June 21, 2022

Reluctance to act faster on farm sector emissions is ‘pretty terrifying’ – former Green MP

Climate campaigners say the government’s historic plan to cut emissions is light on details, full of fluff and lets the worst polluters off the hook.

Environmentalists say they are concerned about the plan’s lack of focus on the agricultural sector – the country’s biggest emitter.
Photo: RNZ / Round Sally

Ministers announced the $2.9 billion investment to much fanfare on Monday, calling it the most significant event in the country’s climate action history.

The plan includes half a billion dollars to help low-income families trade their gas guzzlers for cleaner alternatives and $1 billion to incentivize businesses to decarbonize.

But environmentalists say they are more concerned about what is missing from the strategy, namely a focus on the agricultural sector – the country’s biggest emitter.

Former Green MP Catherine Delahunty said the government was too afraid of losing next year’s election to bring about real change.

‘We have a Green Minister in a Labor dominated government and all they are proposing is to keep farmers happy, to move as slowly as farmers want,’ Delahunty said.

“It’s actually quite terrifying that we’re going to move so slowly.”

She said the plan should include a herd reduction target and help farmers achieve it.

“We are not going to protect the planet, the climate and our low-income communities without fundamental economic change – and [Labour] don’t have the guts to do that.”

Nearly $340 million has also been set aside for a new agro-technology center to study new tools to reduce emissions on farms. Farmers, however, are exempt from the emissions trading system until 2025 and have therefore not contributed a penny to the research fund.

Sustainability Council executive director Simon Terry said as a result big polluters were not paying their fair share.

“Pastoral farms and large industrialists are going to be heavily subsidized to bring about change using the money that has been collected primarily from households and small businesses under the ETS.”

Terry said the strategy lacked the necessary momentum, but the government should still be commended for getting the ball rolling.

“The plan truly connects the pieces that need to change, although much of how to get there has yet to come off the political drawing board.”

Freshwater ecologist Mike Joy, from Victoria University of Wellington, told RNZ the strategy was mostly “shot” with very little substance.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we need real change, we need sudden hard change, not tinkering and postponing things until 2035 and again leaving agriculture, our biggest emitter, basically continue.”

Joy said ministers appeared to be “captured” by big business and unwilling to make the tough decisions required.

“It seems government is run by agriculture…they forget about the five million other stakeholders to have a future, rivers you can swim in and a livable climate.”

In a statement, Federated Farmers chairman Andrew Hoggard said he was pleased the government was stepping up investment in new technology.

“Nitrate and methane inhibitors, gene editing, animals bred for their low methane ‘rotation’ – these are the kinds of advances that will keep New Zealand’s agricultural sector running for the future. national economy while keeping our meat and dairy products at the forefront of the world’s carbon footprint.”

Hoggard said those who argue the answer lies in cutting fertilizers need to look at recent events in Sri Lanka.

“This is the short-sighted course the national government has taken and now they are in a food and economic crisis which they are desperate to reverse and get back to where they were.”

Asked if the government had let agriculture off the hook, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said farmers, like all sectors, would do their “fair share”.

“We need to partner with the sector to make sure we get a meaningful reduction in emissions – so, no, they’re really part of it. Each sector has to do its part.”

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the government was working closely with industry to drive innovation and change behaviour.

“We will accelerate cuts to agriculture in the second and third budgets.”