A new government next week is an exciting proposition for all but Labour voters because it will mean change.
The Green and Maori Party supporters will be hoping for a Labour led government that they will have far more influence on and will consequently have a lot more of a focus on climate policies, wealth redistribution, and more special rights for Maori people.
National, ACT and NZ First supporters will be hoping for a change that will bring an end to this Government.
Whatever happens, there will be change. What that means for farmers and in particular livestock emissions policy we can’t know because each party has different policies.
If we end up with a Labour led government with a heavy Green influence I shudder to think what will happen but credit where credit is due. It was the Labour led government which in 2017 recognized the need for a split gas approach to emissions policy. They were the first government to understand the science of methane emissions. I have a filing cabinet full of letters from National Government Climate ministers during the 9 years of the John Key/ Bill English Government, all denying that cyclical methane emissions were being falsely represented in the CO2 equivalent system. Nick Smith, Tim Grosser, Simon Bridges, Paula Bennet all denied the science of methane.
National is not a party of change and it also has less credibility in climate matters, so it was never going to be able to introduce such a radical change as introducing a split gas approach. The split gas approach was a big step towards getting a more sensible livestock emissions policy that recognized that stable methane emissions do not cause additional warming, but it has not solved the problem. It has just meant the left have had to change their argument. Their argument now is that stopping additional warming might be ok for CO2 emissions but not for methane emissions. They have invented a new type of warming called marginal warming and they have managed to maintain the narrative that methane emissions need to reduce.
Assuming the new government will be a National led one is a far more palatable thought, but we must not rest our hopes on that alone. National’s refusal to listen to the science about methane for the 9 years it was in government and its natural conservatism and lack of credibility on climate policy will mean that it is not likely to be a driving force in getting substantive change in the way our government recognizes methane emissions. On many issues ACT and perhaps NZ First will initiate policies that bring about change but on the issue of methane emissions both disappoint.
Both ACT and NZ First are saying no to any pricing of methane emissions until our trading partners are charging their farmers. National has delayed pricing until 2030 and put some sensible caveats on it. This is an improvement on that disastrous HWEN that our farming leaders nearly inflicted on us when they buddied up to the last Government but all the polices demonstrate the lack of the depth of understanding these political parties have.
Livestock emissions policy should be more than just not pricing them or delaying pricing them. Why price them at all?
The lack of depth of policy indicates that these political parties are not equipped to, and nor do they want to, develop a comprehensive plan on what to do with livestock emissions. It’s far too big and far too complicated and not a high priority for scarce party resources. They are also likely when in government to be a two or three headed beast each with a different constituency, so it won’t be easy to form a policy. The farming industry is far better placed to do this and should be leading the charge. The industry should set its own course. Let’s not leave it to the politicians who have so far made a mess of climate policies.
New Zealand’s main climate policy is the ETS and what a disaster that is. It was designed to incentivize the conversion of rich food producing, export earning farmland in to a monocultural wasteland of exotic pine trees. It was designed to transfer the right to emit carbon from the poor to the rich, take food out of the mouths of hungry children to feed forestry corporations. It is doing all those things very well sadly.
Now finally the politicians are waking up to the fact that the ETS is a problem. They understand finally that you can’t use pricing to reduce emissions substantively because of the hardship it brings and the cruelty of that, yet they doggedly stick to their belief that pricing livestock emissions will be different.
On methane the IPCC has finally declared that the way methane is accounted for in the CO2 equivalent system is wrong. So big change is needed, and it is the farmers who should be leading it. Our politicians have had their go and they have messed it up.
After the election the coalition government is going to have to work out a policy to deal with livestock emissions and this will be the chance for farmers to lead the way by setting an industry policy that the Government can just adopt.
The airline industry is an example where it has been left alone and has set itself targets. It continues to pump out CO2 but is not vilified in much of a way because it gives the impression it is doing something. Farmers are even better placed than the airlines are to do this. Take this out of the hands of the politicians and take the lead.
An industry goal of net zero methane emissions and a reduction in nitrous oxide emissions that is achievable along with a reduction target of CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050 is the sort of goal the industry needs to set. Having set targets the steps the industry can take need to be worked out and resources it needs to do this funded. Science of course should always be to the fore.
The IPCC statement on the inaccurate way methane emissions are quantified in the CO2 equivalent system also means that our Government has every right to revisit all emission reduction pledges and targets especially with such a large portion of NZ’s emissions profile created by this methane mistake. This is something a farming industry emission reduction plan should require so that it is not unfairly penalized by having to do more than the science requires.
Contacting the coalition partners of the next government and seeking their support for setting up a farming sector led emission reduction plan should be the first job for any farming leader on Monday morning and that is what we will be doing.