Many farmers feel that offsetting emissions through afforestation is only a “band-aid” solution. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

Zero Carbon Bill submissions close and ICCC release agricultural report

GIANINA SCHWANECKE

It’s been a big week for farmers wondering what future climate change policies might look like.

Submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill on closed Tuesday, was followed by news from the government’s Interim Climate Change Committee [ICCC].

The ICCC released their report, Action on agricultural emissions, which puts forward a series of recommendations for the government to implement in an effort to reduce emissions of agricultural gases like methane and nitrous oxide.

Close to half of New Zealand’s emissions are believed to come from the agricultural sector.

Though farmers have become more efficient producers and reduced their emissions intensity by about one per cent over the past two decades, overall emissions from the sector have increased by 13.5 per cent since 1990.

“It’s clear agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions are damaging the climate,” ICCC chair Dr David Prentice said.

At its current rate of improvement, New Zealand was not on track to meet the Paris climate target, he said.

“For almost two decades, New Zealand has been debating what to do about agricultural emissions. Acting now avoids having to make more disruptive changes later.”

The ICCC has proposed a two-step process for reducing livestock emissions by pricing them through a farm-level levy and rebate scheme.

The first interim step would price these emissions at a processors level under the Emissions Trading Scheme [ETS] which would be followed a by a second step, integrating a farm-level emissions price with the ETS by 2025.

Farmers would also be offered a 95 per cent free allocation on emissions, helping reduce the cost of burden on the industry.

As a rough guide, an emissions price would cost farmers on average one cent per kilogram of milk solids or three cents per kilogram of sheep meat — based on an emissions price of $25 and the 95 per cent discount. However, the cost could vary across farms depending on their emissions performance.

The ICCC has also released a report advocating for accelerated electrification of our transport systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It has touted its recommendations as reflecting industry consensus and being the best option forward for farmers.

But many farmers felt that the report was based on outdated information and would not adequately address climate change issues.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president William Beetham said agriculture was covered by the ETS like every other New Zealand business in terms of its use of fossil fuels.

William Beetham. PHOTO/FILE

“The only aspect of agriculture which is not under the ETS is our animal emissions which are methane and nitrous oxide.

“Methane emissions from farmed livestock in New Zealand have been decreasing since 2011 at a rate that does not contribute any further to global warming,” he said.

Beetham said new accounting methods to measure emissions were increasingly accurate and proved that animal emissions were not having the impact many claimed them to be.

He said the government’s 95 per cent discount on emissions was based on older science and meant little.

“It’s 95 per cent allocation of nothing.”

Tasking farmers with reporting on their own emissions was a mammoth task but also provided an opportunity to improve the quality of information available and signify improvements in the sector, he said.

“We could be seeing a massive opportunity for farmers to show that they are not responsible for contributing to global warming effects. It’s a difficult and a big task to do, but there is a big opportunity to market New Zealand.”

Beetham has also seen several submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill put forward by local farmers.

There’s been a significant number of submissions, generally focused on animal emissions and the methane targets.

“Ninety-per cent of the submissions I’ve seen, including from scientists, say they should match the science, which means [the targets] should be lower.

The submissions urged the government to instead focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions.

Allowing emissions produced by burning fossil fuel to be offset only passed the problem on to the next generation, Beetham said.

“We understand ruminant animals in New Zealand are not the problem. It lies with all of us reducing our emissions.”

It’s something which Mike Butterick from lobbying group 50 Shades of Green feels strongly about.

Mike Butterick. PHOTO/FILE

Butterick said he had also seen several submissions which were concerned about protecting food production for future generations.

“We did see a lot of submissions from various meat industry action groups.

“The fundamental theme through them was about protecting food production, which is a part of the Paris Accord and the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals.

“The other common theme was that we’ve got to protect provincial wellbeing — what I call the provincial ecosystem. It’s not just about economic aspects, but also social and environmental aspects.”

He said the group was proud of raising awareness about the bill and getting a high level of engagement from those in the rural sector.

“It’s a pretty significant piece of legislation.”

Butterick was still digesting the news from the ICCC when interviewed but was not convinced it was the right way to go.

He echoed Beetham’s points about the difference between natural and man-made gas and said being able to offset carbon produced through burning fuels by planting trees was a “band-aid solution”.

“We’ve got to be careful the natural-gas emitters aren’t made the scapegoats for the man-made emitters.

“The devil will always be in the detail. It’s just an aspirational agreement at this stage.”

Though the government has said it will consult the public on agriculture coming under the ETS it appears that Climate Minister James Shaw is leaning in favour of the proposal put forward by the ICCC.