The Wrap: the roar of the crowd on govt’s primary sector emissions plan

by | Oct 14, 2022 | News

He Waka Eke Noa dropped this week and The Feed surveys responses from some of the main players.  

The government has finally responded to He Waka Eke Noa, the industry-government-Maori consortium charged with creating a mechanism to reduce agricultural emissions. The consultation document – Te tātai utu o ngā tukunga ahuwhenua Pricing Agricultural Emissions – was launched from a haybale in Wairarapa by the Prime Minister on Monday.

The proposed scheme will be introduced in 2025, with farmers set to pay a split-gas levy with the proceeds to be spent on climate change research. The proposal largely reflects the HWEN scheme but with some critical differences, the most important being that the price of the levy will be set by “ministers, with advice from the Climate Change Commission and in consultation with the agriculture sector and iwi/Māori”. It also proposes that the ETS is the most appropriate mechanism to reward all sequestration from vegetation – rather than reduce the levy, as HWEN asked for.

Reaction to the consultation document was swift and wide ranging, from hothead-tractor-revving rage to accusations of greenwashing capitulation. And everything in between, including our own take on the plan.

Herewith, a race through the reactions.

Angry as ever

Stuff reports that Groundswell NZ is planning another national tractor protest saying the Government’s emissions scheme is a “nuclear moment” for not only farming but the entire country. Probably not quite what David Lange had in mind when he coined the phrase, but each to their own.

Federated Farmers is full of gloom. The plan “will rip the guts out of small town New Zealand, putting trees where farms used to be. The plan aims to reduce sheep and beef farming in New Zealand by 20% and dairy farming by 5% to achieve the unscientific pulled-out-of-a-hat national GHG targets.

“This is the equivalent of the entire wine industry and half of seafood being wiped out.

The government’s rehashed plan to reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions throws out the two and a half years of work the industry did to come up with a solution, supposedly all that time in a ‘partnership’ with government to achieve a workable solution which would not reduce food production.

“The scariest impact from the government’s rehash of the He Waka Eke Noa proposal was that it’s own modelling showed the impact on sheep and beef farming would be as high as 20%. It also shows that world agricultural emissions would increase, not decrease, under this plan. The government’s plan means the small towns, like Wairoa, Pahiatua, Taumaranui – pretty much the whole of the East Coast and central North Island and a good chunk of the top of the South – will be surrounded by pine trees quicker than you can say ‘ETS application’.”

Equally pissed is Greenpeace – for different reasons, obviously. “Even with amendments released today [HWEN] will fail to cut climate emissions from agriculture, New Zealand’s biggest polluter.

“Cabinet’s decision to not allow the industry to price its own emissions is a step in the right direction: the failed Clean Streams Accord shows that industry self-regulation doesn’t work.

“But the industry has still managed to secure a system that won’t properly regulate, price or cut methane emissions. It’s greenwash.”

Concerned citizens

Beef and Lamb NZ was more moderate in its criticism – but concerned nonetheless. “We need to further analyse these changes carefully, but one area of immediate concern is the proposed changes to sequestration, which is of real importance to sheep and beef farmers,” says Andrew Morrison, chairman of Beef+Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).

“We know we have a role to play in addressing climate change and our farmers are among the first to feel the effects of it. However, if farmers are to face a price for their agricultural emissions from 2025, it is vital they get proper recognition for the genuine sequestration happening on their farms.”

The Government has reduced the categories of sequestration recognised and proposed changes to the process for getting these categories recognised, says Mr Morrison.

“We need to clarify these changes with the Government and understand the intent and practical impact. New Zealand sheep and beef farmers have more than 1.4 million hectares of native forest on their land which is absorbing carbon and it’s only fair this is appropriately recognised in any framework from day one.”

B+LNZ’s modelling, which has been reinforced by independent modelling released by the Government, also demonstrates that sheep and beef farmers will be most heavily affected by a price on agricultural emissions. This would likely be exacerbated by the proposed sequestration changes.”

Prof Dave Frame, climate scientist from Canterbury University and IPCC author, told RNZ’s Charlotte Cook he welcomed the split gas approach and that methane will not be included in the ETS.

But he says there is cause for concern. “It’s very hard to ensure just transitions in climate policy… I would hope we can tread fairly and make sure there isn’t too much disruption to rural communities where you can get pickets of poverty quite easily.”

The parties

The National Party rejects the plan as “uttlery unacceptable”. Leader Christopher Luxon said the government’s plan undermined the industry consensus.

“We acknowledge that we have to reduce agriculture emissions,” Luxon told Morning Report. What we’ve said is we would support introducing agricultural pricing The question of how you do that is really important. You have to pace that with the technological advances that are coming and then synch it up with that. The thing that I find really, really disturbing is that we’re going to get rid of one-fifth of our sheep and beef farmers by 2030, in less than seven years,” Luxon claimed.

That, of course, is not guaranteed – it’s based on modelling by MPI.

Hearteningly, agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kruiger says the party is still committed the big goal: “National is committed to emissions targets, including reaching carbon Net Zero by 2050, the Paris Climate Agreement and reductions in agricultural emissions.”

ACT repeated National’s accusations of ‘leakage’ – farming shifting to other countries with higher emissions profiles. “The world will thank Jacinda Ardern for destroying New Zealand’s farming industry, the most efficient in the world,” says ACT’s Primary Industries spokesperson Mark Cameron.

“Estimates made from the Government’s own documents show that these proposals could see a 33 per cent increase on our current sheep meat emissions as that production is shifted offshore to less climate efficient nations.”

The Greens performed an act of tremendous two-facedness that can only come from your leader also being the government’s main climate representative. It published a list of what it would have done if indeed its leader was the Minister of Climate Change. Also when did it change its name to James Shaw’s Green Party?

The media

As usual, the best analysis and reporting has come from the dedicated climate journalists, notably Stuff’s Eloise Gibson and Newsroom’s Marc Daalder.

For a clear-headed explainer start with Gibson:

“The plan isn’t quite what farming bodies wanted, and nor does it meet all the climate commission’s concerns – let alone the concerns of environmental lobby groups. But it marks a milestone in a plan to price agricultural emissions that has been on the table in some form for 20 years. The proposal shows the backstop of rolling farming into the Emissions Trading Scheme (which prices carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and heavy industry) is firmly on the back burner. Instead, the Government is suggesting bringing in a processor-level levy on farm emissions if a farm-level system isn’t ready by 2025.”

For deeper analysis of the plan’s foibles, read Daalder:

“This is in fact one of the most important findings of the modelling. Estimates provided by He Waka Eke Noa suggested the levy price would be responsible for incentivising just a quarter of the emissions reductions by 2030, with generous incentives needed to fill the gap.

But this research by the ministry says even a very low incentive payment without any multiplier applied could still not only reach but even exceed the necessary reductions. In combination with other existing policies, the pricing system only needs to drive an 8.5 percent reduction in emissions. The 15 percent methane cuts with a $5 incentive payment overachieves that by 75 percent – an astounding and unexpected result.

It turns out a low price of just $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent with an extra $5 payout for certain mitigations is more than enough to meet the 2030 agriculture target.

Money raised via the levies will go to a range of climate-related initiatives either way, but there are big questions for the Government to answer as to whether a $61 million payout to farmers is worth a 1.3 percent reduction in methane. Could that money be better spent elsewhere, for even greater reductions?”

Finally, for what it’s worth our very own Vincent Heeringa has views.

“If the primary sector kicks this can down the road yet again, it won’t have that nasty James Shaw to account to, it will be customers like Tesco who rightly will ask ‘WTF – you had a plan that rewarded you handsomely for what must do anyway, and you did what?’”

No doubt there will be more on this very hot topic. For now, that’s a wrap!

 

 

 

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