PM to meet farmers over greenhouse gas targets

: Federated Farmers President, Katie Milne, a member of the Farming Leaders' Group, with the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor
 

The Prime Minister is to meet farming leaders on Wednesday as the Government faces a backlash from farmers over the Zero Carbon Bill.

The Bill will be introduced into Parliament today.


The meeting on Wednesday is a regular quarterly meeting the Prime Minister has with the Farming Leaders' Group, but because it is coming this week with the Bill at the top of the parliamentary agenda, it is likely discussions will focus on it.

Farmers’ concern centres on methane targets.

They are particularly concerned about the proposal that methane be reduced by 24 – 47% of  2010 levels by 2050.

Federated Farmers Climate Change spokesperson, Andrew Hoggard, said last week that the target for 2050 when coupled with the target of net zero for nitrous oxide, required the New Zealand agriculture sector to reduce its emissions by 43-60%.

"Let's be clear, the only way to achieve reductions of that level is to cut production,” he said.

“There are no magic technologies out there waiting for us to implement.

"At this point, we have no idea how to achieve reductions of this level, without culling significant stock numbers.”

The target, unless it is changed, looks likely to sink the much hoped-for bipartisan consensus on the Bill.

The National caucus will debate their policy on the Bill today, and it is likely they will guarantee support only up to the Select Committee stage.

Unless the target is amended in the Select Committee, National’s support is likely to be withdrawn.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was hinting yesterday that more negotiations might be possible to try and preserve consensus.

She said she was still hopeful that the Government would be able to build consensus around the Bill. 

“I wouldn't be surprised if those conversations would potentially be ongoing," she said.

“ It obviously has to go through a Select Committee process.

“It would ultimately be beneficial for New Zealand particularly in terms of certainty if we're able to build cross-party support.

“We were able to do that with the Child Poverty legislation.

“ Keep in mind that actually that was an iterative process and we undertook negotiations all the way through the Bill going through the House including the Select Committee process. In fact, there wasn't too much negotiation before the Bill came into the House.

“So the offer is still very genuine, but I'll let that run its course. “

Much of the detail about how the reduction is expected to happen has yet to be confirmed.

The Government has had a report from the Interim Climate Change Commission on agriculture emissions being brought into the Emissions Trading Scheme, but it has yet to make it public.

The figure included in the Bill for methane reduction is that recommended by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change last year.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton said In a report published in March that biological emissions reductions such as methane inhibitors and vaccines in livestock, synthetic proteins and nitrification inhibitors might be able to play a larger role than has been recognised to date in helping achieve the targets.

Hints from NZ First Leader Winston Peters and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, suggest there will be more money in the Budget for research into these technologies.

But the farmers will surely point out to Ardern that the most promising biotech tool available is a ryegrass which has been developed by Ag Research using genetic editing, but which is unable to be grown in New Zealand because of the restrictions in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms legislation.

The ryegrass is believed to be capable of reducing cattle methane emissions by up to 23%.

The Australian election showed that political parties which do not take the economic consequences of climate change mitigation into account can suffer badly at the polls.

That message will have reached the Beehive.

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