The reactions to New Zealand’s climate change bill are a mixed bag. Responses have been supportive to the recently-released Zero Carbon Bill’s purpose and framework; however, other aspects of the legislation have been deemed “frustratingly cruel.”
Under the microscope is a focus on the bill’s methane target, which pastoral agricultural lobbyists have said is “flawed.” The concern surrounds an “unachieveably steep rate” of reduction in emissions of methane, a short-lived greenhouse gas (GHG) that is treated separately under the new regime.
“We support the Labour/NZ First/Green proposals to establish a framework to tackle global warming and we’re grateful for NZ First’s continued efforts to get a fair deal for the agricultural sector on a number of fronts,” said Federated Farmers climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard. “But, while we appreciate the coalition government has taken a two-basket approach to GHG, Federated Farmers is adamant that the methane targets are unjustified, and herculean compared to what’s expected of other sectors.”
The bill establishes a Climate Change Commission as an independent advisory and monitoring body to recommend climate change policies to future governments and to review progress towards the country’s goal to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050, on a five-yearly cycle.
In addition, the bill treats biological methane differently from other GHG. The target is set for a ten percent reduction in those methane emissions by 2030 and reductions between 24 percent to 47 percent by 2050 when compared to 2017 levels.
When compared to other gases, industries and competing countries, Federated Farmers feel the target rate of methane reduction will “ravage farmer livelihoods, provincial communities and the national economy.”
“The science is clear that this level of methane emission reduction is only needed by 2050 to have no additional impact on global warming, but farmers are being expected to shoulder their share of tackling climate change 20 years earlier than anyone else,” said Hoggard.
Waitaki Member of Parliament Jacqui Dean said she supports action on climate change, but not at the expense of the economic well-being of the Central Otago and Upper Clutha region, which has a stronger focus on sheep, beef and venison farming over dairy farming.
“National will support the Climate Change Response Act Amendment Bill through its first reading, but the government will have a fight on its hands over its proposed methane targets and the potential economic risks posed,” she said. “I support moves to reduce emissions, but strongly oppose the suggested targets which I believe are out of sync with current scientific thinking and could place huge economic stress on the farming community.”
She added, “An estimated $300 billion is also forecast to be stripped from the New Zealand economy between now and 2050, according to the bill’s regulatory impact statement, with these costs having a detrimental effect on people in places like Central Otago and the Upper Clutha. Of course we need to reduce emissions and support global efforts to avoid climate change, but we also need to be open and honest about the potential economic costs of doing so.”
Mt Aspiring Station owner and farmer Randall Aspinall said, “Also, there will be some confusion as to why farmers can't retire land to plant or regenerate trees/scrub to offset methane emissions as was suggested by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.”
Aspinall said total emissions from New Zealand’s sheep and beef industry have decreased by 19 percent since 1990. “However while the efficiency (GHG emissions per kg meat) has improved year-on-year, this has mainly been driven by a reduction in the number of sheep and beef farms,” he said. “This means we need to know whether the methane accounting will be done on an individual farm, regional or industry basis before we know how much of an impact it will have on each individual farm.”
Aspinall said it is important to note that food produced in New Zealand already has one of the lowest GHG footprints in the world, for example, one litre of milk produced in NZ creates 30 percent less GHGs than a litre of milk produced in Europe.
“We can reduce New Zealand methane emissions by reducing livestock numbers; however, with an increasing global population, food will still need to come from somewhere else, including less efficient producers. All food production, including synthetic or alternative protein options, create GHG emissions so, while planting trees and reducing livestock numbers will provide some short-term relief, we need to remember that the main focus must be for all New Zealanders to think about how we can reduce our individual and family GHG emissions in the medium- to long-term.”
Federated Farmers say they welcome the chance to walk through the issues with NZ First.