Sunday, April 21, 2024

Arable must plan to meet GHG targets

Avatar photo
The Government has committed to reaching net zero emissions of long-lived gases by 2050. It has also committed to reducing biogenic methane emissions by between 24-47% by the same year.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

But New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) director Dr Harry Clark says current policies do not put NZ on track.

He says it is already too late to meet these targets.

Speaking at the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) conference at Lincoln, Clark focused on what domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets mean for the arable sector.

NZ’s emissions profile is unique, agriculture is big, the only other country anything like NZ is Ireland, with 28% of agricultural emissions,” Clark said.

He says NZ at 48% is unusual for a developed country, other countries have an easier pathway than NZ, at least initially.

“The stepping stones to targets are a challenge for the whole of society, not just a sector,” he said.

“That will mean change across the whole of society if we are going to meet targets.”

Reducing long-lived gases by 63%, or 50.6 tonnes, by 2035 does not reflect the stern task ahead.

“We cannot keep kicking the can down the road and keep planting trees, it’s not enough,” he said.

Clark says predicting how agricultural emissions will change for the arable sector is difficult because of other environmental policies putting a break on agricultural activities.

“Emission per unit of product is reducing but food production is increasing,” he said.

“We are feeding more people with less emissions, that’s a very positive news story – we are very efficient and getting more efficient, but we still need to drive emissions down.”

Up to 2030 it is very much about existing policies, business as usual.

Beyond 2030, efficiency improvements continue but it is not business as usual.

New technologies are needed and pricing will continue to play an important role.

“You can’t imagine what you don’t know – finding out your GHG on-farm is the critical first step because you will need a plan to manage them down because that is required,” he said.

“Come 2025, you will be paying a price.”

Mitigation options include lower-emitting land-use such as cropping.

“Plant-based products have lesser emission per unit of food than livestock, so what can we do?” he asked.

“New technologies are being developed but a lot of these are in the future, still under development, so I have no nice silver bullet for you.”

He says people will vote with their wallet despite the kind of emissions, so for the arable sector there are some big opportunities.

What should cropping farmers be doing now? 

•Know their annual on-farm methane and nitrous oxide emissions and benchmark.

•Understand the basic driver of these emissions as a precursor to understanding and developing farm strategies to reduce on-farm GHG emissions; look at land-use options and the implications for business profitability.

•Know what is happening in the wider sector around meeting GHG emissions and understand what is needed to meet freshwater regulations and how this will impact on GHG emissions.

“Forestry is complicated if you are considering that, only about three people in NZ understand the accounting,” he said.

“You really do need to understand the rules and know what you are doing about GHG in everyday work on the farm and you have to address that in an integrated manner.

“At policy level there is still a lot to integrate – GHG, water, biodiversity.

“It’s a convoluted process and difficult for the farmer; so far it’s not integrated well at policy level.

“It’s hard to get a soundbite for industry going forward with the amount of unknowns – we know the problem, we don’t actually have a plan.

“We don’t have the technology, we don’t have the political will in NZ climate policy.

“A target backed by policy is at least a start. We can see a lot of hot air but hopefully we develop a plan that will move forward on a level of optimism.

“But I think by 2030 we are already too late.”

People are also reading