Is the Climate Change Commission’s draft proposals to meet NZ’s emissions targets as radical as right-wing commentator Matthew Hooton contends, or entirely “doable” as leftie Simon Wilson suggests?
The draft budgets call on the government to ensure the country emits on average 5.6% less than it did in 2018 every year between 2022 and 2025, 14.7% less for every year between 2026 and 2030 and 20.9% less for every year between 2031 and 2035. This is designed to get NZ to zero net carbon emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has said dealing with climate change is her government’s “nuclear free moment”, says she will introduce new policies and a new international climate target to meet the shrinking carbon budgets set out by the CCC.
For the dairy industry the challenge looks daunting: herd numbers will have to be cut by 15% by 2030, assuming selective breeding reduces biogenic methane emissions by 1.5% by the same year. From 2025, 2000 hectares of dairy land would be converted to horticulture annually.
For Hooton the commission’s report combines the “chilling indifference of the most swivel-eyed 1980s Rogernome with the absolute certainty of the hardest-line Soviet apparatchik”.
For Wilson the proposals seem “somehow obvious” —they’re big and will be life-changing, but they’re not destructive”. He headlines them as “gifts for the grandkids”.
As Point of Order understands it, after talking with experts, the techniques by which agricultural methane can be reduced are already being developed and in association with methods to create healthier soil and land are being applied by some of the country’s top farmers.
Specialists are already modelling the efficiency gains for individual farms. Then, as well, a partnership by the agricultural industry with the government, He Waka Eke Noa, is working on the plans and tools in farm management essential in the drive to reduce methane emissions.
These programmes may be resisted by some farmers but those keen to advance their productivity have been eager to incorporate them into their business planning.
According to some calculations the NZ dairy industry’s methane emissions are already 20 % lower than rivals in other countries.
The precision management required in this new era also looks to farmers choosing to work on growing the new grasses that could ensure higher production, as well as seeking to breed animals that produce less methane when food is digested.
In the past the dairy industry has had pockets of traditionalists who have been content to follow the practices of earlier generations, but now there is a sense of urgency to achieve the efficiency gains which will lower methane emissions. It is seen in the more careful application of nitrogen fertilizer (which creates the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide) and in the drive to improve water quality.
All this points to what could be a huge marketing plus for the NZ dairy industry as a whole, as it seeks to capitalise on being a world leader in its field. This is where NZ’s dairy industry can put a real polish on it being the cleanest, greenest in the world, ensuring its products are recognized at the top of the competition.
In moving on their own initiative to reduce methane emissions, dairy farmers could avoid the awkward application of government regulation arbitrarily to reduce cow numbers.