By Gavin Evans
March 15 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand needs to get right its gradual transition to more sustainable agriculture and ensure that production values are sustained, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says.
The sector has a critical role to play in meeting the country’s emissions reduction goals and the government needs to focus on making the goal posts clear, he said.
“Policy decisions around agriculture need to be based on scientific advice and consultation so the sector has well-considered, effective and – most importantly – workable solutions,” he said in a joint statement with Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods.
The government today announced plans to tweak the terms of reference for the Interim Climate Change Committee it established last year.
The committee was asked to look at how agriculture could be incorporated into the emissions trading scheme and how the government’s goal for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 could be effected. It is due to report back by April 30 and was originally to have reported to the incoming Climate Change Commission.
Shaw says the revised terms of reference will allow the committee to deliver its two reports directly to him – something that was inevitable, given the Zero Carbon Bill that will create the commission is five months behind schedule.
Shaw said the change will allow the government to consider the committee’s findings and act with necessary pace.
“This is a step forward, enabling more time for focused consultation with New Zealanders on important climate change legislation proposals.”
It is important feedback on the committee’s recommendations is sought from across the country, including the primary sector, he said.
Agriculture accounts for about half the country’s emissions. In December, the committee received a report from the Biological Emissions Reference Group which said farmers want to reduce on-farm emissions but many were not aware of mitigation strategies and few had any idea of the emission rates from their property.
It suggested improved management practices could reduce emissions from pasture-based livestock by about 10 percent now. The group had medium to high confidence that methane inhibitors would deliver a 10-30 percent reduction in biogenic methane by 2030 and high confidence that a 30-50 percent reduction could be achieved by 2050.
The Interim Climate Change Committee told iwi leaders last month that accountability for livestock emissions should ultimately lie with each farm, but simple, user-friendly ways to measure and report those will not be feasible near-term.
It believed the simplest way to price emissions would be with a levy, and that the government-mandated 95 percent-free allocation for farmers should be enough to lessen the social impacts of the change. Pricing at the processor level could be used in the meantime.
The committee did not favour farm-level accountability for emissions from fertiliser. It believed any of the pricing options – a dual-cap ETS, a quota system, or a levy – could reflect different targets for short- and long-lived gases.
The committee is also wary of pursuing the government’s target of achieving 100 percent renewable power generation in a year of normal hydrology.
It says provisional modelling suggests the country is on track to be 93 percent renewable by 2035. Emission benefits from pursuing ever higher levels of renewables are “relatively small.”
“Instead of focusing on the last 8 percent, New Zealand has a major opportunity to use its abundant renewable electricity to get more bang for our buck – using this electricity to reduce emissions from transport and process heat.”
Earlier this month, Shaw told delegates at the Downstream energy conference in Auckland that the ETS reform legislation would probably go to parliament mid-year, about a month behind the Zero Carbon Bill, which he thought would probably reach parliament in May.