A sensible outcome?

How will the ETS treat agricultural gases?

NOW THAT any notion of a capital gains tax has been struck down the agriculture sector nervously awaits the Government’s plans for tackling climate change and the resulting impact.

As this issue of Rural News goes to print, there are reports that it is close to announcing a deal on its climate change legislation and how it will deal with agricultural emissions.

Last week, Climate Change Minister James Shaw received a report on agriculture from the Interim Climate Change Committee (ICCC). It is understood that this report – and another on transitioning to 100% renewable electricity – will be held back until the Government decides on its response. 

However, according tothe Stuff media outlet, the Government has decided on a ‘split gas’ target which would see methane treated differently from other long-lived gases like carbon.

If so it’s a good thing.

The farming sector has been rightly concerned about any proposed climate change legislation because agriculture accounts for about 50% of NZ greenhouse gas emissions – mostly methane from livestock. The country’s methane emissions will need to drop significantly for global warming to be limited to 1.5 deg C, which would have major repercussions for NZ’s farming sector.

The agricultural sector believes it, and our economy as a whole, would be unfairly disadvantaged, as NZ’s methane emissions are six times the global average and there is no clear way to reduce our levels other than by culling livestock numbers.

Earlier this year, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton argued that the biological greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide do not need to go to zero and that farming should be allowed to offset emissions using forests as sinks. Upton’s report departed from widespread calls to drag agriculture into an expanded ‘all gases, all sectors’ version of the current Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Critics claim this lets the farming sector ‘off the hook’ and they demand that the Government reduces all gases to zero in its proposed Zero Carbon Bill.

But industry bodies Dairy NZ and Beef + Lamb NZ welcomed Upton’s more nuanced approach. They have been calling for just such a change in policy makers’ views on methane and other carbon emissions. The agriculture sector argues there is growing authoritative evidence that methane – a biological emission from animals – differs from carbon dioxide in its impact on global warming.

Let’s hope the Government has listened.