Contradictions fuel frustration

September 5, 2019

Climate change is supposed to be this government’s nuclear moment.

More renewable energy generation  is consistent with that.

But the government has killed off the Waitaha River hydro scheme even though it had sign-off from the Conservation Department, Iwi, and local councils.

The government wants farmers to reduce methane emissions but the   National Environment Standard on Freshwater Management and rewritten National Policy Statement want more wetlands and wetlands produce methane.

The policy also wants to reduce E.coli in rivers but that pollution in several waterways, including the Kakanui River from which we get our drinking water is caused by seagulls. Those birds are protected and so can’t be moved.

Farmers are very concerned about today’s announcements and contradictory messages sent by measures like these fuel their frustrations.

 


Countering the methane myth

August 19, 2019

David Clark, Federated Farmers’ Mid Canterbury chair is fed up with the methane myth:

As a farmer I am fed up with being vilified and our industry accused of being the primary contributor to climate change in New Zealand.

He’s not alone. I haven’t encountered such strength of feeling among farmers since the ag-sag of the 1980s.

The myth is that agricultural gases, primarily methane, make up 48.1 per cent of this country’s emissions profile. That is nothing more than a politically and socially convenient half-truth/untruth.

So here are established, scientific facts pertinent to the Zero Carbon Bill and the Emissions Trading Scheme:

• A pre-existing and stable level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is required to maintain our temperature levels and is essential to life on earth.

• The Paris Accord calls for countries to take steps to limit global warming to 2 degC and preferably 1.5 degC above pre-Industrial temperatures.

The Paris Accord also stipulates that climate change mitigation should not come at the expense of food production.

• NZ has set a target of Zero Carbon by 2050 – no mandated reduction in gross carbon emission, just an aspiration to offset by forestry plantings so that carbon emitted will be in balance with carbon sequestered.

• Total methane emissions in NZ have increased 6.2 per cent from 1990 to 2017 (they have been declining since 2006). Agricultural production has doubled in this time.

• The ZCB has an aspiration of reducing methane by up to 47 per cent by 2050.

• Methane is a short-lived gas that originated from CO2 absorbed by the growing grass and when belched by livestock rapidly breaks down into CO2 again to complete the cycle. No additional carbon enters the atmosphere.

Fossil fuel carbon has not been circulating in the atmosphere for thousands or millions of years, but once burnt will circulate in the atmosphere for centuries to come, with constant additional warming effect.

• The key objective is to limit any further warming.

Clark says representing methane on the same graph as fossil carbon and stating that agricultural gases are 48.1 per cent of our emissions is simply wrong and does not recognise the cyclical nature of methane.

He then shows why:

Methane is a short lived gas, known as a “flow gas” which rapidly breaks down compared to carbon, which is known as a “stocks gas”.

So let’s represent methane as water and carbon as small stones. I have a bucket that is the atmosphere and the level inside the bucket is the global warming effect.

I have a centimetre of water in the bucket, which has a small hole in the bottom of it.

I start tipping cupfuls of water into the bucket. So long as I do not tip in water faster than it drains from the hole, the level does not increase.

It would be wrong to count the number of cupfuls put into the bucket, only correct to pay attention to the change in level. The number of cupfuls has absolutely no relationship to the level in the bucket.

If I take the same bucket and start dropping small stones into it, none of which fit out the hole, every stone is additional and the bucket gradually fills up. The total number of stones added has a direct correlation to the number of stones in the bucket.

Methane and carbon are water and stones. So long as stock numbers remain static, or more correctly the feed fed to livestock remains static, the emission of methane today replaces the methane that degraded today. The cycle stays in balance.

Every gram of carbon emitted from a power station, factory, car, aeroplane or any other part of our life adds to all of the carbon previously emitted from all sources.

The only way of reducing that carbon is to effectively bury it by absorption into soil by plants.

Our Government need to stop telling the methane myth and stop counting the water and the stones as if they were equal. They are not.

Net methane makes up only a very small portion of NZ’s total emissions. Our farmers are being asked to reduce methane emissions way beyond the equivalent of “Zero Carbon” and are being vilified in the process.

The current fixation on methane is a dangerous, politically convenient distraction taking the focus of the enormous task of eliminating our reliance on carbon for our modern existence.

Not only is it dangerous and a political distraction, the government’s determination to impose unrealistic methane reduction targets on farmers would at the very best have no impact on the global methane emissions, and almost certainly worsen them because New Zealand accounts for such a small percentage of the world’s farm stock.

New Zealand has about 6.5m dairy cows and 3.6m beef cattle.

That’s a lot of cattle when you compare it with the human population of fewer than 5 million people.

But how does that compare with other countries?

India has 305,000,000 cattle – 30.44% of the world total.

Brazil has 232,350 – 23.19%.

China has 96,850 – 9.6%

The USA has 94,399,00 – 9.42%

The EU has 88,445,000 – 8.83%

Argentina has 53,765,000 – 5.37%

Australia has 25,500,000 – 2.55%

Russia has 18,380,000 – 1.83%

Mexico has 16,584,000 – 1.66%

Turkey has 14,500,000 – 1.45%

Uruguay has 11,754,000 – 1.17%

Canada has 11,625,000 – 1.16%

New Zealand has 10,082,000 – 1.01%

We have a lot of sheep and cattle per head of population but that’s only because we have so few heads.

This puts into perspective the calls from radical and not so radical environmentalists for New Zealand to cull its dairy herd.

Half of 1.01% is not very much in global terms.

When it is better environmentally for the people in Ireland, the country with the second-most efficient dairy production to drink milk from New Zealand, the most efficient producers, the aim ought to be to produce more milk here, not to cut production.

The case for cuts doesn’t add up in economic, social or environmental terms, nor is it based on science.


Science when it suits again

August 16, 2019

The government is ignoring its own scientific advice over setting methane reduction targets:

Advice to the Government from MPI’s officials shows that the Government’s proposed methane reduction targets go well beyond the science of what is needed for New Zealand to meet its 1.5⁰C Paris Agreement commitments and was purely a political decision made in Cabinet.

“Official’s advice validates the arguments we have been making that methane does not need to reduce by the amount proposed by the Government in the Zero Carbon Bill in order to limit warming to no more than 1.5⁰C,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s CEO Sam McIvor.

Mr McIvor’s comments are also echoed by DairyNZ’s CEO Dr Tim Mackle.

“The agricultural sector has consistently said that the Government is asking farmers to do more than what’s required, and more than what’s being asked by other sectors of the economy, and this has been confirmed by the Government’s own advice”, says Dr Mackle.

“We are willing to play our part to address climate change and want to have a transparent and science based discussion about what that should be.”

The government can’t ask us to accept the science on climate change then ignore it in responding.

While the Government referenced the IPCC report, in applying the target for a global reduction in methane emissions to New Zealand, they have conveniently omitted the IPCC’s caveat that makes clear these global targets shouldn’t simply be slapped on individual countries.

It is also ignoring the Paris Accord which stipulates that cliamte change mitigation should not be at the expense of food production.

“The combined effect of the excessive methane targets and net zero target for nitrous oxide, which even go beyond the IPCC’s advice for this gas, means that New Zealand is effectively aiming to go below 1.5 degrees and by doing so, letting other countries off the hook,” says Mr McIvor.

The Government is even being inconsistent in its own statements in saying it has relied on IPCC advice, with parliamentary written questions showing it did not seek any specific advice from the IPCC in doing this.  Instead the Government has cherry picked the numbers it wanted and gone with the highest ranges it could find for methane, as well as going beyond what the IPCC recommended for nitrous oxide.

Federated Farmers’ National Vice President Andrew Hoggard says that the advice from MPI vindicates the sector’s position that the Government has opted for a political target on methane rather than a scientific one.

“When the IPCC explicitly states their global methane reduction targets shouldn’t be used as national targets, and Article 2 of the Paris Agreement requires countries to set targets in a manner that doesn’t threaten food production and to take into account different national circumstances, it’s disappointing that the Government has opted to pursue a political target agreed at Cabinet to make it feel good on the world stage regardless of its lack of scientific backing or the disastrous consequences it could have on New Zealand’s food producers,” says Mr Hoggard.

B+LNZ, DairyNZ, and Federated Farmers, while all having made individual submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill, are united in their view that the proposed 24-47 percent target is too high and are encouraging the Government to take a science-based approach that reflects the fact that methane only needs to reduce by a small amount each year in order to contribute no additional warming.

The government is proposing unrealistic targets. Even trying to meet them will come at a high cost, in both economic and social terms, with no environmental gain.

In doing so it is using only the science that suits it again.

There is a better way – setting realistic targets and working with agricultural groups to drive real behaviour change on farm:

Sector organisations have put forward an alternative Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment – He Waka Eke Noa – to build an enduring farm-level emission reduction framework to help the rural sector reduce its footprint.

“We want to play our part and take action. That’s why we have put forward a credible five-year work plan with clear and measurable actions, outcomes and timeframes” Dr Mackle says.  

“Our proposed plan is a collective initiative across multiple agricultural sectors, and includes rolling out Farm Environment Plans for all farms by 2025 to ensure every farmer knows their emissions footprint, where on farm those emissions are coming from, and what they can do to manage them”.

Having reliable data is important so that a farmer can make decisions and trade-offs factoring in resilience, profitability, and all the business decisions that need to be weighed up.

“We are asking the Government to partner with the agricultural sector to develop and deliver targeted programmes of action and coordinate efforts to reduce emissions. We strongly believe that working in partnership is the best approach to deliver real change” Dr Mackle added.

“DairyNZ does not support a levy on farmers in the ETS at processor level because it won’t drive the behaviour change to reduce emissions.

“It will take money out of farmers pockets at a time when it would be better invested on-farm to prepare for and start the process of managing emissions.

“Safeguarding the environment and maintaining a sustainable and competitive dairy sector is very important to our farmers, customers, and consumers. 

“Farmers care about the environment and are continuously refining their farm systems to improve environmental outcomes.“The dairy sector is committed to playing our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions alongside the rest of the New Zealand, but policy responses need to be fair and they need to drive the right behaviours” Dr Mackle concluded.

DairyNZ’s submission on Action on agricultural emissions can be found here.

The government has a choice – it can set realistic targets for methane reduction and work with the primary sector to achieve sustainable on-farm changes; or it can ignore the science and impose unrealistic targets providing neither the tools nor incentives farmers need to make a positive difference to their practices and the environment.


Rural round-up

September 28, 2017

Re-elected Taranaki King Country Barbara Kuriger keen to bridge rural urban divide

Re-elected Taranaki King Country MP Barbara Kuriger is to work hard to close the rural urban divide over the next three-year term.

Kuriger retained the safe rural seat for National with a majority of 13,994 with 100 per cent of votes counted, ahead of Labour Party candidate Hilary Humphrey.

Kuriger received 21372 votes to Humphrey’s 7378 votes. . .

Call to destigmatise rural suicide, depression  – Jemma Brakebush:

A farmer who recently lost a family member to suicide is calling for changes to the way mental health is talked about.

Sandra Faulkner farms just out of Gisborne and a member of her extended family took their own life last month.

The family and community were still reeling, and the farming sector needed to change the way it discussed mental health, she said. . .

Methane-chewing bacteria offer good prospects:

Two New Zealand scientists and a Monash, Victoria, biologist have shown that methane-oxidising bacteria (good for tackling greenhouse gas) are more flexible and resilient than previously thought.

Long term this could help the dairy industry in, say, the production of protein feeds. And because it shows the methane-oxidising bacteria working elsewhere, there are implications for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. . .

Farmer confidence in economy slumps – Simon Hartley:

Farmers’ confidence in the year ahead has taken a nosedive with concerns over government policies and volatility in commodity prices.

Given the increased pre-election scrutiny of clean waterways, irrigation issues and intensive farming practices, the rural sector will be holding its breath as coalition talks thrash out policy bottom lines.

In a separate ANZ business outlook survey yesterday, the political uncertainty also sparked caution in September with business confidence falling to a net zero reading, its lowest level in two years, where there were as many pessimists as optimists. . .

NZ structural log prices advance to 23-year high as mills compete with export demand –  Tina Morrison:

(BusinessDesk) – New Zealand structural log prices edged up to the highest level in more than two decades as mills compete with the export market to secure supply for the local construction market.

The price for structural S1 logs lifted to $128 a tonne this month, from $127 a tonne last month, and is sitting 11 percent above last year’s level and 21 percent higher than the five-year average, according to AgriHQ’s monthly survey of exporters, forest owners and saw millers. The S1 structural log price is at its highest level since April 1994. . .


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