It has been claimed the Government’s policies contradict a clause in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change not to threaten food production but Shaw says that is not the case.
“The intention of that clause is to ensure that globally people are fed.
“That’s not necessarily the same proposition as saying that today’s form of production needs to be locked in for all time,” he said.
The relevant clause in the Paris Agreement’s global commitment encourages adaption of low-emission food production and protection from threats such as droughts, storms and land salinisation.
That does not necessarily mean reducing stock numbers to meet lower emission targets but might require a switch in focus from production to profitability.
The way NZ farms are managed has changed dramatically and will change again in the future,” Shaw said.
“I think farmers will be as valuable and different 30 years from now as today’s farmers are compared to 30 years ago.”
NZ has a role preserving global food security and the world is looking to it to develop low greenhouse gas-emitting food-producing farm systems.
“There is an expectation that if anybody can solve this, it is probably us,” he said.
A report by the industry-based Biological Reference Group has a high degree of confidence farmers can reduce methane emissions by 10% using existing technology and best practice without significantly affecting production.
The group believes there is a medium to high probability farmers can cut methane emissions by 24% to 47% by 2050.
“Which is one of the reasons I felt confident of putting that provisional range in,” Shaw said.
That 2050 targets will be reviewed by the incoming Climate Change Commission.
Shaw also cites research that finds changing business models, innovation and technology can in many cases reduce emissions 15% or more while increasing profitability.
Acknowledging that is not universally possible, Shaw said the main driver is to lower input costs and focus on improving productivity to boost profitability.
He believes solutions to farm emissions will come from several sources including technology and management and business model changes.
“The combination of all of those things gives me a great deal of confidence, frankly, that a 10% (reduction) by 2030 is going to be easy. The problem is getting started. That is always the hard thing.”
Asked what has become of the industry initiative known as the Primary Sector Commitment on Climate Change, Shaw said the parties are still in discussion.
He is heartened by the fact that for the first time ever there is agreement from the agricultural sector for farm level pricing for emissions but concedes the contentious point is how to get started.
Genetically modified products such as AgResearch’s High Metabolisable Energy ryegrass, which in trials has been shown to reduce methane emissions, have been touted as a solution to reduce farm emissions but Shaw says there are alternatives.
Dutch company DSM is close to commercialising a non-genetically modified product that is achieving methane reductions greater than 30%.
Its 3-NOP feed additive has been designed for indoor dairy operations but is being adapted for NZ’s pasture systems.
“This is at the research stage but not far away from commercialisation,” he said.