25 Oct 2017

Science to rule on farming's role in ETS

10:52 am on 25 October 2017

Farmers are relieved that science - rather than politics - will decide whether agriculture should be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

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If agriculture is included in the scheme, farmers will be expected to pay for five percent of their emissions. Photo: 123rf.com

Under the coalition agreement unveiled yesterday, a new Climate Commission will make the decision.

Other details made public yesterday include scrapping the controversial water tax, but introducing a royalty on bottled water exports, along with higher water quality standards for everyone.

Labour went into the election promising to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.

It said it would bring agriculture into the emissions trading scheme in its first term, promising farmers would only have to pay for 10 percent of their emissions.

But under the terms of the deal announced yesterday, if the commission recommends agriculture is included in the scheme, farmers will be expected to pay just five percent.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said handing the decision to a commission meant the science and evidence could be presented and thought through.

"There's two contexts; what New Zealand's emissions profile is - very unique because we have a high amount of animals compared to per capita of people, but that does not mean that our food production is higher emission than everywhere else, in fact we are very low emission compared globally," she said.

She was also happy the hotly debated water tax was off the table and said it was an attempt to fix environmental issues, but it did not target the right people.

"Some of that money could easily be shunted into areas that the irrigation and the water tax had nothing to do with, so it was going to be quite an unfair tax. Also the fact that nobody pays for water in New Zealand, sort of a thin edge of the wedge one and where would that start and stop," she said.

Industry lobby group Water New Zealand said the coalition agreement was a missed opportunity for an in-depth conversation around paying for water - involving domestic, industrial and agricultural users.

A recent survey by the group found that 59 percent of the almost 5000 people polled believed that all users should pay for their water.

Water NZ chief executive John Pfahlert said the decision to target bottled water exporters made good politics, but not necessarily good public policy.

"We're looking at environments around New Zealand where water will increasingly be constrained, particularly on the east coast of New Zealand. As we approach that sort of world we at Water New Zealand would simply say that it makes good common sense and good public policy to make sure that we have water priced properly, so that it goes to the most efficient use," he said.

Ms Milne said in dry areas, like the east coast, irrigation was the life blood and Labour's decision to scrap Crown subsidies for new water storage and irrigation schemes was short-sighted.

She said people wrongly assumed the subsidy meant more dairy farms, when it could help areas like Hawke's Bay to grow many different crops.

"That sort of infrastructure is very important because actually nobody knows what will be the crop of the future in 5 or 10 years' time. We've come through in New Zealand agriculture wool booms, land booms, beef booms, dairy booms. What is the next one? They talk about plant protein being a very big part of diets, so we should enable our communities to have options and if we take irrigation, I think it's very short sighted," she said.

The government is yet to announce who will on the new Climate Commission or when it will begin its work.

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