Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New view on gas emissions welcome

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Foresters, environmentalists and climate change experts are welcoming the Government’s policy moves to manage the country’s runaway gas emissions.
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Policy announced included the decision to form an independent Climate Commission, introduce a Zero Carbon Act, start to ease agriculture into emissions trading and encourage the planting of a billion more trees to sequester carbon.

The appointment of Greens leader James Shaw signalled a pivot towards more active measures to cut emissions.

It contrasted with National’s focus buying international carbon credits to deal with the country’s Paris Accord commitments.

The Green Party manifesto had maintained agriculture would be required to contribute to reductions, with a five-year lead-in to allow a transition.

The Climate Commission would determine if agriculture, which contributed nearly half of the country’s gas emissions, should be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

If it decided agriculture should be captured it was likely the sector would be required to contribute only 5% of the carbon costs initially, as it transitioned to higher levels.

The money would be spent on research and development to improve the sector’s gas footprint.

Climate change expert Dr Suzi Kerr of the Motu Policy Institute welcomed any first steps to include agriculture.

Her early thoughts were that a 5% emission inclusion would send a clear signal to farmers they needed to change behaviour and land use.

“It would also test the administrative systems of both Government and processors before the stringency of the policy is increased.

“I believe this could help farmers in the long term by getting more of them thinking about how they can respond now rather than continuing to hope they can avoid it or not even being aware of the challenge.”

It was also a sound idea to spend at least an equivalent amount of money to that raised from processors facing obligations in the agri sector.

“It would be good if this could be largely focused on innovations in horticulture or other low-emission land uses that will set us up better for the long term, rather than more work focused on ruminant agriculture which ultimately has limited mitigation options.”

Earlier this year Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre director Dr Harry Clark said other than achieving more efficient production, gas mitigation in the pastoral sector remained years away.

He and his deputy Dr Andy Reisinger said it was only a matter of time before the world’s attention turned to agriculture and a need to reduce its emissions.

Kerr said tying spending programmes explicitly to funding raised through the auction of units to processors would make planning for those programmes difficult.

“Revenue will be uncertain as both demand for units by processors and the price of those units varies.

“This is a lesson from the Californian ETS. There is also no reason to limit the funding of programmes that will allow a transition to low emissions agriculture to the amount raised by selling units. If it’s a good idea, it should be done anyway.”

Ecological consultant and vet Dr Alison Dewes said it was not before time NZ established a Climate Change Commission.

“It is essential this process involves but is not dominated by industry advocacy but rather a diverse team of insightful thought leaders.”

A joint Statistics NZ and Ministry for the Environment report released earlier this month highlighted how badly NZ was doing in terms of gas emissions.

Amid a 20cm rise in sea levels and a 1C increase in temperature over the past 100 years NZ had ramped up gas emissions 24% from 1990 to 2015 and was now among the top seven worst per capita gas emitters in the world.

Dewes’ research work had shown NZ dairy farms could reduce their emissions by 10-15% across through lower stocking rates and constrained nitrogen levels with no profit impact.

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