By Hamish Barwick
Emission reductions and how the primary sector and governments could tackle this issue was the focus of a panel discussion in Wellington earlier this month organised by think tank Diplosphere.
The panel for the Green is the New Black event included Federated Farmers CEO Terry Copeland, who spoke about emissions, the ETS and the rising cost of food.
“If life was simple, we would already have the answers to this pretty big problem of climate change,” he said. “As an organisation, we fully recognise that things are worse than first thought in terms of the impacts. A lot more work is going to need to be done in the adaption space for all of New Zealand, irrespective of what (emission) targets are achieved.”
Agriculture is responsible for 48% of New Zealand’s gross emissions, but not 48% of warming. New Zealand needs a system whereby methane is priced if it contributes to warming and incentivised to created cooling so that the best farmers are not penalised, Copeland said.
The ETS was not effective for agriculture as it is a blunt tax which doesn’t distinguish between good and bad farmers.
“We need to make sure that there’s actually a system that incentivises behaviour change, not just makes things more expensive.”
Copeland offered as an example the fact he drives to work, and contributes to the ETS through the cost of fuel. But in his case, this has not reduced his car usage, he is just paying more for it.
“What the primary industry is trying to do is come up with a system that keeps agriculture out of the ETS because just taxing it isn’t going to work. If we can get the bottom 25% of our food producers to lift their game in terms of environmental impact it will make all sorts of advantages for the country.”
Emission targets should be on a global basis, rather than being calculated country-by-country, he said.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came up with a range of options on the global basis that if targets were met, there is a possibility to reduce emissions by 24-47% by 2050. They also recommended that this is not taken on a country-by-country basis, this is a global number. It also includes things like adopting technologies and practices that will reduce climate change – such as adopting nuclear power. Now as a country we’re pretty unlikely to adopt that,” he said.
Another issue is emissions leakage. New Zealand produces the lowest carbon footprint for meat and milk in the world. If the government goes ahead with its proposed response to He Waka Eke Noa to reduce meat production by 20% and milk by 6%, other countries with a worst carbon footprint would pick up this demand, and global warming would get worse.
If less food is produced in New Zealand, there are impacts with rising food costs. Already, there is a “big chunk” of New Zealanders who can’t afford food items, Copeland said.
“We need to be having an active debate in a timely basis because we have a massive problem to attend to.”
New Zealand’s rural communities face a problem with carbon farming, said Carbon Market Solutions CEO John O’Brien.
He undertook research into tree planting that found that of the 400,000 hectares that have been planted in New Zealand since 1990, 89% are in exotics and the remaining 11% indigenous.
“Why is that? You make more money because pine trees sequester more carbon, but it’s not necessarily in the benefits of New Zealand or for rural communities.”
Planting more pine trees on productive land is followed by people moving off farm, destroying rural communities.
According to O’Brien the New Zealand ETS is flawed because it focuses too much on forestry.
The average dairy cow emits 98kg of methane in a year.
“If you convert that to CO2 by multiplying by 22, that is the global potential. And then if you multiply it by $85, which is the current (CO2) price, you get a cost of $191 per cow. So, the average dairy farm in New Zealand has about 440 cows, which means the average costs to the average dairy farm is about $84,000.”
Acting Australian High Commissioner Amy Guihot said there had been a real shift in the way that Australia is talking about climate action this year.
While household solar has been leading the charge for several years, Australia is now seeing large scale wind and solar projects being commissioned, along with larger battery storage projects.
However, to meet its 2030 emissions target reductions, she estimated that Australia will need to install about 47 megawatts worth of wind turbines every month until 2030. For solar, it needs to install more than 22,500 watts worth of panels every day, and a total of 60 million by 2030.
“Like New Zealand, Australia also needs to address agricultural emissions. Meat & Livestock Australia has set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030. Greenhouse gas emissions from the Australian red meat industry have fallen by 57% since 2005, primarily through changes in land use management,” Guihot said.
In the future, the agricultural industry expects to reduce emissions through improvements in grazing management, lot feeding and processing. Industry will also look to increase carbon storage in grazing lands and develop integrated management systems.
The Australian government committed A$8 million for the seaweed industry to support commercialisation of the low emissions livestock meat supplements Asparagopsis. This is the only seaweed known to accumulate the key active ingredient Bromoform, which research indicates can significantly reduce methane emissions from cows and sheep. The Australian government will also provide up to A$3 billion to support investment in low emissions technologies, component manufacturing and agricultural methane reduction.