Despite pouring $2.9 billion of taxpayer funds into the battle against climate change, the Ardern government won few plaudits from climate change lobbies – and copped a severe caning from Greenpeace for refusing to cut dairy herds.
As Radio NZ reported,
“Climate activists say the government’s landmark plan to curb emissions is light on detail, full of fluff, and lets the worst polluters off the hook”.
Government ministers were nevertheless ebullient about their package, believing they had delivered a master stroke in earmarking $569 million to help low-income families get cleaner cars while winning over farmers with a new agricultural emissions centre.
“The Emissions Reduction Plan gifts $710 million to the agricultural industry – a quarter of the entire Climate Emergency Response Fund which it has not contributed towards”.
In all the discussion, the assumption is that NZ is doing its full share – or perhaps even more – in the battle against global warming, even though the country’s emissions are less than O.5% of the global total.
At the launch, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the collection of policies will cut greenhouse emissions “all while creating new jobs, improving our communities, and making life better for people”.
The government previously announced the scale of the emissions cuts it wants to achieve: all greenhouse gases will fall 7% by 2025; 22% by 2030 and 38% by 2035 (compared to 2019).
Some ideas from its independent expert body, the Climate Change Commission, weren’t heeded – notably, the call to stop connecting new houses to the fossil gas network.
This proposal was strongly opposed by the gas sector. But critics say the Government’s backdown will leave new homes reliant on fossil fuels.
Instead, the Government said it will develop a “gas transition plan” before the end of 2023. This would explore opportunities for renewable gases.
The strongest attack on the government’s measures not unexpectedly came from Greenpeace, whose spokesperson, Christine Rose, said despite the climate emergency,
“… industrial dairy has yet again been given a free pass that now comes with a huge subsidy from the rest of New Zealand.
“The Government’s projections show the ERP will reduce agricultural emissions by as little as 0.33 Mt CO2e over the 2022-2025 period which is less than 1% of the industry’s projected emissions. The ERP’s approach to agriculture relies heavily on industry self-regulation – through He Waka Eke Noa – which is also expected to reduce emissions by only 1%.
“Instead of just cutting cow numbers, the Government is relying on industry promises, hypothetical, and unproven techno-fixes to agricultural emissions, and the freshwater reforms that the dairy industry is undermining at every step,” says Rose.
“To truly deal with the climate crisis the Government needs a far better plan than they have produced. A plan that cuts cow numbers, phases out synthetic fertiliser and drives the transition to more plant-based regenerative organic farming,” says Rose.
Of course the fact the dairy industry is the mainstay of NZ’s export economy, pumping nearly $23bn a year on to the country’s balance sheet of foreign exchange, is a mere bagatelle for Greenpeace.
As Point of Order sees it, the moderate elements within the government led by Damien O’Connor have clearly prevailed.
This is a plus for NZ, which – while doing its share in the battle to control global warming – should not necessarily be in the vanguard ahead of the giant emitters like China.
Asked whether the government had let agriculture off the hook, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said farmers, like all sectors, would do their “fair share”.
“We have to get alongside the sector to make sure we get meaningful emissions reduction – so, no, they are very much part of this. Every sector has to pull their weight.”
O’Connor added the government was working closely with the industry to drive innovation and shift behaviours.
“We will ramp up the reductions from agriculture in the second and third budgets.”
But while Federated Farmers was pleased the government had recognised solutions to agricultural emissions lay in new technologies and tools, and is stepping up investment on that front, feds president Andrew Hoggard raised a good question:
“It will be important to understand how the proposed new Centre for Climate Action on Agricultural Emissions fits with existing bodies such as the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, the Pastoral GHG Research Consortium (PGGRC) and the international bodies New Zealand partners with, such as the Global Research Alliance.”
“New Zealand farmers have been funding millions of dollars into greenhouse gas mitigation tools since 2003 via the PGGRC.”
The feds again made a point they have made many times previously – serious investigation and society-wide discussion is needed on the role genetic technologies, particular gene editing – can play in dealing with environmental challenges
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton