Feds calls for honesty on what farmers are being asked to do
Adopt a methane target that science tells us will ensure no additional impact on global warming, not an unsubstantiated aspiration that will cause lasting damage to rural communities and the standard of living of all New Zealanders.
That was the message from Federated Farmers to the Select Committee hearing on the Zero Carbon Bill this morning.
"Federated Farmers agrees with the current text in the Bill on the need to achieve net zero carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the NZ agricultural industry by 2050," Feds climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said.
"This ambitious support is in spite of the industry being heavily reliant on reliable energy supply and internal combustion powered vehicles for transport, both of which produce carbon dioxide, and despite the task of agriculture reducing nitrous oxide to net zero being incredibly challenging."
Farmers "embrace this challenge" because those two gases are long-lived and build up in the atmosphere, so New Zealand - and the world - needs to get those gases to net zero as quickly as possible, Hoggard said. But methane, which is belched by livestock, is a short-lived gas that produces almost no additional warming and flows in and out of the atmosphere if emitted at a constant rate.
The science says NZ agriculture needs to reduce methane by about 0.3% a year, or about 10% by 2050, to have no additional warming effect - or in other words a zero carbon equivalent. Yet a 10% target has been set for 2030 - much earlier than for any other sector of society - and up to 47% methane reductions by 2050.
Hoggard told the Select Committee that appears to be "because it seems easier to tell people to consume less animal-based protein than it is to cut back on trips to Bali.
"If that is the case then let’s be open and honest and admit the agriculture sector is being asked to do more than its share."
The Minister has challenged those disagreeing with the proposed targets to explain why he shouldn’t follow the advice of the IPCC. Federated Farmers provided three main reasons:
- a key piece of advice in the relevant IPCC’s 2018 report was not to use the numbers from that report as precise national targets,
- the report also recommended a much lower target for nitrous oxide but Federated Farmers is ignoring that as it is a long-lived gas.
- finally, the report modelled numerous pathways that all achieved the 1.5 degree warming target. In some of those pathways biogenic methane actually increased. Economists pondered those pathways to work out the least cost to the globe of achieving the target, not the least cost to New Zealand.
"This report was clearly not designed to be copy and pasted into our domestic legislation. Modelling on what is the least cost to the economy for New Zealand to do its part hasn’t been done," Hoggard said.
Answering Select Committee member questions, Hoggard suggested there was a strong case for rewarding or incentivising farmers to go beyond 10% by 2050 methane cuts. Methane reductions beyond 10% would actually have a cooling effect on the planet and in effect was the same as planting trees to sequester carbon, a practice rewarded through the ETS.
But planting trees with a 30-year life before harvest is only a temporary solution, and blanketing productive farmland with pines kills off jobs, spending and inhabitants that rural communities depend on.
However, if farmers achieved the 10% methane reductions that ensure no additional warming, and are rewarded for striving for additional reductions, there is incentive to invest in additional emissions reduction technology.
"That keeps the rural community going, and reduces global warming - a win/win situation."