25 Nov 2021

'Corporate welfare': Push back over proposals that would reduce emissions by 1pc

7:33 pm on 25 November 2021

There is growing pushback at a proposal to price agricultural climate gases, with the 1 percent emissions reduction being labelled "ridiculous".

Climate change iwi leaders group chair Mike Smith, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Kuri.

Iwi Chairs Forum climate lead Mike Smith (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Kahu) says the 1 percent reduction is a ridiculous outcome. Photo: NZ Herald / File

In 2019 the government announced the sector would have to start paying for emissions from 2025.

A partnership between industry, government ministries and the Federation of Māori Authorities - called He Waka Eke Noa - were told to come up with a plan to measure, price and reduce emissions.

If no credible options were forthcoming it would forced into a "backstop", and be made to join the emissions trading scheme (ETS) with all other sectors.

Earlier this week the group revealed the first look at where discussion had gotten to, releasing a draft discussion document, which has two options. Farmers to pay for their net emissions at farm level, while the second calculates emissions at the processor level, for example by Fonterra.

However, both options would see emissions fall by less than 1 percent.

That's despite the first goal listed in the He Waka Eke Noa document being to design a system that reduces agricultural emissions "in total and per unit of product".

The Climate Change Commission has also told the Government that any pricing mechanism must be able to reduce emissions to targets.

New Zealand's climate laws require biogenic methane to be slashed by at least 10 percent by 2030.

He Waka Eke Noa said reductions would instead come from on-farm efforts, or from efficiencies from investments in research and development paid for by revenue generated by the scheme.

Dairy NZ said it was confident these and other measures by the partnership, as well as efforts already in train elsewhere, would get the sector to the 10-percent reduction target.

1 percent reduction 'ridiculous'

Iwi Chairs Forum climate lead Mike Smith (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Kahu) said the 1 percent reduction was a "ridiculous outcome", with the whole point of He Waka Eke Noa being to reduce agricultural emissions.

He said it was effectively "corporate welfare" for the farming sector because taxpayer dollars would need to go towards paying other countries to make reductions on New Zealand's behalf rather than agriculture sector making cuts.

"That's an abomination. Not only does it not reduce the problem, but we get to subsidise those that are causing the problem.

"It's time for the agricultural sector to wake up and smell the kōwhai, we've got to be moving at speed and scale to reduce emissions, and failure to do so is an abomination."

Smith said He Waka Eke Noa had failed to come up with a credible plan, and the Government needed to pull the plug on the programme now and put the sector straight into the emissions trading scheme.

"They're not going to voluntarily comply with what's required. And they've just got to be dragged kicking and screaming to face the music."

Isn't going to achieve what it needs to - Lincoln scientist

Lincoln University's Agribusiness & Economics Research Unit associate professor, Anita Wreford, said delaying action only made it more painful and costly.

She said the low carbon price used in the modelling made any reduction "meaningless".

"This isn't going to achieve what it needs to achieve. That's for sure."

She said the carbon price would have to be substantially higher to reduce emissions, and she wanted to know what other reduction measures He Waka Eke Noa had in the works.

Meanwhile, the carbon price used in the "backstop" would also only lead to reductions of less than 1 percent.

And farmers will also initially only have to pay for 5 percent of the emissions they make, with 95 percent of the credits given away free each year - with that number reducing 1 percent annually.

Dairy NZ confident plan will lead to larger reductions

But Dairy NZ's Dr Bruce Thorrold said the He Waka Eke Noa plan will lead to much larger than 1 percent deductions.

Revenue generated from options would go into research, and measures would incentivise farmers' take up of new technology and would lead to changes to practices on farm.

The He Waka Eke Noa options would also let farmers claim credits for sequestering carbon in riparian planting, shelter belts, native planting and other forestry efforts.

He said a suite of other measures would make significant reductions, such as landuse-change for example into carbon forestry, while changes to water quality policy would also play a part.

"I am confident [in the way] which we have designed this, and the flexibility and agility that's in there."

More ambition needed - Green Party

Green Party Agriculture spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said it had wanted to see more in this first iteration of the He Waka Eke Noa discussion document.

"I think they need to give it a good rethink, they need to put a bit more into it, and to ramp up their ambition."

Nevertheless, he said it was important to see the process through, and wanted to hear what the Climate Change Commission would have to say about the final plan.

The commission is required to give the Government its recommendation on He Waka Eke Noa by June next year.

He Waka Eke Noa says it released the draft publicly "in the interests of transparency" and for targeted engagement with specific groups in the coming weeks, but it is not currently seeking public input.

It will host a nationwide roadshow in February to answer farmers' questions.

The Government must release a plan, based on the Commission and He Waka Eke Noa's advice, by the end of next year.

Proposals 'a starting point'

Acting Minister of Agriculture Meka Whaitiri said in a statement proposals were a starting point and would evolve as the science and technology progressed. A lot of the complex detail was still being worked through.

She said it was important farmers got a say.

She said by the end of the year almost 58 percent of of farms would know their annual total of greenhouse gas emissions, nearly twice the targetted milestone.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said it has invested tens of millions of dollars in the past 10 years on research to reduce agricultural climate gases.

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