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Business to farmers: Climate change debate over

28 June 2006

Business to farmers: Climate change debate over – smart money moves into solutions

The primary sector has been warned that, for the first time in our history, it may face a head on collision with the values held by the majority of New Zealanders.

In a speech today to the inaugural Sustainable Farmland conference at Wellington, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, Peter Neilson, warned farmers extensive research showed New Zealanders treasure and want to preserve the "right" to take their kids swimming and fishing.

Kiwis would back practical climate change measures, and excuse farmers from an obligation to control agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions until practicable solutions are found, "but not if they must wade into algal blooms to collect shellfish poisoned by farm run off."

Mr Neilson says: "Middle majority New Zealanders, like the primary sector, are innovators. They are up for challenges and taking on the world and improving themselves. They're on for growth. But they're also on for achieving these things provided they deliver one major result: they preserve the New Zealand quality of life not only for now, but for future generations.

"The primary sector needs to work with us to find solutions which stop nitrates and effluent ruining waterways and to find better ways to allocate water rights.

"There is potential, for the first time, for the New Zealand public to go from being agriculture's supporters, to questioning its direction – and perhaps even insisting on policies to direct it," Mr Neilson says.

"Do not underestimate the power of New Zealanders' desire to hold onto the quality of life we have. This is why initiatives, like the Fonterra-led Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, which is making a real difference, should be supported. They are better than regulation.

"Our national polling shows 12% of soft voters are willing to switch party based on who puts best emphasis on water security. Some 49% will parley their party vote to preserve the quality of life here.

"Throughout its history, the primary sector in New Zealand has led the world. Our farmers and supporting industries have delivered our country a first-world standard of living, a feat not matched by any other nation so small and so far from its markets. In my travels to Europe and the United States, I find them stunned that we can do that.

"So help us build broad support to achieve policies which secure our energy and water future."

Mr Neilson says the Business Council is now inviting the primary sector to join a major study, being launched this year, to deliver business-friendly, farmer-friendly policies to ensure we have a sustainable fresh water supply, and allocate it to those providing best value.

"We would rather have economic instruments – from trading rights in emissions credits and water rights – than blanket government regulation and taxes only. Economic instruments will deliver greater security of investment than relying on the will of politicians, both national and local. When local politicians must weigh the voting support from town against country when deciding on water and environmental issues, we all know where they'll get the most votes.

"We need security for water rights for our primary industries. Our challenge is to work well together, as is our tradition - and seize the opportunities presented by a world overshooting its current energy, water and food supplies, compounded by changes in the climate which we may, or may not, be able to slow or halt."

Mr Neilson says the climate change debate is over. It has moved away from whether or not climate change is occurring to what will effectively address climate change.

"Some of us are still in denial. Many of the early doubters, like President Bush, have become converts. The public now believes climate change is happening but don't know what they can do to help. Throughout the world a tidal wave of smart money has started to pour into companies and projects which will deliver lower greenhouse gas emissions," Mr Neilson says.

"Our research shows some New Zealanders are annoyed by climate change policy discussion, while a vast silent majority is prepared to help fix it – and benefit through their households, communities and businesses.

"Some say there are no answers, while in the business and research communities here and worldwide others are taking the initiative and doing exciting things. Some of the answers are already at hand.

"Every piece of research we have done and see says New Zealanders are extremely proud, optimistic, and determined to protect our environment and quality of life. Deep down, every New Zealander knows it is past the time for prevarication and time to participate in managing climate change and helping preserve and enhance our way of life. 74% view environmental protection has an immediate and urgent issue. Some 86% expect businesses to behave in ways which enhance our quality of life. The primary sector is not excused from that."

>From an economic perspective the most significant costs of climate change for the primary sector will be:

• an increase of up to fourfold in flood risk in most regions; • a twofold to fourfold increase in drought risk, especially in eastern regions; • eroding and retreating coastlines; and changing biosecurity risks.

The costs of these impacts are likely to be highly significant for New Zealand. The February 2004 flood cost was about $0.3 billion. The late 1990s droughts cost well over $1 billion. It is important to recognise that climate change will have some upsides. We may be selling more food to Australia if they have more dry years.

"Would we rather be investing in, and implementing the results of, smart research into reducing emissions, especially agriculture's (which are by far our biggest emissions source), or spend it mopping up after increasingly severe floods?

"Would we rather have climate friendly branding on agricultural and other exports, or face an escalation in advertising by our competitors for more allegedly energy efficient locally grown produce? We see that now in Germany – where the amount of energy New Zealand needs to transport apples to Europe is being used against us in marketing.

This is despite the objective evidence that storing out-of-season apples grown in Europe is more energy-intensive than transporting apples from New Zealand. Conversely, American consumers are placing value on New Zealand seafood because New Zealand fisheries are seen to be more sustainable," Mr Neilson says.

"There are immense opportunities in our climate change management challenges: From rapidly exploiting new energy technologies – including ones which generate electricity from farm waste – to quickly renewing the nation's vehicle fleet, speeding the approval of energy and other projects, warming the 40% of our homes which are inadequately heated, to quickly commercialising new technologies which, again, lead and beat the world. In return we cut energy use and emissions, while lifting growth and improving health - and that all important quality of life," Mr Neilson says.


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