CEO Note: Focused on fixing the Zero Carbon Bill

Sheep and beef farmers are on the frontline in dealing with the impacts of climate change and we’ve been ahead of the ball in responding to it.
Wednesday, 15 May 2019

That’s why we’ve publicly said the government’s Zero Carbon Bill is far from perfect, and we’ve been telling the government that things need to change in order to ensure that the bill treats all sectors of the economy equitably and justly in responding to climate change.

We’ve put together a comprehensive factsheet on the Zero Carbon Bill that I encourage you to read, as it’s vital that farmers understand why getting this bill fixed is so important for our sector.
There’s elements of the Zero Carbon Bill we do support, as they’re sensible and based in sound science:

  • The net zero targets for the long-lived gases of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
  • The split gas approach for methane is a win for our sector and one we have fought hard for over the last year.  We won this against most other submitters to the zero carbon bill who didn’t want it.

However, there’s key elements of the bill that we object to:

  • The proposed gross 24-47 per cent target for methane reduction by 2050
  • Because methane is being treated as a gross target, rather than net, this means farmers are not able to count trees on their farms as offsets for their livestock’s methane emissions.

Its important to realise – that because methane emissions have a direct relationship with feed eaten – that the only livestock solution at present is to reduce production.  Its therefore vital we get the number right, as combined, these two aspects of the bill that we need changed will see farmers doing far more than the rest of the economy to address climate change.

At the heart of this is the question of fairness – that all sectors of New Zealand’s economy play their part equally so that no one sector is unfairly disadvantaged relative to the others.

The government’s net zero targets for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide mean that from 2050 neither of these two gases will add any additional warming to the climate.

If you want to achieve the same outcome of no additional warming with biological methane reductions, the science is clear: a reduction ranging between 10-22 percent by 2050 is equivalent to net zero for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Any reduction greater than this range means that methane is being asked to do more than the other greenhouse gases, which means farmers are being asked to do more than fossil fuel emitting sectors of the economy, and are effectively being asked to cool the climate. Whereas fossil fuel emitters are just being asked to get to no additional warming.

This is an important conversation that needs to happen, and it is why Beef + Lamb New Zealand is seeking a methane reduction target of between 10-22 percent by 2050. This is a target that would mean what farmers would be asked to do is the equivalent to what fossil fuel burning sectors of the economy are required to do. This is a fair and equitable approach.

The other significant change we’re advocating for is farmers being able to offset biological methane emissions in the same way that fossil fuel emitters can offset carbon dioxide – which is by planting trees. When we have 1.4 million hectares of native forest on sheep and beef farms, and 180,000 hectares of exotic plantation forestry, it’s absurd that we can’t use these significant carbon sinks to offset our sector’s emissions.

We think it’s fair to raise these questions about the bill given the sheep and beef sector has already reduced our total emissions by 30 percent since 1990 through a combination of production efficiencies, improved breeding, and better farm management practices.

As a comparison, road transport emissions have increased by 93.4 percent over the same timeframe, yet they are essentially being allowed to bank that increase.

Sheep and beef farmers’ significant reduction in emissions while maintaining similar levels of production and doubling the value of our exports is something few other sectors of our economy have achieved.

Taken in the context of the government’s 24-47 percent reduction target for methane by 2050, this means that the sheep and beef sector is being asked to effectively double what it has already done, while other fossil fuel sectors are being treated far more leniently, even though scientists agree that carbon dioxide is the critical greenhouse gas that needs to be reduced if we are to have any hope of getting global warming under control.

Farmers feel the brunt of climate change through the increased frequency of severe weather events like floods and droughts. As a sector, we have been doing our bit to address climate change and we’ll continue to do so. When you lay the science and facts on the table, what we’re asking for is simply fair and equitable treatment for agriculture.

I can assure that B+LNZ will continue to advocate strongly on your behalf, doing our fair share on this issue. I’d encourage to talk to your local politician and share these facts.