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Govt acknowledges carbon farming 'not silver bullet to address climate change'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The acknowledgement by the Government that current policies will likely see too much carbon forestry planted, along with the opening up of a conversation for potential limits through the ETS, is positive for sheep and beef farmers.

The Government has released a discussion paper, Transitioning to a low emissions and climate resilient future, which aims to help shape New Zealand’s emissions reduction plan. The paper notably contains a slight shift in how the Government is talking about the role of carbon-only exotic forestry in addressing climate change.

"We welcome the Government’s recognition that fossil fuel emissions must be reduced, rather than continually offset, to ensure a fair, equitable, and efficient transition to a low emissions economy," says Sam McIvor, chief executive of Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

"The discussion document indicates any decision on changing the ETS rules would come by the end of 2022. We’re concerned that’s not fast enough given the scale and pace of land conversion happening.

"What we need is urgent action to adjust the ETS to limit the amount of carbon forestry offsets available to fossil fuel emitters. New Zealand is the only country with a regulatory ETS that currently allows 100 percent carbon forestry offsetting. We will be putting forward potential policy solutions as part of this process.

"The planting that occurred in the past year is much higher than the 25,000 hectares recommended as a sustainable and suitable amount by the Climate Change Commission, and as the carbon price continues to rise rapidly this will only increase," says Mr McIvor.

"We are absolutely not anti-forestry - we’re concerned about carbon-only forestry. Our sector believes there is a better solution, where much of New Zealand’s required budgets for sequestration from forestry could come from the integration of trees on sheep and beef farms, rather than through conversion of whole farms for carbon forestry and the significant negative impacts on rural communities and the economy.

"The Climate Change Commission recommended significant ramping up of native forest planting. Sheep and beef farmers want to do their part in this and we will be putting forward potential solutions, based on feedback from farmers."

Mr McIvor notes the red meat sector is committed to playing its part in addressing climate change. "We have already made a significant contribution. Greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and beef farming have decreased by 30 percent in absolute terms since 1990, while production levels have remained stable.

"Overall, total on-farm methane emissions have either been stable or declining over the last two decades. We are also further offsetting our emissions through the native and exotic trees on our farms.

"There are a range of initiatives underway to deliver further emissions reductions including the He Waka Eke Noa primary sector climate change commitment and extension activities to help farmers and growers gain the knowledge and resources to measure, manage, and reduce their emissions.

"However we note that the document continues to refer to emissions rather than warming, which is where leading international climate change science is heading. We have for some time been calling on the Government to start reporting on both, to help better understand the impact each sector is having on climate change and therefore what actions they need to take."

The discussion paper states that the Government expects that most of the reductions prior to 2030 will be coming from the transport, energy, and industry sectors, because the most efficient and cost-effective reductions can be made by these sectors with cost effective technologies already in existence.

"This is important as unlike the agricultural sector, these sectors’ emissions have been steadily increasing over the last couple of decades."

Mr McIvor also notes the red meat sector is investing in research and development for technologies that can support emissions reductions without significant land use change and supports further investment in these areas by the Government as outlined in the discussion paper.

B+LNZ will now examine the Government’s proposals in detail and how the proposals compare to what was recommended by the Climate Change Commission. "We will also be working with our farming leaders to generate and test ideas for how we can better support farmers to adjust to a changing climate and low emissions economy," says Mr McIvor.

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