8 Jun 2022

Politicians cautious over He Waka Eke Noa farm emissions pricing plan

6:38 pm on 8 June 2022

After years of negotiation the plan to price agricultural emissions remains unclear, the Green Party says, but its co-leader says the government has a process to go through before it responds.

Climate Minister James Shaw Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Agriculture industry bodies and Māori - with input from the Ministries of Primary Industries and Environment - this morning released their long-awaited plan to get the sector's emissions priced.

The plan produced by the He Waka Eke Noa partnership, is an alternative vision of how farmers can contribute to emission reduction costs without being lumped into the government's Emissions Trading Scheme - an outcome that remains possible depending on the government's response.

It aimed to separate pricing for methane, carbon, and nitrous oxide emissions, and proposed including incentives for farmers to adopt new emission-reducing technologies and practices.

The result would cover larger farms accounting for about 96 percent of agricultural emissions, requiring them to report emissions numbers, plan for greenhouse gas management, and pay for methane and long-lived gas emissions.

Climate Minister James Shaw said the government would need to go through a process before officially responding to the plan.

"The government has a formal process to go through where we've received the report, we now have to get official advice on that, we have to consult the public on final proposals and so on. So we don't yet have a position and it's going to be a while before we do have a position on the particular merits of the proposals that were presented this morning," Shaw said.

However, the plan was vague on specific stock pricing for greenhouse gas emissions. It offers modelling for a range of pricing options, urges a heavy discount to levies with only a 1 percentage point increase in exposure each year, and a maximum price for methane of 11 cents per kilogram for the first three years.

Green Party agriculture spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said it left more questions than answers.

"The number one priority has to be reducing emissions to meet the targets and ensure a safe climate for future generations, but it's not clear if or how the sector's proposal will do that," he said.

"We know many farmers and growers want to do the right thing for the climate, but it's not clear that the sector's proposals will actually help them shift to low emissions and regenerative farming practices."

He said it made it look like the sector was given a hallway pass on emissions reduction, "and used it to wag class".

"The report itself admits that further work is needed on many of its key proposals. Time is fast running out for the climate. There are only eight more lambing and calving seasons before the 2030 methane target deadline."

Shaw, who is also co-leader of the Greens, said that reflected criticisms that had been out in the public, but those details still needed to be worked through.

"What are those cost implications, what are the price points that are going to make a difference, what's the level of levy that's going to be needed in order to cover the costs of the programme itself and to provide incentives to farmers. All of that work is going to have to be done over the course of the coming months."

He said he was comfortable with his dual role.

"As Green Party co-leader, I have said a number of times that the most important thing is that the proposals are effective in reducing emissions. That is also my job as climate change minister to ensure the government decisions reflect that - in fact I'm legally required under the Zero Carbon act to meet the emissions budgets.

"So the advice that I have to give my colleagues as a minister will reflect sort of an effectiveness first approach.

"It's really up to the sector to defend the proposals. The job that we've got to do as a government now is to analyse the proposals, form a view on them, and then consult the public more widely before we make final decisions."

ACT leader David Seymour was critical of the plan, saying it failed to get the science right.

"I think that the whole framework was wrongly focused. 'He Waka Eke Noa' means 'we're all in this together', what it should have been called is 'find the most efficient way for our farmers to be climate friendly' or something to that effect. That was what it was really about.

"It hasn't identified the really important questions which was about technology, CO2 versus methane, on-farm sequestration. Without sound answers to that, then actually we haven't made any progress at all.

"I think it's more amenable for having had farmer input but it's not going to solve the problem if you don't have the answer to those three fundamental scientific questions."

National's leader Christopher Luxon said the sector had been villainised under the current government, but having engagement with them on the plan was appropriate.

"Haven't had a chance to read the full report but clearly we're very supportive of the industry solution, we think that's the right approach, and obviously there's a lot of water to go under the bridge with respect to further ... submissions and engagement with the industry."

Many National MPs have in the past attended protests by the Groundswell group, which opposes He Waka Eke Noa or any kind of emissions pricing for farming.

Luxon was asked whether his support of the industry-led approach would preclude the party from further Groundswell interactions.

"I try and meet as many protesters as I can and I try and hear them out - and the reality is the rural sector in New Zealand has been villainised under this government.

"We sort of had a glass half negative, half full really, and half charged, and that's just not great. I mean, farmers are not villains, they're actually people who are out there generating 80 percent of our export earnings, $9000 for every Kiwi in the country, we need to back them as world leaders and go out and help them."

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor was unwell with Covid-19. In a joint statement with Shaw this morning he said the government would take time to carefully consider the report.

"We are all committed to pricing agricultural emissions to ensure their reduction from 2025, and reiterate that commitment today," he said.

The government has until the end of the year to decide whether to adopt the plan, and it will get advice from the Climate Change Commission.

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