Pragmatism needed on agricultural emissions - climate change committee
By Gavin Evans
Dec. 6 (BusinessDesk) - An overly purist treatment of agricultural gases in climate change policy risks slowing this
country’s response and politicising the process, the chair of the Interim Climate Change Committee says.
Debate over the relative contribution of methane and nitrous oxide, and whether the former is a flow gas, risks
distracting from the more pressing task of getting emissions from agriculture into the climate regime somewhere, David
Prentice said in Wellington yesterday.
While the country’s climate change polices need to be science-based, he said there is also a need for pragmatism and
buy-in, given the pace of action needed.
Five scientists would give five different answers on how agricultural gasses should be treated, he told delegates at the
New Zealand Emissions Workshop. What is needed is action.
“We must de-politicise the issue as much as we can to move forward,” he said.
“We must use science as a base for any decisions that we make, but any decisions now need to be done on a pragmatic
perspective,” he said.
“That methane argument - it is important, but we must not let ourselves get caught in it.”
The Labour-led government has pledged to get the economy to net-zero emissions by 2050 and is trying to get cross-party
support for a new legislative framework.
But it has already damaged its policy credibility by persisting with a pre-election target for 100 percent renewable
power generation by 2035 – against the advice of the already highly renewable industry – and by banning new offshore
National has already said it will repeal that latter policy, which will do nothing to reduce emissions and could
actually increase them.
Prentice said his biggest fears for the current process are politics and complacency.
He said Climate Change Minister James Shaw is leading “furious conversations” with the other parties in Parliament to
find common ground on the proposed Net Zero Carbon Bill.
If that isn’t achieved, Labour will push the bill through regardless, Prentice said, at which point it will just become
“another political football” and allow future governments “to come in and change things willy nilly.”
The committee was appointed in April to make progress on key policy choices pending the formal creation of the Climate
Change Commission next year.
It was specifically tasked with advising the government on how to implement the renewable generation target and how
agriculture – which accounts for close to half the country’s gross emissions - can be brought into the emissions trading
Prentice said polling as part of the Net Zero Carbon Bill consultation was encouraging and showed broad consensus on the
need to include agricultural emissions. Even farming groups understood the need to take action.
What farmers particularly wanted, he said, was something that was relatively simple, that set a clear direction on what
was required and guidance on how best to minimise those impacts.
He said he’s not sure it makes sense to rush to try to include agricultural gases in the emissions trading scheme, given
it is not working well and is going to be reformed anyway.
“There are other ways of accounting for agriculture emissions that we believe are fair, that deal with the
distributional impacts, and are significantly cheaper to implement across New Zealand and would provide better benefits
back to farmers,” he said.
The committee is taking a “far wider perspective” than just looking at the ETS and is also trying to put together a
suite of “companion measures” that would help minimise the impact on-farm.
“We are trying to take a more pragmatic, hopefully common-sense view to that.”
Prentice said whatever the country does on climate change, it will cost billions of dollars and there will be winners
While technically possible, he said spending those sums trying to get generation 100 percent renewable by 2035 makes
little sense given the sector is already more than 80 percent renewable and accounts for only about 5 percent of the
He said the country will be better off to pursue emissions reductions in agriculture, transport and industrial heat.
Earlier in the workshop, business leaders told delegates they mustn’t let the risk of political “flip-flops” deter their
organisations from getting on top of their emissions exposure.
Ngai Tahu Holdings chief executive Mike Sang said politics doesn’t help, but nor should it become an excuse for
inaction, given the growing calls from consumers and voters for progress on emissions reduction.
His organisation is part of the Climate Leaders Coalition, whose 76 member-companies are responsible for about half the
Sang said it is not the role of business to ‘lobby’ for action from government. Taking a position, delivering action and
showing government by example what can be achieved will be more effective in getting and keeping political parties on
track, he said.
David Meates, chief executive of the Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards, observed that change can only
occur at the speed of trust and that policy “flip-flopping” erodes confidence.
But he said that need for certainty is more about the direction of travel, rather than policy specifics, and he said
firms and the country can afford to be more adventurous in the targets they set themselves.