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PCE report is challenge to climate change thinking

Feds sees PCE report as challenge to Government’s climate change thinking

Federated Farmers believes today’s report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on climate change puts the challenge out to the government to let science guide its policy planning, rather than politics.

"We’re delighted that the PCE joins the growing list of agencies, scientists and environmental commentators who recognise the fundamental difference between the permanent conversion of inert, long-term fossil fuels into carbon dioxide and shorter term biological emissions from livestock (methane and nitrous oxide)," Feds Vice-President and climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

In the report ‘Farms, forests and fossil fuels: The next great landscape transformation?’ Commissioner Simon Upton suggests biological greenhouse gases be dealt with separately from fossil CO2 emissions, and that offsetting forest sinks should largely be reserved for biological livestock emissions.

"Mr Upton also recognises the fundamental point that it is carbon dioxide that is the main driver of rising global temperatures. His report says ‘unless large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are achieved, efforts to reduce methane and nitrous-oxide will be of limited long-term value," Andrew says.

The main reasons for this distinction are that the lesser time in the atmosphere of biological emissions (about 12 and 120 years for methane and nitrous oxide respectively) more closely aligns with the lifetime of trees used to offset these emissions, than the many hundreds of years, if not millennia, in which fossil CO2 emissions remain. Also, there are useful synchronicities in where and what kinds of trees are planted with on-farm environmental co-benefits such as erosion control, water quality and biodiversity.

That mirrors the message of internationally recognised climate scientist Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University, who wrote the lead chapter in the most recent IPCC report. During his visit to New Zealand earlier this month he also emphasised that livestock are not the core problem for global warming, and noted that farmers achieving gently declining methane emissions from their herd or flock achieve the same impact on additional global warming as a mothballed coal-fired power station - nil.

The PCE’s recommended approach to dealing with the different kinds of greenhouse gases in different ways doesn’t somehow ‘let farmers off the hook’ - a point that Mr Upton specifically highlights, Andrew says.

"The agricultural sector is also a heavy user of fossil fuels in food processing and for transport to markets, and farmers will also be required to reduce methane and nitrous oxide, albeit at a lesser, and perhaps slower, rate than we all must tackle carbon dioxide emissions."

The report says that for biological emitters, the introduction of an emissions price would need to be at a pace that would allow time to develop efforts to improve on-farm measurement to accurate estimate emissions at the farm level, and deploy new management techniques - many of which are still being researched and developed.

"There’s a great deal to digest and debate in the PCE’s 189-page report and Federated Farmers leaders and policy people will need more than today to have those discussions. But we’re pleased that this new report and its conclusions are rooted in science, and recognise that as well as environmental impacts, economic and social impacts must also come into play."


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