The Primary Industries are in for some significant changes if the government adopts the Climate Change Commission’s draft report, which provides recommendations on how the Government can achieve its carbon emissions targets.
These targets include reaching net zero emissions of long-lived gases and reducing biogenic methane emissions by 24 to 47 per cent by 2050.
The report makes recommendations regarding several industries, including construction, transport waste, forestry, and of course, agriculture.
Since the Commission was established in 2019, staff have held more than 700 meetings, workshops and hui with different sectors, groups and organisations, including Beef + Lamb NZ and the Dairy Companies Association.
This report is the first of several. Public submissions on its contents are open until March 14, and can be made at: www.haveyoursay.climatecommission.govt.nz
“There are changes farmers can make now to reduce emissions on their farms while maintaining, or even improving, productivity,” says the report.
“This includes reducing animal numbers and better animal, pasture and feed management. Policy support is needed to make this happen.”
The report recommends that dairy, sheep and beef animal numbers reduce by about 15 per cent from 2018 levels by 2030. The projected reduction under current policies is eight to 10 per cent.
Transforming dairy farmland into horticulture at a rate of 2000ha per year from 2025 is also recommended. With these changes, the report says the 2030 biogenic methane target could be met without relying on new technologies.
But, it says long-term, targeted research and development of emissions-reducing technology is part of the solution.
The report takes a split-gas approach, developing separate emission trajectories for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
Focus on forestry
The report says forestry has a part to play in reducing emissions, “but we can’t plant our way out of climate change.”
It suggests planting 25,000ha of native trees every year from 2030; which is 13,000ha more than MPI’s planned plantings in 2021.
Exotic afforestation – and the percentage of permanent exotic forests – will continue as projected under current policies.
The report assumes that no more deforestation will take place after 2025, and recognises forestry’s importance in the development of bioenergy (Coast & Country February 2021, p26).
DairyNZ say the report is a welcomed acknowledgement that methane doesn’t need to reduce to net zero.
The Commission’s science-based approach is ambitious and challenging for the entire country and farming is no exception says DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.
“Climate policy is incredibly complex. Yes, science sits at its core – but there are also economic, social and political implications to be considered,” says Tim.
“We will be looking at what this advice could mean for dairy farmers and how the Government will partner to support our sector through this transition.
“New Zealand dairy farmers are already the world’s most emissions efficient (see page **), so it’s a balance between farming sustainably, maintaining international competitiveness and running a viable business.”
Tim says DairyNZ will examine the report’s proposals and underlying assumptions closely before making a submission.
Beef + Lamb NZ
Beef + Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor says there are some positives for beef and sheep farmers in the report.
“The advice is underpinned by the principle that everyone needs to do their part and we need to decarbonise the economy by reducing emissions,” says Sam.
“Our sector has been the leader in New Zealand with a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 – and significant sequestration is occurring from natives and exotics on-farm – and we are certainly doing our bit.”
Sam says he commends the report for recognising that large-scale exotic forest planting isn’t a long-term solution.
“This has long been BLNZ’s position. Our sector and communities have been adversely affected by an increase in the conversion of sheep and beef farms into forestry for carbon farming in the last couple of years and it’s heartening to see these concerns reflected in the report.
“We also welcome the recognition that indigenous habitats have multiple environmental benefits such as long-term stable sequestration and enhanced biodiversity.”
Sam says the report’s split-gas approach is welcome as it recognises that long-lived and short-lived greenhouse gases should be treated differently, but “we’re concerned about the focus on emissions targets rather than warming impact”.
“The Commission’s advice around a further 15 per cent reduction in livestock numbers within the next nine years is highly concerning, given the efficiencies already achieved.
“We’re doing more work to understand how the Commission arrived at this, and we will be submitting alternative approaches to meet our commitments.
“The recognition of sequestration or offsetting within your farm business will be a key platform for this advocacy.”