Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Low carbon opportunities beckon

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Leading environmental science professor Troy Baisden says large international firms setting net zero or negative carbon goals signifies a shift that New Zealand farmers can’t ignore – and could benefit from.
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Efforts to reduce nitrate levels may also play well into these opportunities, effectively dealing with two of agriculture’s major issues in a single action.

The University of Waikato professor points to the Financial Sector (Climate-related Disclosures and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, currently at select committee stage. It is the domestic instrument for the Paris Accord’s intention that climate change risk be recognised as a financial risk.

If passed by Parliament it will require about 200 large financial companies, including banks, insurance companies and investment organisations, to start making climate-related disclosures for their financial years, starting next year.

“The rules of this will propagate down to all significant activities in NZ and likely include farming and businesses where there are risks of storms, sea level rises and risks associated with businesses with greenhouse gas emissions,” Baisden said.

NZ is the first country in the world to require climate risk be written into disclosures and international interest in the move is high.

More companies are already rewriting their bottom lines to include zero or negative carbon goals, in some cases to be achieved as early as 2030, while investors also start to exit carbon heavy activities like oil production.

“So, investors are looking for somewhere they can put that money where positive carbon outcomes can be shown, while these firms are also starting to line up suppliers who can meet carbon certification requirements,” he said.

One of the highest profile companies is Microsoft, which relies upon electricity to power cloud servers, and has declared a carbon negative goal will be achieved by 2030. 

It is also launching an initiative to use Microsoft tech to help suppliers and customers reduce their carbon footprints, including a US$1 billion innovation fund to develop low carbon tech.

“And we are seeing a lot of drivers for more forests and soil carbon; there is an opportunity for farmers to capture more at the front end of what they are doing,” he said.

Baisden’s views were echoed by high country farmer Geoff Ross of Lake Hawea Station. He told delegates at this year’s red meat conference there are real marketing opportunities in play now for farmers achieving zero or negative carbon status.

He has contracts to supply his station’s certified zero-carbon Merino wool to Icebreaker and Allbirds. Both companies are at or near carbon neutral and are setting the standard for other clothing and footwear makers.

In the meantime, digital company Toha is providing investors with measurable outcomes for activities claiming to deliver positive environmental outcomes, providing feedback to prospective investors to give them confidence to engage with the activities.

Farming is first up for the company, through its “Calm the Farm” service providing intending regenerative farmers with access to advisors and investors. Founders include data analytics expert Professor Shaun Hendy.

Meanwhile, the ability to deal with lower carbon emissions and nitrate levels in waterways could also be addressed, with more attention to livestock’s nitrous oxide emissions.

Eclipsed by more prodigious methane, nitrous oxide’s emissions claim about 10% of NZ’s total emissions, coming largely from livestock.

The difficult to measure gas is emitted as a byproduct of nitrification when stock urinate surplus nitrogen intake out.

“It is a bit of a forgotten gas, but if we are not losing it in the air as nitrous oxide, we are losing it through the water as nitrate,” he said.

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