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. You need to submit an emissions return to know how many units you:
- have earned (if your carbon has increased)
- need to surrender (if your carbon has decreased).
You will need to submit an emissions return at least once every emissions return period (usually 5 years). The current emissions return period runs from 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2022.
When do you have to complete an emissions return?
Mandatory emissions returns
If you have post-1989 forest registered in the ETS, you must complete an emissions return:
- within 6 months of the end of a mandatory emissions return period – the 2018 to 2022 period will end on 31 December 2022
- when making changes to your registration, such as:
- removing forest land from the ETS, for example, through deforestation
- granting a forestry lease or right
- selling forest to another party.
Check the statistics of processed mandatory emissions returns from the 2013 to 2017 period.
Deforesting pre-1990 forest land
If you are deforesting pre-1990 forest land you need to:
- notify us in the year deforestation occurs
- submit an emissions return between 1 January and 31 March in the year immediately after.
Voluntary emissions returns
You also can 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). A maximum of 1 emissions return may be filed per participant in each calendar year.
Check the statistics of processed voluntary emissions returns.
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.
Land sale or start or end of a forestry right or lease (post-1989 forest land)
- Download the mandatory emissions return (transmission) [PDF, 463 KB]
Removing post-1989 forest land from the ETS
- Download the emissions return (unit surrender) [PDF, 1.3 MB]
Mandatory emissions return
Complete within 6 months of the end of a mandatory return period.
- Emissions return (5 year mandatory) [PDF, 563 KB] [PDF, 563 KB]
Deforesting pre-1990 forest land
Claiming and surrendering carbon credits (NZUs)
- Download the Voluntary emissions return [PDF, 648 KB]
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 all forests
MPI has created a series of short videos (5 minutes each) to help participants with their emissions returns calculations. The 11 video series covers all aspects of emissions returns, from the basics such as emissions return periods to advanced calculations that involve harvesting and replanting. Each video covers a different aspect of emissions returns. Watch the entire series or by topic.
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.
- Tables of carbon stock per hectare for post-1989 forest land – NZ Legislation
- Look-up tables for pre-1990 forest land [PDF, 458 KB]
- Guide to using look-up tables [PDF, 2.7 MB]
- Climate Change (Forestry Sector) Regulations 2008 – NZ Legislation
- Shapefiles of ETS Pinus radiata forest regions [ZIP, 3 MB] *
*The Chatham Islands are not covered by the shapefile but fall within the Canterbury/Westland forest region.
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 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 60 working days of the Environmental Protection Authority giving you a notice of your surrender or repayment obligation (unless the notice defines different dates).
- 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.
If you have outstanding surrender obligations or repayments, these will be deducted from any entitlement before you receive these.
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.
Find out more
- ETS land transactions fact sheet [PDF, 242 KB]
Who to contact
If you have questions about emissions returns:
- email firstname.lastname@example.org
- call 0800 CLIMATE (0800 25 46 28) and select option 2.