Farmers back themselves to reduce emissions. Will they though?

by | Mar 25, 2022 | Opinion

Farmers and growers have had their say and it’s looking like they’re opting for a farm-level approach to managing greenhouse gas emissions.

The commitment – some 19 years after a carbon tax was successfully lobbied away as a fart tax – will soon be put to the government, which reserves the right to reject it and roll the primary sector into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

What will farmers agree to? we speak to He Waka Eke Noa Programme Director Kelly Forster. Click here for more.

Kelly Forster is programme director of He Waka Eke Noa, the joint Maori-industry-government entity set up to resolve the problem of primary sector emissions. Speaking to the Feed this week, Forster said farmers are strongly in favour of measuring and paying for their own GHGs emissions – rejecting the ETS and also the option to average the emissions at a processor level and charge farms accordingly.

“The feedback is definitely in support of a farm-level system. Not all farms are supplying to a processor. Nor does that model account for the individual footprint of a farm. It’s just an average national calculation. Farmers tell us they want a system that reflects individual circumstances, and they want to be able to be recognised for their individual mitigations,” says Forster.

He Waka Eke Noa is due to submit its scheme to Climate Change Minister James Shaw in May. The government will then decide to adopt or modify the scheme, or abandon it altogether and bring the primary sector into the ETS. That decision is due in December.

The shape of the scheme (farm-level, processor-level or the ETS) is just one of the contentious decisions. A more vexing issue is how much the primary sector is prepared to reduce GHG emissions and by when. Under the current proposals, the predicted saving is 4% of 2017 emissions by 2030. That’s higher than the widely quoted 1%, a figure Forster says she regrets seeing published.

“There’s a lesson for me there – don’t share unfinished models because the numbers will stick.”

Even at 4%, the saving looks laughably off-pace and has led to calls from Forest & Bird and Greenpeace for HWEN to be scrapped and the ETS to take over.

But Forster says the scheme, when combined with other mitigations, will meet the government’s methane target of a 10% reduction saving by 2030. These activities include offsetting with trees and other on-farm changes (alternative feeds, reduced herd numbers, reduced fertilizer and changing land use) which is incentivised by the ETS. This will result in a 4.5% reduction by 2030. And there’s a predicted 2% reduction in methane emissions from landfills and other ‘wastage’.

“So that is a 10% reduction in methane by 2030… If those targets aren’t credible enough, that’s a conversation that needs to happen elsewhere,” Forster says.

Will the Minister buy it? Shaw has already said he was disappointed with the HWEN’s draft response. He told Stuff in December that “there is clearly more work to be done on those proposals before final decisions in March.”

She thinks Shaw was reacting to the 1% figure.

“The history of that 1% was that we did targeted engagement in November, in advance of the wide engagement in February. We had a draft consultation document and we hadn’t finished the modelling…The beauty of the partnership is that government has been involved as well. The proposals are developed with government in the room, testing and challenging us, trying to find a solution that will land.”

Not all farmers agree. Writing in Stuff, dairy farmer Craig Hickman described Groundswell’s complaints as old news. “Nothing annoys me more than people who find problems without proposing solutions”.

Meanwhile, opposition to HWEN is bubbling away through the Groundswell protest movement. It’s expected to promote farmer resistance, already being sought through its website. Groundswell is effectively roling back the clock to a proposal for more research made in 2003.

Not all farmers agree. Writing in Stuff, dairy farmer Craig Hickman described Groundswell’s complaints as old news. “Nothing annoys me more than people who find problems without proposing solutions, so full credit to Groundswell for coming up with the same answer the then-Labour Government did in 2003 … Setting up yet another body to research what is already being researched is the very definition of kicking the can down the road. At some point you’ve got to stop, pick the can up and put the bloody thing in the recycling.”

Perhaps reading the team leaves of the times Hickman says “He Waka Eke Noa may not be perfect, but perfection is the enemy of progress. For all its flaws, He Waka Eke Noa is a genuine attempt to stop and pick up the can instead of continuing to kick it down the road, and we should probably do that now rather than wait another 19 years for someone else to pick it up for us.”

Listen to the full interview with Kelly Forster on our Long Lunch podcast












About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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