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Climate change the biggest threat to agriculture

23 July 2002

Climate change the biggest threat to NZ agriculture

Climate change is a current reality, with 18 of the 20 hottest years in recorded history occurring since 1980, and an increasing frequency of extreme flood, drought, and storm events.

This is the reason Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton is a strong advocate for the Kyoto Protocol, the international plan to begin acting now to tackle the man-made causes of global climate change.

"The cost of failure, or even of needless delay, will be far higher than the modest cost of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol," Mr Sutton told a meeting of constituents in Aoraki electorate this week.

"In fact, New Zealand is one of the few developed economies which may make a direct and early profit from Kyoto, because of our ability to create carbon sinks, and our potential wind and hydro energy sources.

"In this, we are in stark contrast with Australia, with its economic dependence on coal."

Mr Sutton is confident that the United States will change its mind and ratify Kyoto, as those corporates who recognise the strategic significance of Kyoto in determining future scientific and industrial leadership gear up to counter the influence of the energy-intensive sectors who caught the ear of George Bush during the presidential election campaign.

"Australia who, like the United States, claim unconvincingly that they will meet their Kyoto targets without ratifying, will ratify within a week of the Americans," Mr Sutton predicted.

He said the Labour-led Government had committed itself to meeting New Zealand's Kyoto targets without undermining the international competitiveness of industry sectors and companies.

"Farmers, for example, will be exempted from paying for the methane and nitrous oxide emissions of sheep and cattle ? New Zealand's main source of greenhouse gases. The reason is that we do not yet have practical, affordable ways of reducing the output of these."

But, Mr Sutton said, research into animal digestion and alternative feed components was already demonstrating encouraging results, including enhanced sheep fertility.

"This research may well generate very valuable intellectual property, but Government expects those who will profit from the research to help pay for it, in return for their greenhouse gas tax exemptions."

Mr Sutton said the research programme required would probably be of a similar order of cost to the existing research effort directed towards the control of bovine tuberculosis and possums. He described the campaign against the Kyoto Protocol by the National and ACT parties and some farmers as "a political beat-up by people desperate for an issue to use in election year".

"Even National's own environmental whiz-kid Guy Salmon says that his party's position on Kyoto is untenable."

Office of Hon Jim Sutton

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