The government reckons it is on the same page as farmers when it comes to countering climate change.
The ‘Action on Agricultural Emissions’ discussion paper is a positive first step as farmers and the government hammer out a practical path to reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions, Federated Farmers says.
“We are agreed that a priority is to find a workable and affordable way that farmers can measure emissions and sinks at the farm level, and to adopt practices and any new technologies that will help drive down methane and nitrous oxide emissions,” Federated Farmers climate change spokesman Andrew Hoggard says.
But there’s a but:
“Where we differ is that the Government keeps emphasising pricing as the predominant tool. Federated Farmers does not agree with universal pricing of methane. The ETS has failed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport – in fact, transport emissions have near doubled since 1990. Universal pricing of methane will be similarly unsuccessful.”
If it was successful it would reduce production at a significant economic and social cost with no global environmental gain.
If New Zealand was the only country to tax animal emissions and production here decreased as a result it would increase in other countries where production is far less efficient.
What Federated Farmers has committed to is working with the government to design a pricing mechanism where any price is part of a broader framework to support on-farm practice change. Such pricing would be set at the margin – that is, only applying to methane emissions over the 0.3% per annum reductions that science tells us is enough to ensure methane no longer adds to global warming.
The government can’t tell us to accept the science on climate change then not accept the science on ways to counter it.
New Zealand farmers are proud to be among the most efficient producers in world and, unlike many of their overseas competitors essentially stand on their own two feet, as their animals stand on their own four feet. Farmers here are largely unsubsidised by consumers (by way of inflated prices) or taxpayers, and that has been so for over 30 years, Hoggard says.
If New Zealand’s milk and meat export volumes reduce as a result of lower on-farm production, the gap will be filled by less efficient producers. This is known as “emissions leakage” and will ultimately increase global emissions and food costs.
“So any pricing should only be a tool to incentivise farmers into taking up economically viable opportunities to cut methane, just as the Government might use incentives or a nudge to encourage people to switch to an electric vehicle.
“Unlike for a fossil-fuel powered vehicle, there is no ‘electric sheep’ equivalent for farmers. But there is the potential for methane inhibitors or a vaccine, albeit some years away from proof and coming to market,” Hoggard says.
Breeding low-emission animals and selecting low-emission feeds are options being explored meantime.
The agriculture sector has committed to work with the government and iwi/Maori to design a practical and cost-effective system for reducing emissions at farm level – including a pricing mechanism as part of the broad framework – by 2025.
Meanwhile, the sector’s proposed 5-year programme of action is aimed at ensuring farmers and growers are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to deliver emissions reductions while maintaining profitability.
Education and tools will do far more good and a lot less harm than the government’s plan which is not just another tax but a tax which is counter to the science.