Shaw stakes political future on historic farm agreement
By Richard Harman (author)
The Greens co-leader James Shaw yesterday laid his political reputation on the line with his backing of a deal with farm leaders.to cut methane emissions
He defied his own party's election manifesto and a recommendation from the Interim Climate Change Commission that farming would go into the ETS next year and instead agreed to a deal which would allow farmers to self manage their methane emissions.
Leading environmental NGOs were almost immediately critical.
But the deal may be only the start of a rapprochement with the farm sector which could go on to include the way the freshwater reforms are resolved.
As a political move, the deal left National sidelined.
However the first response came from Shaw’s usual allies, the environmental lobbyists and NGOs and they were not impressed.
The Environmental Defence Society CEO, Gary Taylor, was disappointed NGOs had not been consulted on the process.
“It would have been good to have been briefed on it earlier and to have understood what was coming, rather, have it sort of dumped today," he told POLITIK
“There's been leakage.
Of course, people are talking about it, and I think some of my colleagues will probably go hyperbolic.”
But even so, he said he was respectful of the proposal.
“However I’m sceptical about whether it'll work.”
On Twitter, the reaction was stronger.
The former Green MP, Catherine Delahunty called it “another disappointing day in climate policy.”
A former Green candidate, Jack McDonald, complained about massive subsidies going to "a colonial agriculture industry.”
And Greenpeace Executive Director and Shaw’s predecessor as Greens co-Leader, Russel Norman asked whether it was true “that Shaw really said today they didn't want to regulate the dairy sector to cut its climate emissions or have a price on emissions, because 'nothing about us without us'? Can that be real? So how does that apply to fossil fuel companies etc etc “
For the past three months, Shaw has led the negotiating process with the organisations.
His move yesterday was politically bold; certain to upset many of the Greens base but one he defended as being a product of his own personal philosophy.
“I am a strong believer in consensus-based decision making and the principle of appropriate decision making.,” he said.
“In other words, nothing about us without us.
“We could have forced the sector into a pricing regime that it was completely allergic to.
“But ultimately, that would have been unsustainable.
“I believe that the agreement that we have reached, underpinned by the legislative fallback position outlined in the emissions trading reform bill reflects a level of consensus that we have never before reached in New Zealand.
“We have taken on a tough challenge that previous governments have passed up on.
“And when you step outside of the zero-carbon mode, the winding down of fossil fuel extraction, water reforms and the focus on the wellbeing of New Zealanders this shows a package of transformational work.”
Essentially, the Government has replaced the recommendation from its own Interim Climate Change Commission that agriculture go into the ETS next year with a proposal that for the next five years farmers, using farm environmental plans, understand their own emissions and formulate plans to mitigate them. In 2022 the new Climate Change Commission will judge whether they are making sufficient progress to move to measure methane emissions on a farm by farm basis on which farmers would pay a levy which might then be rebated according to their own emissions.
If the Commission says no, then agriculture would go into the ETS.
The original proposal of putting agriculture into the ETS next year was greeted with uproar by farmers.
96.5 per cent of Federated Farmers Members e responded to a Feds survey saying they would oppose farming being part of the ETS without significant conditions.
And so 11 agriculture organisations led by Beef and Lamb NZ, Dairy NZ and the Meat Industry Association came up with an alternative proposal, He Waka Eke Noa, which placed the responsibility and emphasis for managing emission on each individual farmers.
It is the process that has been used that may turn out to be as important as a result.
For weeks now farmers meetings up and down the country have been slagging the Government off over a trifecta of issues; the Zero Carbon Bill, the possibility of going into the ETS and the freshwater reforms.
Yesterday marked a sort of rapprochement.
The Prime Minister said that farmers wanted certainty and that yesterday's agreement provided that.
But Dairy NZ CEO, Tim Mackle, acknowledged that farmers were under pressure.
“There is a lot of pressure on farmers; tremendous pressure,” he said.
"The banks are asking for principle paybacks, and in the dairy sector, we have had two very tough years.
“So that's weighing on the minds of many as well. And of course, there is a lot of policy in play as well.”
Mackle suggested that the process that had led to yesterday's agreement (which he had played a lead role in) could be a blueprint for the future.
That was a strong hint about how to resolve the impasse over freshwater.
The Prime Minister appeared to leave the door open to such a process.
“Obviously, we're in the middle of a consultation," she said.
“The goal is to try and make sure that we can achieve our shared ambition of stopping degradation and restoring our waterways.
“And I think that is s shared ambition and that is why we are our out consulting at the moment.”
Sher was a little more forthcoming at her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday when she said “those are very genuine consultations.
“There’s some areas the Ministers have been very open that they are genuinely seeking the views, particularly in different geographic areas, around how those rules will apply.”
Under yesterday's agreement, each farm will now have to have a farm environmental plan (at a cost of between $3000 and $5000, the PM said) which means farmers will begin to understand not only their methane emission levels but also the levels of nitrates leaching out of their soil and into waterways.
In a report last year, the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre suggested that farmers' actions to reduce nitrate leaching could be a strong driver of factors to mitigate methane emissions.
So there is a connection between the freshwater reforms and methane. The linkage is a complex computer programme called “Overseer” which can calculate what the emission and nitrate levels might be.
But last year the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment raised a number of questions about its effectiveness and whether it was robust enough to be a regulatory tool.
That will become a major focus of work over the next five years as farmers head towards individual farm accountability for emissions.
Officials at a pre-announcement briefing yesterday said that there might be alternative options to Overseer, but if no technology or system can be found by 2025 that can satisfactorily provide the measurement at the farm gate, then farmers will have to go into the Emissions Trading Scheme and pay a levy on their production at the processor level.
The Prime Minister, however, saw the technology challenge as an opportunity for the whole country.
“What we've decided collectively is historic," she said.
“No country in the world has established a pricing mechanism for agriculture.
“T those who say that we're not doing enough, this is a world first.
“No-one is pricing agriculture.
“No one is doing this
“And that will be to our advantage and our farmers who are already making huge changes and continue to demonstrate to the world why they are the best in the world."
There are other practical problems; there are not enough farm advisors to prepare the farm environmental plans.
POLITIK understands that for the 1500 dairy farms in the Taranaki, there are only two advisors available to prepare plans.
Funding to train more will come from farmers, but the Government will be asked to help too.
The Prime Minister has been personally involved in the negotiations with the agriculture groups --- as has Shaw and NZ First Leader, Winston Peters.
However no attempt was made to make this a bipartisan policy by involving National, and their spokespeople were muted yesterday.
Their agriculture spokesperson, Todd Muller, who was away speaking at a farmer conference, issued no statement.
Their only question in Parliament was from their science spokesperson about the role technology might play in the whole process.
This was all about Labour and its partners in Government moving to the centre into National territory, in part to try and subdue the farmer rebellion, even if it did upset some of their base support.