be forest land.
20 years after clearing
20 years after clearing, the land must have predominantly indigenous forest species growing and at least 30% of trees 5 metres high.
Note that from 1 January 2021 these requirements have been updated to clarify when land is considered deforested.
Follow the steps for deforesting pre-1990 forest land
Step 1: Open a holding account
Create an account with the New Zealand Emission Trading Register (NZETR).
Carbon credits are called New Zealand Units (NZUs), and are stored and transferred through the New Zealand Emission Trading Register (NZETR). When you deforest pre-1990 forest land you'll need to pay units to the government. To do this, you'll need an NZETR account. The account name must include the correct legal names of all individuals registered as participants.
Step 2: Notify MPI
You must tell MPI when you are deforesting pre-1990 forest.
Forest landowners (or third parties who have deforestation rights) who deforest pre-1990 forest land must notify MPI within 20 working days of deforestation, unless the land has been granted an exemption or been offset.
You'll need to complete a notification of deforestation form. You can submit your form online, or post it to us.
To use MPI's ETS online transaction system, you must:
- be registered with the government online identification service RealMe
- set up a ETS online system login.
If you don't have a RealMe account, you'll be given the chance to set one up when you go to the ETS online system login.
Notify MPI by post
Step 3: Calculate emissions
Determine how much carbon has been released by deforesting your land.
Deforestation emissions are calculated based on a forest's carbon stocks at the time it is cleared. Use the look-up tables to calculate this amount. A guide is available to help you use the tables.
Download the guide to using look-up tables [PDF, 2.7 MB]
Download the look-up tables for pre-1990 forest [PDF, 458 KB]
Step 4: File an emissions return
Submit a return showing how many units you owe for deforestation.
The deforestation emissions return calculates how many NZUs you owe based on the amount of carbon released by deforestation. An emissions return can only cover a single calendar year.
Download the pre-1990 deforestation emissions return [PDF, 747 KB]
You will need to attach a shapefile (an electronic file used in digital mapping) of the deforested land with your return.
Emissions returns must be submitted to MPI between 1 January and 31 March in the year immediately following deforestation.
Step 5: Pay units
Units must be paid to the government through your NZETR holding account. The Environmental Protection Authority will tell you how to do this once your emissions return has been processed.
Step 6: Tell MPI you are no longer in the ETS
Once deforestation is complete, you must tell MPI.
Once you have completed these steps and all deforestation is complete, you are no longer a participant in the ETS. You must deregister using the deregistration form.
Download the Pre-1990 participant deregistration form [PDF, 312 KB]
If you deforest another area of pre-1990 forest land in the future you will need to register again in the ETS, and follow the same process.
How to request an emissions ruling
Emissions rulings provide an official determination on matters relating to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). They are often used to check if land would be eligible for registration as post-1989 forest land if it was planted. This means that you can check eligibility before making the investment.
They can also be used to determine:
- if pre-1990 deforestation would occur if an area of forest was cleared
- how ETS regulations would apply in specific circumstances.
Emissions ruling application form and guide [PDF, 287 KB]
Emissions ruling fees
You need to pay a fee to apply for an emissions ruling. The amount of the fee is on the application form. The fee covers up to 4 hours of work on the application. If more time is needed to make a ruling, you will be charged more.
Processing time for emissions rulings
There is no set timeframe for Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service to issue an emissions ruling outcome. It usually takes us between 4 and 8 months.
Your obligations when deforesting post-1989 forest land
If you're deforesting post-1989 forest land registered in the ETS, you must:
- tell MPI by completing the relevant forms
- pay any units owed
- remove the deforested area from the ETS.
Penalties and offences
You may face a penalty, fine, or conviction if you:
- don't file a mandatory emission return by the due date
- have calculated emissions or removals incorrectly in your emissions return
- are late paying units that you owe.
Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service has published the following policy on how penalties are assessed when emissions returns are not submitted on time or contain incorrect information:
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) also has guidance.
Who to contact
If you have questions about deforestation:
- email email@example.com
- call 0800 CLIMATE (0800 25 46 28) and select option 2.