By Neal Wallace and Richard Rennie
He Waka Eke Noa is back on course – but subject to key changes on gas measurement and sequestration.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford both confirmed the agreement was alive after HWEN partners and six ministers, included Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, met at Fieldays on Thursday.
The proposed changes to the split gas initiative could deliver some significant upsides for farmers.
Shaw told Farmers Weekly at Mystery Creek Fieldays that the gas pricing initiative had stalled due to Cyclone Gabrielle’s impact, and what amounted to a change in government with the appointment of a new prime minister.
The high-powered Mystery Creek meeting between ministers and industry heads appears to have at least righted what had become a drifting waka.
“We have been needing to get everyone in the same room for some time. By working with industry good groups, we have tried to bring farmers along and clearly that has not worked. We need to work hard to get it together and deliver on the intent of the plan,” Shaw said.
His meeting had included industry good heads from Feds, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.
Shaw said everyone in the room confirmed they were 100% committed to the partnership continuing and working through unresolved issues.
“But let’s also not let that stop us from working on what we do already agree upon.”
Two key sticking points that he confirmed need resolution are how farmers measure their greenhouse gas emissions, and what vegetation can be sequestered on farm to offset emissions.
“Know your numbers” has been the campaign on gas measurement within the farmgate but has been dogged by having 10 different means of measurement, often delivering 10 different figures.
Shaw likened it to trying to complete an accounting exercise under almost a dozen different accounting protocols.
He was confident many of the irregularities could be ironed out in a matter of months, expecting to see some early progress by Christmas.
“Seventy-five to 80% of farmers already know their numbers, you do not want to throw that out. If we can make the existing systems meet a standard would be good.”
Sequestration of carbon on farm has also been a bone of contention, particularly for drystock farmers with limited options for emissions reduction.
Shaw acknowledged the uncertainty around what was counted and what was not for carbon absorption.
“We want to make sure all valid, scientifically proven types of sequestration are recognised.”
The issue has been a gap between what NZ recognises within its greenhouse gas inventory, versus NZ’s targeted gas volumes that are used for accounting in the likes of the Paris Accord.
“Most countries we compare ourselves to have no gap between the two. There is stuff the atmosphere ‘sees’ which we do not count currently under the likes of Paris commitments, which could be counted in future.”
He confirmed this looked very positive for farmers with additional vegetation, and if it could be scientifically validated as sequestrating vegetation, it could be included in future.
Shaw also confirmed his commitment to having farmers’ efforts on pest and predator control acknowledged as a positive contribution to carbon sequestration on farm.
“I am personally 100% committed to seeing that incentive. You can imagine a world where you get carbon credit for clearing pests and predators out of bush, and adding 10% to the biomass of forest, that should be recognised.”
Langford said after six months of inaction, HWEN is “back on” but he added that the parties “are working on a different conversation”.
He said all parties have agreed to commit to the partnership and to deliver NZ’s commitments to climate change.
The agreement is for a farm-level split gas approach, with measurement and reporting to be by a standardised measuring and recording system, which will be available by 2025.
Langford said the partners have also committed to ongoing investment in research and development, education extension and technology uptake.
The parties will seek to resolve issues around emission pricing which includes “equity, timing and price levels”, and to also validate recognition of carbon sequestration scientifically.