OPINION: With the government declaring a climate emergency, it’s timely to recap what actions farmers are taking to further reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint.
I say ‘further reduce’ deliberately. We’re already ahead of many other dairy and meat producing nations on the greenhouse gas front.
While the global average for emissions from milk production, processing, and transport is estimated at 2.4kg carbon dioxide equivalent per litre of milk, Kiwi dairy farmers are about 60 per cent more emissions efficient. The emissions from a litre of milk produced here are estimated at between 0.kg8 and 0.9kg CO2-equivalent. The average for Europe and the United States is 1.3.
Reports commissioned by Beef and Lamb show the production of a kilogram of New Zealand beef generates 22kg of carbon dioxide equivalent, and 1kg of lamb generates 19kg of CO2-equivalent. The global median is 26.6kg for a kilo of beef and 25.6kg for a kilo of lamb.
A 2009 study found New Zealand lamb exporting to the UK had a lower carbon footprint than the locally produced lamb – even after factoring in the emissions from shipping the meat to Europe.
Despite these credentials, Federated Farmers supports the New Zealand economy and agriculture sector achieving the ambitious goal of becoming warming neutral by 2050.
After all, our farmers are on the front line of feeling the impacts of climate change, with farmers battling through droughts, floods and fires in 2020.
Last year, we were pleased to see the government accept the latest science that biogenic methane does not need to be reduced to net zero in order to achieve warming neutrality, and a review is urgently needed to bolster confidence in the controversial alternative targets set for the short lived gas.
While New Zealand farmers are already the most climate friendly farmers in the world, Feds are working in good faith with iwi/Maori groups to make good farmers great and great farmers even better for the climate via the historic agreement known as He Waka Eke Noa The Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership.
In tackling the climate change it is important that policies designed to reduce emissions complement (not contradict) those designed to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Federated Farmers is concerned that mitigation and adaptation policies are being viewed in a silo to the detriment of rural communities. One prominent example is policies that have incentivised the rapid blanket afforestation of productive sheep and beef farms on the East Coast of the North Island while not adequately factoring the predicted increased fire risk that will result from climate change potentially making the region hotter and drier.
Another example of the current siloed nature of climate change policy in New Zealand is the reluctance from the government to support, or even to enable, infrastructure projects that improve community water security and generate renewable hydroelectricity (the government has invested quite a lot of dollars into getting a community water resilience project off the ground in the Wairarapa, but I understand were hamstrung by the Greens. Now the coalition no longer exists, I hope we can accelerate progress on that front.
Water storage infrastructure projects have the potential to mitigate emissions (by producing renewable electricity) and to improve New Zealand’s ability to bolster community resilience in the face of climate change by storing water during times of plenty and drawing upon reserves during times of need.
Overly draconian restrictions preventing consumers and farmers from making up their own minds on the issue of gene editing are another example of a policy that has the potential to hamper New Zealand’s ability to reduce emissions while better preparing for the potential impacts of the climate emergency.
We look forward to continuing to work with the Government and iwi/Maori as we seek to better measure, manage and reduce agricultural emissions while maintaining food production via He Waka Eke Noa. In order for climate policy to be long lasting and effective it must be carried out in good faith alongside farmers and not simply be done to farmers.