Farm leaders welcome National’s plan to reduce agricultural emissions

Two more policy announcements with implications for ag/hort scientists and the food and fibre sector have emerged from the National Party, hard on the heels of its declaration  it would remove constraints on genetic editing and genetic modification.

Both the new announcements dealt with climate change:

  • The first said a National government would meet New Zealand’s climate change targets by super-charging renewable energy and unlocking new technology to reduce agricultural emissions;
  • The second said a National government would help farmers and growers embrace new technology to reduce agricultural emissions and reach New Zealand’s climate change targets.

Farmer organisations and the ACT party expressed their approval (not necessarily whole-hearted approval).

National’s Climate Change spokesperson, Simon Watts, said National had signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 and was committed to meeting the Net Zero target by 2050.

But National would tackle climate change very differently from Labour and the Greens.

“National will target the key drivers of emissions – agriculture, energy, transport, and industry,” he said.

“National will embrace new technology, we will ensure we have the infrastructure New Zealand needs to double renewable energy generation and we will strengthen the economy in the process.”

Mr Watts acknowledged that around half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, but he said “finding a sustainable pathway to reduce agricultural emissions, when we are among the most emission efficient farmers in the world, without decimating our most important economic sector is a major long-term challenge for New Zealand.

“National is up for that challenge and that is why yesterday we announced we will remove the ban on gene technologies which will help give farmers the tools they need to reduce methane emissions through gene edited crops, feed, and livestock.”

National supports the recognition of on-farm sequestration, allowing landowners to earn Emissions Trading Scheme credits through other forms of carbon capture besides tree planting, such as restoring wetlands. This will reward those who put effort into removing carbon from the atmosphere and bring New Zealand closer to reaching its emission targets, Mr Watts said.

Forty per cent of our emissions come from transport and energy. Switching the transport and energy sectors to clean energy could deliver almost a third of the total emission reductions New Zealand needs to reach Net Zero by 2050, he said.

National’s plan to Electrify New Zealand would result in a doubling of  renewable energy generation.

“It makes no sense to encourage the shift to electric vehicles if the power comes from burning coal,” Mr Watts said.

“New Zealand must have enough renewable electricity to meet the rising demand.”

National would turbo-charge new renewable power projects including solar, wind and geothermal by requiring decisions on resource consents to be issued in one year and consents to last for 35 years. National would also remove the need for consents for upgrading existing transmission and local lines infrastructure.

National’s full climate change policy, including steps to reduce transport emissions, will be released before the election.

Agricultural spokesperson Todd McClay announced a National government would help farmers and growers embrace new technology to reduce agricultural emissions and reach New Zealand’s climate change targets.

“National is committed to reaching Net Zero by 2050, but we believe New Zealand’s path to emission reductions in agriculture is through technology, not less production,” he said

Removing the ban on gene technology would help give farmers the tools they need to reduce methane emissions, such as gene edited crops, feed, and livestock.

Furthermore, National will:

  • Give farmers the tools they need to reduce emissions, including recognising on-farm sequestration, measuring farm level emissions by 2025 and updating biotech rules.
  • Keep agriculture out of the Emissions Trading Scheme, but implement a fair and sustainable pricing system for on-farm agricultural emissions by 2030 at the latest. An independent board – with a power of veto retained by the Ministers of Climate Change and Agriculture – will be established to implement the pricing system.
  • Limit the conversion of productive farmland to forestry for carbon farming purposes to protect local communities and food production.

New Zealand farmers were among the most carbon efficient in the world, Mr McClay said..

But because there is no technology widely available in New Zealand to reduce methane emissions, any environmental costs lumped on farmers would push up food prices or send production overseas to higher emitting countries.

National will give farmers the tools they need to reduce emissions before charging them for their on-farm emissions – by 2030 at the latest.

Mr McClay said there had been huge developments in technology in recent years, including a methane inhibitor called Bovaer, which has the potential to lower livestock emissions by 30 per cent, but it currently faces a four-year approval process in New Zealand despite being approved for use in 30 other countries.

“National will streamline approval for these types of products.”

National also would recognise that the environmental impact of carbon dioxide and methane are fundamentally different and take a split-gas approach to emissions.

Methane targets would be reviewed to ensure their consistency with no additional warming from agriculture.

National will also require the agriculture sector to continue to invest in research and development to reduce emissions.

The recognition of on-farm sequestration would allow landowners to earn carbon credits through other forms of carbon capture besides tree planting, for example restoring wetlands.

To prevent the loss of valuable agricultural land, National will introduce limits for new farm-to-forest conversions – including a moratorium on whole farm conversions to exotic forestry on high quality land from 2024.

“New Zealand contributes 0.2 per cent to global emissions,” Mr McClay said

“ National is confident we can reach our climate goals by reducing agricultural emissions without closing down a sector that contributes over $40 billion to the New Zealand economy.

“A strong agriculture sector means a strong New Zealand economy which will help us to reduce the cost of living, lift incomes and deliver the public services New Zealanders deserve.”

Federated Farmers President Wayne Langford said his organisation was  pleased the National Party was showing it had been listening to farmers’ concerns.

He said farmers would be particularly pleased to see a firm commitment to review the current unscientific and unrealistic methane reduction targets that could only have been achieved through unacceptable reductions in sheep, beef and dairy production.

Groundswell NZ founder Bryce McKenzie said he welcomed National’s delay of agriculture emissions pricing until 2030, but his organisation remains committed to opposing any emissions tax on food production.

“We continue to urge both the Government and Opposition to look into the science around biogenic methane and to take more science-led nuanced approaches to assessing greenhouse gases,” he said.

“Food producers should not be punished by a system that is a hammer seeing everything as a nail.”

ACT’s Primary Industries spokesperson Mark Cameron said it was positive that National had adopted ACT’s positions – that an emissions price must be tied to that of our main trading partners, farmers are able to offset all on-farm sequestration from their emissions liability, and that emissions-reduction technologies must come before a tax.

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog