By Andrew Hoggard, President Federated Farmers of NZ
OPINION: As I write this, the release of the Climate Change Commission final report is due tomorrow (June 9). It is doubtful that the report is going to change dramatically from the draft, but there may be some small changes.
The Commission’s draft advice to the government had some good points and others that didn’t go down well.
On the plus side: there was useful talk about improving rural connectivity; the report clearly differentiated methane as a short-lived gas that should be treated differently; the report talked about more than just agriculture ( a refreshing change from the well-trodden path of some media) and identified the need for the government to consider all its actions in a holistic sense and not just as a series of silos. There was also mention of the need for a conversation around genetic technologies.
On the downside: while initially it seemed the commission was just projecting a 15% drop in agricultural emissions due to current trends in land use change, it later said that if those trends changed, we had to make that level of reduction anyway – and food production be damned. And of course some shook their head over talk of banning the BBQ.
What upset many farmers wasn’t so much what was written in the report but what came out of the mouth of the chairman, with his comparison of farmers to whalers, and then comments last week. These latest remarks seem to show a clear bias against agriculture in this discussion and also a lack of focus on the fact that it’s a global issue and understanding the role New Zealand plays in achieving all the various international targets.
It’s the comments last week that I take a lot of issue with and give me grave concern around the direction of the commission. Firstly he said there would be no way for New Zealand farmers to “wriggle their way out of slashing emissions”. He then implied that not “slashing” our emissions would cost us in regards to trade. He again repeated the line that agriculture makes up half the emissions in NZ and seemed to suggest our low footprints per unit of food produced were irrelevant. And he finished up by pointing out China and India have a per capita emission rate of 4 tonnes per person whereas we have 12 tonnes.
Firstly it really seems like he doesn’t want to understand the difference between methane and the long-lived gases. It’s not the total of the gases that count in the end, it’s the additional warming they cause. Given that methane emissions in New Zealand haven’t risen above the level they were in 2006, then we are not accumulating any more methane in the atmosphere from NZ agriculture. Therefore there is very little (if any) additional warming coming from this sector. We may make up half the “emissions” but definitely not half the warming.
On the trade aspect, quite frankly this needs to be looked at in a global food systems context. The world needs to consume not just calories but also nutrients. While the bulk of our calories can come from plants, the planet still needs animal agriculture to ensure that the whole population gets the nutrients and micronutrients it needs. It makes sense to do that agriculture where it can be done for the least amount of emissions.
I strongly doubt any of our global customers want to read about New Zealand’s carbon budget or our climate change response act. They just want a emissions footprint of the product they happen to be buying. Far from being some made up stat that only NZ farmers use, the footprint methodology is what I see most of international agriculture focusing on.
Finally there’s the strange ‘per capita’ assertion he makes. It’s a very dumb measure in my opinion as the population is constantly changing. If we look at it in a different way, what is finite about countries is land mass. Little old NZ has 0.18% of global land mass, and we equate for 0.17% of global emissions. India on the other hand is only 2.7% of global land mass, yet 7.08% of global emissions, and China 6.44% of global land mass, but a whopping 26.1% of global emissions.
Or let’s look at it another way: by all accounts New Zealand produces enough food to feed 40 million people. Let’s divide our total emissions over those 40 million people, and the number is suddenly down from 12 tonnes per person to 1.5 tonnes.
We seem hell-bent in this country on flagellating ourselves at the temple of climate change, rather than celebrating the good work our farmers do without the need for massive taxpayer subsidies like our competitors get.
We strongly need to remember that this planet has more than one target it is working towards, it actually has 17. They are the UN sustainable development goals. No 2 on that list is ‘zero hunger’, No 3 is ‘good health and wellbeing’, and at No 13 is climate action. The most logical way I see of achieving all three of those isn’t by the most efficient producers of food reducing their production but actually assisting them in doing more.