Farmers should get the credit for climate change activity

Dr Harry Clark, NZACCC 2019
Dr Harry Clark, NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

Farmers should receive real credit for what they are doing now in a challenging environment, delegates heard from the speakers at last week’s NZ Agricultural Climate Change Conference (NZACCC). They also learned of a new farm-level levy/rebate scheme for emissions to be proposed by the Interim Climate Change Commission (ICCC), charged in the short-term through meat processors.

“Change is coming,” said Dr Harry Clark, NZAGRC director, in summing up for the 300 delegates the diverse landscape the conference had covered, from what the emissions are, how efficent New Zealand is at dealing with them and where we stand as world leaders in terms of the Global Research Alliance, “and also the challenges that brings” and what will happen in the future.

“It has been very clear that we are up to looking at the challenge of 30 percent reduction by 2030, and getting the practices in place to meet that challenge,” he said.

“Change is coming, it really is. The climate is changing and that will bring its own challenges. Environment is now at the forefront of farming. It is something that we have to embrace, but New Zealand farmers have always been up for a challenge.”

“We have to give farmers real credit for what they are doing,” he said, pointing to the Nielsen survey showing over 90 percent of farmers have taken an action over the past few years to improve the environment.

“We can’t just keep hammering the rural sector.  Things that are happening, we acknowledge it is difficult, but please acknowledge the wins and gains as well,” he said.

Looking at the challenge of adaptation, he said, while there is a lot of “theoretical stuff, but what are we doing on the ground is still somewhat elusive.”

Beef + Lamb NZ’s Victoria Lamb had covered some of what the red meat sector is doing, which showed, “There are things we can do now in the mitigation space, but they are relatively modest,” noted Clark.

Speakers like Suzi Kerr of Motu Economic Research had covered land-use change, he noted. “Forestry is the big one that can help, but comes up with its own issues around rural communities and labour and so on.  “So, we have to be very careful around land-use change issues and what they really mean,” he said.

Finding new technologies to find big hits is not simple either, he noted. Whether it’s about counting and monitoring or mitigation technologies like the promising methane vaccine – which delegates had heard from Dr Peter Janssen was still seven years away, and “is proving elusive,” said Clark.  There is a lot more optimism around methane inhibitors. “But, then we have to ensure that any mitigation products can meet all food safety and environmental regulations. These technologies require investment and time.”

He was also “incredibly encouraged” about the strides food companies like Synlait, another of the speakers, are making while embracing the challenge as a company.

“They’re saying it’s not a challenge, it’s an opportunity, and about living within planetary boundaries and that we shouldn’t just think of it as an obstacle, we should think of it as an opportunity.

“With every change there comes threats and opportunities. For us, it’s about where can we bring opportunity out of this,” said Clark.

“In 30 years time, we might be thinking that the climate change issues were challenging at the time but they were an opportunity, one that we embraced and one that led us to a better future.”

Emissions pricing: farm-level levy/rebate scheme to be established

The Interim Climate Change Commission (ICCC) has finished its deliberations and will make its recommendations to Cabinet in a report to be released on 30 April.

David Prentice, chairman ICCC
David Prentice, chairman ICCC

The Commission has been looking at two questions: how to transition to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035; and how surrender obligations could best be arranged if  agricultural methane and nitrous oxide enter into the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), explained ICCC chair David Prentice.

Amongst the farmer’s son and engineer’s six colleagues on the Commission board are: Dr Harry Clark; former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright; and Motu Economic Research’s Suzi Kerr.

Eighty two percent of New Zealand’s electricity requirements came from renewable sources in 2017 – hydro-electric, geothermal, wind and solar – and the aim is to lift this to 93 percent by 2035, which if achieved would represent a 40 percent reduction on today’s levels. Achieving 100 percent by 2035 would be “extremely expensive” requiring considerable investment in overbuild of wind and solar, for relatively little gain in emissions reduction, he said. The ICCC is assuming that by 2035, 50 percent of the vehicle fleet would be electric and that 30 percent of fossil-fuelled process heat would be replaced with electricity.

The ICCC has concluded it is better to focus on electrifying transport and process heat for emission reductions. “About six metric tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2–e) could be saved using electricity to encourage fuel switching in transport and process heat,” he said.

To answer the second question, the ICCC held rural workshops in five regions in February. They were looking at how to drive change through the NZ ETS and other pricing policies, regulatory limits and mandated Good Management Practice and also how to support the change through Farm Environment Plans, GHG calculation methods, an Agricultural Emissions Fund, along with support for rural professionals.

Pricing has been determined as the most cost-effective tool for reducing emissions and needs to be done at the farm level. But, it was recognised that any farm-level pricing should minimise the red tape and complexity. The ICCC conclusion was that the simplest way to price emissions is a levy/rebate scheme, “which is more familiar, simple and pragmatic for farmers than an emissions trading scheme,” said Prentice.

The key issue is the appropriateness of putting the full-cost burden on the 20,000-30,000 mostly small and medium-sized family farming businesses. The Government’s policy of 95 percent free allocation will lessen the cost burden of reductions, while encouraging behaviour change, he said.

“The transition and direction of travel is the most important thing. We don’t want to create an obligation and want to bring farmers along with us.”

Ultimately, the goal is to establish farm-level GHG measurement and reporting by using systems, such as Farm Environment Plans (FEPs), which he said “are crucial”, that work with farmers’ existing processes.

“But, that will take five years, and we need to be doing something now.”

In the short-term, pricing emissions from livestock modestly through the NZ ETS at the meat processor level will create a price signal, Prentice said, and so provide planning certainty for farmers and the wider sector.

“This only will be needed for about three to five years while on-farm systems are established,” he said.

In addition, there would be a charge/levy at the processor level for nitrogen fertiliser, via the NZ ETS.

The ICCC’s recommendation will be that Government should direct the levy monies back to support the sector through a new, dedicated fund to develop a GHG module for FEPs and also Good Management Practices for emissions, extension and training, and research and development.

The ICCC report will be presented to Government on 30 April, which will then consider action. Then the Commission will continue the groundwork for the Climate Commission. The Zero Carbon Bill will be introduced to Parliament in May giving the legislative framework. Ministry for the Environment consultation on the ICCC’s agriculture recommendations are expected in mid-2019 and the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill is expected in late 2019 which will give the tools and the policies.

NZCCC 2019 is a biennial conference organised by the NZAGRC working with the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRC), and supported by the Ministry for Primary Industries.


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