OPINION: Soil carbon is not included in either New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) or the proposed He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) programme.
The often-paraphrased Article 2.1.b suggests that countries should do everything they can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) without compromising food production. In a world with an increasing population, this makes sense. But it isn’t an ‘out’ for New Zealand.
Even though we produce low GHG per kilogram of milksolids and meat on average, there is a range in efficiency. By identifying factors causing the range, we can do better. This was what the Paris Accord was about.
The introductory statements in the Paris Accord recognise ‘that sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, with developed country Parties taking the lead, play an important role in addressing climate change’. New Zealand is a developed country with significant expertise in animal and pasture management and the research that supports that management.
The New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) leads the Global Research Alliance focussed on ruminant methane. The goal of the NZAGRC is to help farmers move to a lower emissions future by developing cost-effective options for reducing on-farm GHG emissions.
Note the terms ‘lower emissions’ and ‘cost effective’. There are no statements from NZAGRC about reducing animal numbers. Nor did the Climate Change Commission report state that reduced animal numbers would be required – although it did indicate that a reduction would be the outcome in the trends of land use change (through afforestation, urban sprawl, and increased areas under kiwifruit and avocados, for instance).
NZAGRC-funded research considers the practical implications, including potential impact on animal production impacts. Reducing food production is not the global goal. It isn’t New Zealand’s goal, either.
Our leadership position and contribution to the global efforts can be through ongoing improvements to an already good performance.
Within any sector, some farmers are able to produce milksolids or meat for fewer GHG than others. The preliminary data from Fonterra’s research on GHG per kg of milk solids spanned from 6.5 to above 14, with a peak at approximately 9. The difference appears to be herd breeding worth and quality of feed (often including inputs other than grass to improve quality), as well as general herd management.
Work by AgResearch on life cycle analysis of meat, which included transport to Europe, showed a range of 7.3kg GHG per kg of liveweight to 14.1. The lower figures were associated with dairy beef and the higher figure with hill country production. Identifying why there are differences is enabling change.
The Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership (also called He Waka Eke Noa or HWEN) has been focussed on how to enable farmers and growers to move towards a lower emissions future, maintain financial viability and be seen to be playing their part for New Zealand.
An increasing number of trade deals require New Zealand to be showing progress towards commitments. Large customers such as Nestle and McDonalds have already declared their zero carbon goals and expect their suppliers to assist. Meanwhile, New Zealand society expects us to be doing our bit – the ‘social licence to operate’ is important.
The HWEN Partnership has the complexities of societal expectation, science, economics and financial viability, as well as the Paris Accord, in its conversations with the Climate Change Commission.
Nobody thinks reducing food production is a good idea globally, but even in New Zealand we can do better. All farmers can know their GHG number and talk to rural professionals about management changes and technological advances that might be appropriate.