It’s been a busy day with the simultaneous announcement of two reports from the Interim Climate Change Committee (ICCC) recommending action on reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and speeding up electrification of New Zealand’s power usage, and an “unprecedented” commitment to action by 11 primary sector leaders.
The ICCC’s report Action on Agricultural Emissions was released by the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw and the Minister for Climate Change Damien O’Connor at lunchtime. Built on a year-long evidence and analysis based inquiry, the ICCC recommends a series of actions the Government should take to reduce emissions of agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“It’s clear agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions are damaging the climate,” says ICCC chair Dr David Prentice. “In New Zealand, we’re increasingly seeing the impacts of a changing climate and globally we’re not on track to meet the Paris climate targets.”
The policy package put forward in Action on Agricultural Emissions is staged over time and designed to recognise the role farmers play in looking after the land.
“Our package would provide farmers with practical support and enable them to integrate emissions in their day-to-day planning,” says Dr Prentice. “A critical first step is for farmers to understand what their emissions are.
He says it is important to recognise farmers as stewards of the land. They are looking to address not just emissions, but water quality and other environmental objectives while running profitable businesses.
Dr Prentice says that the Committee listened to feedback from farmers, iwi/Māori, sector representatives and other groups to ensure its recommendations are fair.
The Committee has been conscious of the impacts on rural communities, the international context, and related issues like water quality and soil conservation.
“The actions the Committee recommends are the first steps in a journey that will take decades,” says Dr Prentice.
“We are optimistic that our recommendations will turn into positive climate change action and a fair and equitable pathway towards New Zealand achieving its 2050 target. This is about all of us – New Zealanders today and our future generations.”
The ICCC’s interim companion report Accelerated Electrification was also released today by the Minister for Energy and Resources Dr Megan Woods. This lays out the Committee’s recommendations for a series of actions the Government should take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using electricity to reduce transport and process heat emissions.
The other ICC Committee Members are Lisa Tumahai (Deputy Chair), Dr Harry Clark, Dr Keith Turner and Dr Jan Wright, with specialist adviser Dr Suzi Kerr(whose term finished 30 April 2019).
Primary sector leaders committed to action
Eleven primary sector bodies, including Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd (B+LNZ), the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and Deer Industry NZ, came together to make an unprecedented commitment from across the agricultural, horticultural and arable sectors to achieving enduring progress towards the goals of reducing and mitigating agricultural emissions.
Welcoming the consultation document, which is seeking feedback on policy proposals to reduce agricultural GHGs, the primary sector leaders said they had departed from previous practice in the sector and had been forging new ground. They have been working in recent months on the development of a five-year work plan – the Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment – a high-level statement of the group’s vision for and commitment to reducing agricultural GHGs, to support and accelerate the actions necessary to reduce agricultural emissions.
In a joint statement they said they all “share the Government’s aspirations for higher value, environmentally sustainable farming systems,” and acknowledge the challenges that come with climate change and have taken steps to respond. “We are already work leading and are committed to maintaining that position.”
Within the Commitment, the group has proposed a joint action plan – with the primary sector, government and Māori and iwi – enabling farmers and growers to calculate their emissions and offsets at the farmgate, assess options to reduce or mitigate their emissions and have confidence there is ongoing investment in a pipeline of research and tools.
“The framework will address climate change within a whole farm systems framework, recognising that farmers efforts to reduce emissions sits alongside water quality, biosecurity, biodiversity, animal welfare and financial sustainability,” they say.
“A central tenet of the Government’s discussion document is pricing of agricultural emissions. The primary sector is seeking to work with government to design a pricing mechanism where any price is part of a broader framework to support on-farm change, contributes to lower global emissions and supports farmers and growers to make practical changes on the ground. This will be critically important to enable a smooth transition for the agricultural sector.
Primary sector leaders believe the fastest progress can be made towards managing New Zealand’s biological emissions by focusing on the establishment of a farm-based framework focused on practice change, rather than the Interim Climate Change Committee proposal to impose an interim processor level cost on emissions, priced through the Emissions Trading Scheme.
“The long game is emission reductions and management, not simply pricing. We believe that an interim processor ETS obligation, at this point in time, would not achieve the same buy-in nor practice changes that the sector, Māori and Iwi, and government are collectively seeking to achieve.
The primary sector leaders are “strongly committed to making the action plan work,” they said.
Joint plan will work for the red meat sector
Both the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ Ltd), both members of the primary sector’s leaders group have welcomed the Commitment.
B+LNZ is backing the joint work plan as the best way for putting in place the right incentives and framework needed for the agricultural sector to achieve climate change outcomes. The primary sector document builds on the work done by the ICCC, says B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison.
“New Zealand’s sheep and beef farmers are often some of the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and they’ve already played a leading role in combating climate change with the sector reducing its absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent since 1990 through improved farming practices and things like better lambing percentages and higher carcase weights.
“Both the primary sector and ICCC agree that a farm-based pricing mechanism is the best way to get action on biological greenhouse gas emissions. Where we differ is that we think we can make faster progress by working with farmers from the get-go to help reduce on-farm emissions and prepare for farm-based pricing from 2025, rather than having an interim processor levy.”
Morrison says the ability of the primary sector to fund work on developing a farm-based pricing system through existing resources will provide a win-win situation for farmers and the climate.
“A new and blanket levy at the processor level wouldn’t incentivise any on-farm changes and would be seen as farmers as a new tax, which would undermine farmer’s efforts to make positive changes, especially as individual farmers wouldn’t reap the benefits of any improvements they may make.”
The fact that the whole primary sector has got in behind the Climate Change Commitment is something that reflects the seriousness with which farmers view climate change says Morrison.
“I can’t think of any level of cooperation like this in all my years farming, which highlights just how unprecedented the Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment is and just how important farmers view climate change and the threat it poses to rural communities.
“It’s why I’m confident that if we’re going to get emissions reductions and improve the offsets available on farm, we have to ensure we take an approach that incentivises behaviour behind the farm gate and the Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment is the best option to make that happen.”
MIA chairman John Loughlin says uniting the entire primary sector to support the Climate Change Commitment represents a significant achievement. Meat processors and exporters, alongside the rest of the sector are committed to achieving the goal of “zero carbon” in support of the Paris Agreement goals and is not looking a “free ride or a free allocation.”
He is calling for “sensible emissions pricing that delivers effective emissions reductions without making the sector unviable.
“It is also important that the rest of New Zealand steps up and does its part as climate change is not just a primary sector issue. It is an issue for all New Zealanders.”