MIA Matters: Vitally important to get climate change response right

Tim Ritchie
Tim Ritchie.

Climate change is one of the most important issues the red meat sector has faced in the past 30 years and requires a credible, science-based approach, writes Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Tim Ritchie.

In the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, the methane targets came as a surprise. We had anticipated discussion with the sector prior to announcement, given the potential impact on the 25,000 people directly employed  by New Zealand’s meat processors and exporters, together with the 25,000 farming businesses and families they support, regional New Zealand and the wider New Zealand economy.

We recognise the urgency and need to address climate change. We know that the future of our industry is selling high quality, environmentally sustainable food to the world. Ensuring that New Zealand is dealing with climate change in a way that is credible and transparent is important for our future.

As we have said previously, the MIA broadly supports most parts of the Bill. We support the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission. We support the ‘split gas approach’ to greenhouse gas targets, with the proviso that these are scientifically based, and the need to reduce carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide by 2050. We support provision of five-year emissions budgets in order to assess how New Zealand is tracking towards the 2050 targets.

We also recognise that we need to “do our bit”. The processing sector has been investing in research and improving energy efficiency. Many of our members have been working with EECA’s energy management programme to improve heat and water efficiency in processing plant systems. This has already contributed to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. We know and accept there will still be significant costs ahead for our industry in converting more process heat from coal and gas to electricity. Going to net zero on carbon dioxide will incur significant costs on the meat sector.

However, we cannot support the over-ambitious target of a biogenic methane reduction of between 24-47 percent by 2050. This range appears to have been plucked out of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) report, which covers global emissions. The report itself states that the figures are a range of global scenarios and not for national targets. The Bill is also inconsistent in its nitrous oxide target – the IPCC report suggests global reductions of only up to 24 percent for nitrous oxide, whereas the Bill says nitrous oxide must be reduced to zero.

It is impossible for the New Zealand pastoral sector to achieve the proposed level of methane reduction with current technologies, without cutting herd and flock numbers. It is bizarre that the off-setting of emissions through the planting of trees is out of the farmers’ methane emissions reduction toolkit. It is extraordinary that fossil fuel emitters can purchase carbon credits by planting forest, but farmers can’t offset their methane emissions by tree planting on their own land.

The MIA’s consistent position is that it is vital there is one science-based, transparent, sector driven system for managing the pastoral sector’s climate change response. This is necessary in order to demonstrate and maintain credibility with our customers and business partners around the world. And, we look forward to providing a constructive submission and comment during the upcoming Select Committee process.

This is one of the most important issues we’ve faced in the last 30 years. Our response has to be long-lasting, credible and science-based. Getting the policy wrong will result in huge and unnecessary damage to the economy, its rural communities and the meat industry.

We are the first country in the world to seriously focus on agricultural emissions and given the importance of agriculture to the economy, we must get it absolutely right.

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