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Forest & Bird says greenhouse gas targets require significant land use change

Thursday 25th July 2019

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The Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society told the parliamentary environment select committee significant changes to land use are essential to reach proposed emission reduction targets.

Forest & Bird argued the targets contained in the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill are “unambitious” and said the overall emissions neutrality target should cover all gases and the date should be brought forward to 2040 to drive earlier reductions.

Regardless, “if we imagine we are going to hit any of these targets without significant land-use change, we are kidding ourselves,” chief executive Kevin Hague said.

Hague said the committee needs to “clearly reject” an approach that dairy farming can largely continue as it has and underscored “we cannot afford to go easy on methane.”

New Zealand’s agriculture sector accounts for around half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. The bulk of agriculture emissions are methane generated by livestock.

The Zero Carbon Bill's plans for the agriculture sector will set a 10 percent reduction in biological methane emissions by 2030, and target reductions ranging from 24-47 percent by 2050 compared to 2017 levels.

The farming lobby argues the 2050 target is too steep and would lead to a drastic reduction in profitability and competitiveness. Earlier today, DairyNZ told the same select committee the target will set farmers up to fail. It is calling for an upper limit of 24 percent. 

Geoff Keey – strategic advisor and principal author of the Forest & Bird submission – told BusinessDesk that “land-use change” would involve the substantial restoration of natural forest on marginal farmland, some shift from dairy to horticulture, on-farm diversification including on-farm planting, and an increase in pine forestry in some areas.

“The precise mix of these changes are hard to predict as there are so many variables, including changing preferences in consumer markets, level and spread of carbon pricing, local and central government investment and resource management rule making,” he said.

New Zealand is already seeing a shift out of dairy farming and into other land uses, such as horticulture, as mounting compliance costs have coincided with a global squeeze on milk margins in recent years.

In its submission, Forest & Bird advocates for “farm optimisation” and points to the example of the Lincoln University Dairy Farm that reduced inputs and the size of its herd from 630 to 560 cows. The result was increased production and decreased nitrogen leaching as well as a proportionate drop in methane emissions.  

DairyNZ said, however, while existing efforts will help reduce emissions they won't be enough to reach its proposed 24 percent upper limit without major scientific development. 

Forest & Bird, meanwhile, also said a key weakness in the Zero Carbon Bill is its lack of enforceability.

“We believe this is a weakness in the bill. The bill as it stands would allow the targets and the plans set by the commission effectively to be lawfully ignored,” said Hague. “For this to be a meaningful process, these need to be binding.”


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