Yes, we could try to be world-beaters in tackling climate change, but the reason for wanting to set the pace is unclear

Ministers in the Ardern  government  are getting to grips  with  the  Climate Change  Commission report  which,  if  adopted  in  full, will  reshape the  NZ way of life. Some say if all the  recommendations  the  commission  has  framed  are  applied, it will put NZ in the  vanguard  of the  battle  against global warming.

Just  why this country should want to be  among  the  front-runners,  and  possibly  the first,  to  meet  its  commitment  under  the  Paris  agreement to reach zero carbon emissions   by 2050  is  not  exactly  clear.

Nor may  there  be any  deep  conviction  that  the  Ardern government has  the  capacity to deliver  the   most  appropriate  measures  to  meet  its  climate  targets, given  its  long  list  of  policy  failures  including  Kiwi  Build, wiping out homelessness, eliminating child  poverty, and improving mental health, not to  mention the  Covid  vaccination  rollout.

NZ’s CO2 emissions are considerably less than those in the US and Australia (which is among the highest in the world). Transport makes up 33% of NZ’s “long lived” gases.

Where  NZ’s emissions  are said to be around 0.9%  of the  world’s  total, China’s  leads  the  world  at 27%, with coal supplying 60% of the country’s  energy.

How is China fighting  climate change?  The  Economist  says its  coal consumption  has   risen significantly since it  joined the  Paris agreement  in 2015.  The total capacity for such  plants  approved for  construction  or being  built  is  larger  than America’s entire  active coal-fired sector.

NZ   has  its own  individual   issues  in tackling  global  warming and  some  critics  argue  it  should  not  seek  to  be  in the  vanguard until other  larger emitters  show  how effective particular  measures  prove to be.

The  agriculture  sector is regarded in some  quarters as  one of the  country’s  biggest  polluters  and Greenpeace (for  example) is calling for greater reductions in dairy cow numbers as  well as  a  reduction in livestock numbers overall. Greenpeace and other  anti-farming lobbies are always quick to  identify problems but are cavalier in  their  analysis  of  the  economic  outcomes.

But  how  sensible  is  it, at a time when NZ is  without  its largest export sector in the form of tourism, to carve  down the second largest export earner?

Defenders  of  the  climate  performance  of  the  agriculture  sector point  out  the international comparisons and standards that NZ has signed up to in the Paris Agreement are related to economy size and not the absolute emission levels.

NZ emits about 80m tonnes of GHG per year for a country with a total land area of  267m sq km. About 50% of that is agricultural, or 40m tonnes/year.

Per unit of food, that is about the world-leading best. The UK is 242m sq km in area emitting 325m tonnes of GHG of which 15% is from their rural sector, or 50m tonnes/year. Ireland is 84m sq km emitting 61mn tonnes of GHG of which 30%+ are rural or 20m tonnes/year. But all countries are required to reduce by percentage, which benefits those countries that started with very high levels such as the UK, and other European nations.

Point  of  Order  has  seen   comments  from Dr Harry  Clark, who  is the director of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre in Palmerston North and  one of  the seven  members  of the Climate Change Commission.

He says farmers should now be making as many small improvements as they can, once they know their emissions level, because that could deliver about a -10% improvement over the next five years.

That compares with a -1% improvement per year that has actually been delivered on a GHG-per-unit-of-food basis over the past 30 years.

There is unlikely to be a big technical improvement available until at least five years at the earliest, so this set of small improvements is important.

The next big technical projects are being worked on, but nothing is certain. Vaccines, breeding, seaweed, and other methane and nitrogen inhibitors are some of those worked-on areas.

The reductions of methane of -10% by 2030 and -47% by 2050 with current technologies will be challenging:  so  what  will  the  government do?

Options  include slashing  cow  numbers. But  wouldn’t  it  be more  sensible  to  work harder  on  scientific  and technical  solutions?

For its part, the  commission  considered, given that funding for the PGGRC finishes later this year and government investment into Research, Development and Demonstration (RD and D) is only secure until 2025, a more certain roadmap needs to be laid out on the future of research in methane and other on farm GHG reductions.

For the ‘long lived’ gases they endorsed the view that a pricing system would enable farmers to find the best way to reduce emissions on their farms.

That   underlines  the  kind  of  complex  decision  which  Cabinet  ministers  will  have to  deal  with.   For  example,  just  where  would the pricing   fall?

The commission said as part of the process to spur farmers to move away from livestock systems, the government needs to roll out policies, tools and incentives and invest to create future emission reduction options.

All  New Zealanders   should be   urging  the  government to  choose  that  route   rather than  the  punitive  measures  favoured   by  the  anti-farming  lobbies.

The  government  has  only  until  the  end  of 2022  to   shape  its  policy—and pass  the  legislation to implement it.  This  means the politicians and their officials  could  be  burning  the  midnight  oil (but without too many  emissions)  to get the  job done.

And will  we  still be  questioning  why  NZ  should  be  leading  the  world in cutting emissions (and  production)   in the  agriculture sector, the  backbone  of  the export economy?

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