Agricultural emissions agreement – Expert Reaction

The Government and farming sector have agreed to a partnership to reduce primary sector emissions.

A five-year plan will aim to measure and price farm emissions by 2025, with a backstop for Government to bring the sector into the Emissions Trading Scheme if insufficient progress has been made by 2025.

The SMC gathered expert comment on the announcement.

Dr Ivan Diaz-Rainey, director, Climate and Energy Finance Group, University of Otago, comments:

“The announcement follows on from an ICCC report earlier this year (Action on Agricultural emissions).  In it, the ICCC recommended ‘that agricultural emissions be priced through the NZ ETS at processor level as soon as practicable, ideally from 2020′(p.7). The Government has ducked this one with the election in sight. Yet this is billed as another historical announcement – which it might prove to be if the agriculture sector grabs the opportunity to get its house in order before the 2025 deadline when the sector would drop into the ETS. So agriculture is given the option to create its own scheme otherwise they drop into the ETS.

“So carrot followed by stick. In some senses, it would be a clever approach were this day one of all this. But we have been talking about agricultural emissions for two decades. Will agriculture itself come up with a scheme with real teeth? It seems improbable, especially when agriculture knows a future National government would probably not pursue the policy. I fear that if the carrot is not embraced by agriculture, the reality will be that today’s announcement will be another footnote in the long history of kicking real action on agricultural emissions into the future. This is about politics and highlights how our climate policy is curtailed by the very short political cycles we have and the role the farming lobby has in politics.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Dave Frame, Director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, comments:

“This is very welcome news. For too long we have circled the drain on agricultural climate change issues so it is great to see a sensible, practical, scientifically-defensible deal being worked out. The Government deserves credit for listening to good scientific and policy advice, and for being prepared to reject outdated approaches. Farming leaders deserve credit for listening to the science and developing practical plans that put their sector on a path to a healthier planetary future.

“There will be much to work through, but this is a very promising start, and is really solid evidence of the commitment to bipartisanship that the Government has said would characterise its work on this issue. Well done all round.

“That said, there are a couple of things in the announcement that are less than ideal. One is that there should be a signal about how the 95% discount on fertiliser emissions is to phase out over time. The absence of such a phase-out signal reduced the effectiveness of the ETS in the early 2010s because the two-for-one provision was said to be transitional but had no transition plan. As a result, the ETS ended up keeping it far longer than was justified. The second point is that the threat of putting methane emissions into the ETS is presumably there to make sure that farmers really do reduce methane emissions. While the Government need sticks as well as carrots, this remains a dumb idea, and the Government should just build some better sticks.

“The ETS reforms announced at the same time will probably get a lot less airtime, but they are also very important; perhaps more so given that fossil fuel emissions are ground zero of the climate change problem.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Troy Baisden, BOPRC Chair in Lake and Freshwater Science, University of Waikato, comments:

“The Government’s announcement of a commitment to reduce agricultural emissions comes just as a consultation period is closing on a policy package to limit impacts on freshwater. Action in both climate change and freshwater will enable New Zealand to remain a leader internationally, as pressure mounts to limit agriculture’s impacts on the global environment – recently estimated to cause USD $12 trillion in damage.

“However, there is a big challenge. The details of the freshwater package under consultation raise questions about ensuring science, information and decision-making across these two areas is compatible, and able to be used at the scale of farm management.

“I’m one of relatively few researchers who has worked extensively across both climate change and freshwater, but ensuring compatibility across both these areas will matter on every farm.

“To incentivise real action on farms, information in farm environment plans and related information systems should make sense to farmers across both greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater impacts. The information systems, such as Overseer software, need to be transparent so results used to design farm management are easily tested against measurements and understanding.”

Conflict of interest statement: Professorship is funded as the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chair in Lake and Freshwater Science.

Dr Andrew Tait, chief science climate, NIWA, comments:

“NIWA is looking forward to working with the farming sector and the government to develop and test ‘Improved tools for estimating and benchmarking emissions on farms’.

“We believe that whatever tools are developed and adopted for agricultural emissions accounting in New Zealand, they will need to be supported by very good measurements of greenhouse gases.

“These measurements will provide the evidence that farm-scale emissions reduction actions are working, and be the basis for fair and accurate pricing.

“Our scientists have world-leading expertise in very accurately measuring atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations using a range of instruments and techniques, and we are already thinking about novel ways of using and adapting these systems for paddock- and farm-scale application.”

No conflict of interest declared.