Agriculture set to play its part on climate change

Agriculture set to play its part on climate change

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Zero Carbon Bill (ZCB), when it becomes law, will change the way we farm forever. By 2025 at the latest all farms will become liable for the cost of at least some of their greenhouse gas emissions.

The broad principles of the Bill are supported by all major primary sector organisations, including Deer Industry New Zealand, says DINZ chair Ian Walker.

The farm carbon cycle, as seen by the European Union Climate Policy Info Hub

“We believe that our farmers and marketers, the New Zealand public and our customers expect the industry to play its part in combatting the climate crisis. The urgent challenge is to find practical ways to do this on individual deer farms. The reality is that the tools and technologies we need don’t yet exist,” he says.

Transitioning farming into the emissions trading scheme (ETS) by 2025 is the first major challenge. The Interim Climate Change Committee (ICCC) proposes this should be done by levying a flat carbon charge on farm products from 2020.

This would involve deer farms being levied at $0.04c per kg of venison. This assumes a 95 per cent discount on emissions and a NZ ETS price of $25 per tonne.  

DINZ is opposed to this.

“Along with other primary industry leaders, we see this as a flat tax that won’t incentivise on-farm changes. Instead, we believe the government should adopt a range of measures as outlined in The Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment, He Waka Eke Noa,” Walker says. (See separate story: Deer farmers stand to be counted.)

The government has welcomed this commitment from farming leaders and has put it up for public consultation, as an alternative to the ICCC proposal.  

A Ministry for the Environment discussion paper Action on agricultural emissions reflects the shared government and primary sector view that emissions should ideally be calculated at the farm level. This will enable farmers to manage emissions on their own property.

However the paper makes it clear that there is no guarantee this will happen. The tools, technology and infrastructure first need to be developed and put in place across thousands of farms. It’s a big ask.

Walker says DINZ believes that if farmers are to face carbon charges, then the system must be capable of recognising the things they might do to reduce net emissions, including the ability to offset with carbon credits earned by trees planted on the farm. Trees planted in shelter belts, riparian areas and for erosion control should all be counted.

“In the meantime, we believe the fastest progress will be made by establishing the farm-based framework focused on practice change as proposed by industry leaders. The objective is emission reductions and management, not simply putting a price on emissions,” he says.

“A collaborative, science- and farmer-led approach will get the farmer buy-in we need to make the big on-farm changes that will be required.”

This means farmers from all sectors will need to make a substantial investment in levies to research, develop and implement a 5-year programme of action, so they are ready to enter the ETS in 2025.

“More than $25 million a year is already being invested across the whole farming sector on emissions reduction and climate change adaptation. The deer industry investment in farm practice change and the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Consortium totals around $1 million a year, a sizeable sum for a small industry,” says Walker.

“DINZ will probably need to reallocate some of its resources and increase funding into climate-related activities, if the deer industry is to play its full part. The alternative is to be levied a flat per kg carbon charge at the processor level, which would not achieve anything.”

The ICCC proposal was released on 16 July, as was the He Waka Eke Noa commitment by primary industry leaders. These two differing visions will now be the subject of intense debate over the next four weeks, when public feedback on them closes.

Also on 16 July, public submissions closed on the Zero Carbon Bill, which provides the framework upon which the ICCC has based its proposal. Walker says DINZ has made a submission on the Bill alongside other primary industry groups.

“One of our main concerns is the inclusion in the ZCB of specific methane targets. This is not just because we think the numbers themselves are unrealistic.  It’s because they don’t have the support of credible science which, in any event, is constantly changing,” Walker says.

“Rather than enshrining arbitrary targets in legislation, let’s have the law based on the principle that emissions targets should be set at levels that achieve the objective of the Bill – namely, no further atmospheric warming. These targets then need to be set in a transparent way by the Climate Change Commission and be the subject of scientific peer review.

“We’re pleased that the Zero Carbon Bill recognised that methane has quite different properties to other, long-lived greenhouse gasses.  Now we just need a more scientifically robust approach to thinking about methane reduction targets.

“Overly ambitious targets at this stage will – in the absence of new technologies – simply result in a reduction in deer numbers and the planting of farms in plantation forests. Aside from the social implications of this, it conflicts directly with one of key goals of the Paris Agreement that greenhouse gas reductions should be done “in a manner that does not threaten food production”.”

More information

The DINZ submission on the Zero Carbon Bill will be publicly available once it has been presented to the parliamentary select committee.

DINZ and the NZDFA strongly encourage NZDFA branches and individual farmers to give their feedback on the Ministry for the Environment discussion paper Action on agricultural emissions. Greenpeace, Forest & Bird and other NGOs have already voiced their response that it is too soft on farmers. It is therefore important that the views of grassroots farmers are heard loud and clear.

MfE is holding consultation meetings around the country from 16 July to 13 August. Click here to read the discussion paper and to respond to the proposed options to reduce agricultural emissions.