Reporting your carbon stock – emissions returns

When you become a participant in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) you need to regularly report the changes in carbon stored in your forest. You do this by filing emissions returns. These calculate changes in the carbon stock of the forest, and determine how many carbon credits you will earn or need to surrender. Find out how and when to file a return.

What is an emissions return?

An emissions return calculates the change in a forest's carbon stock during a certain period. This is based on how much carbon is stored in the forest at the start versus the end of the period. You need to submit an emissions return to know how many units you have earned (if your carbon has increased) or 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 January 2018 to 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 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 deforest pre-1990 forest land, you'll need to:

  • notify Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service 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 participant cannot file more than 1 emissions return in a calendar year.

Check the current status of MPI processing of voluntary emissions returns

File emissions returns 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)

Download the mandatory emissions return (transmission) [PDF, 457 KB]

Removing post-1989 forest land from the ETS

Download the emissions return (unit surrender) [PDF, 768 KB]

Mandatory emissions return

Complete within 6 months of the end of a mandatory return period.

Download the emissions return (5 year mandatory) [PDF, 628 KB]

Deforesting pre-1990 forest land

Download the emissions return (pre-1990 deforestation) [PDF, 747 KB]

Find out about deforesting forest land

Claiming and surrendering carbon credits (NZUs)

Download the voluntary emissions return [PDF, 384 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 5-minute videos to help participants with their emissions returns calculations. The series covers all aspects of emissions returns, from the basics such as emissions return periods to advanced calculations that involve harvesting and replanting.

Emissions returns videos – YouTube

For areas less than 100 hectares

If you have less than 100 hectares of forest land registered in the ETS you can 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]

Note that 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)

If you have 100 hectares or more of forest land registered in the ETS 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).

Permanent Forest Sink Initiative

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 or paid.

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

Find out more

Fees and charges for forestry in the ETS

Download the emissions return fact sheet [PDF, 235 KB]

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

If the carbon stock of post-1989 forest land has decreased, you must pay units owed within 60 working days of the EPA giving you a notice of your surrender or repayment obligation (unless the notice defines a different date).

If you've deforested pre-1990 forest land, you must pay units by 31 May of the year you submit your emissions return.

Any outstanding surrender obligations or repayments will be deducted from your entitlement before you receive it.

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

ETS land transactions fact sheet [PDF, 242 KB] 

Who to contact

If you have questions about emissions returns:

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