Sequestration rules will change

Government foreshadows new ETS sequestration categories but then creates yet another communication muddle

The Government’s on-farm sequestration policy appeared to have taken a big step forward with a media release from the Government on 30 November, apparently timed to coincide with the National Field Days at Mystery Creek. However, precisely where the step has landed is not clear.

The media statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office included statements from Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

A key reason why things are less than clear is that once again the Government’s communications messed up in a big way. Remarkably, there were two different versions of the media release. One of these was released to media by Andrew Campbell in his role as Chief Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. This was the version I was working with when I first drafted this article. The other version is what can currently be found here at the Government’s official Beehive website (beehive.govt.nz)

At the top of both versions of the media release are three dot points, which supposedly encapsulate the key points, and which inevitably provide the criteria that outcomes will be judged against. The problem is that two of the dot points differ significantly between the different versions.

It is as if the Government has tried to spin the new policy in two different directions. Or is this just the spin-doctor officials in the Government’s communication system that have stuffed up in a big way?  Oh, how I wish for a Government-communication system that could stick to concise presentation of facts and policy, and stop trying to impose spin!

What a shambles! Continue reading

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Posted in forestry, greenhouse gases, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Moving forward with methane levies

Split-gas breaks the link to charging methane emissions based on contentious carbon dioxide equivalence. It opens the door to a levy based on research, development, extension and education (RDE&E) needs rather than simply a tax

In my last article I asked whether, in seeking a way out of the current policy mess relating to agricultural greenhouse gases, we might agree on two overarching principles.  

The first principle is that pastoral agriculture must remain vibrant and prosperous. This is essential, not because farmers have any right to a protected future, but because New Zealand’s export-led economy is highly dependent on pastoral exports.

Pastoral exports comprise approximately 50% of merchandise exports, with primary industries in total comprising approximately 80% of merchandise exports. It is in the interest of all New Zealanders that pastoral agriculture thrives.

The second principle is that we have international commitments to do whatever we can to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions consistent with maintaining that vibrant pastoral industry.  Underlying that commitment is the evidential science that methane and nitrous oxide are indeed greenhouse gases, and that each additional molecule does lead to a warmer world than if those molecules were not emitted.

I then laid out that if those principles are accepted, then the journey starts with defining the industry needs for research, development, extension and education (RDE&E) that are consistent with those principles, and then setting a farm-based levy in relation to that agreed programme. The key idea here is that in sorting out the mess, defining a focused RDE&E programme comes first.

This contrasts greatly with both HWEN and the Government proposals, where the focus is on a tax that hobbles profitability without a clear focus driven by a problem-solution strategy. 

Among many emails of strong support that I received, particularly notable were unsolicited communications from several Members of Parliament. These people hold leadership roles in both the Government itself and across the parliamentary pit in the Opposition.  Continue reading

Posted in Dairy, greenhouse gases, Meat Industry, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Agricultural GHG bullets are firing randomly

At times I despair at the GHG debate in New Zealand. There are multiple teams firing firecrackers masquerading as missiles into the debate, thereby creating noise but little substance.

Here my focus is on the agricultural gases, methane and nitrous oxide, for which the Government has recently released a discussion paper outlining its preferred pathway for taxing agricultural emissions. The discussion paper also asks questions and seeks responses as to the specifics of the plan.

This latest Government paper has created outrage within the rural industries. The Government must surely score a zero for the way in which its messaging has been managed. Quite simply, the Government stuffed up mightily in relation to the messaging that it put around the proposals, and has been shocked by the consequent reaction.

The key message received by the sheep and beef industry is that they will carry the main burden with 20 percent loss of production, perhaps by 2030, and with profitability damaged greatly for those who survive.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has said that the 20 percent figure is based on just one set of assumptions and he does not think the industry interpretations of the report are correct. This illustrates the extent of the communication foul-up. Continue reading

Posted in greenhouse gases, sheep and beef farms, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Key methane technologies misfire

 

Methane technology breakthroughs cannot stop cannot ruminants from doing what comes naturally

Reducing methane production from pastoral agriculture lies at the heart of efforts to make pastoral agriculture more climate friendly. If only sheep and cattle could be made to stop producing methane!

Here I look at the challenges of making this happen. Unfortunately, those challenges are not easily solved. It is a lot harder than the uninitiated might think.

This is not just an issue for farmers. It is also an issue for all New Zealanders, given that almost half our exports come from pastoral agriculture – currently more than $32 billion per annum.  According to MPI, approximately 82 percent of all exports come from primary industries once timber, fish, horticulture and wine are included.

Without primary industries in general, but particularly pastoral agriculture, we are in very big trouble as to how to pay for all the imports of goods that we cannot produce here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Solving the methane issue would be a real big deal. Continue reading

Posted in carbon farming, Dairy, forestry, greenhouse gases, sheep and beef farms, Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Simon Upton, methane and forestry

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton says there are good reasons to allow forestry offsets for methane rather than for fossil fuels

Simon Upton, in his role as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, has produced a new ‘Note’ for Parliament exploring the possibilities of using carbon sequestration from forestry to offset methane emissions. It is an interesting and some might say provocative paper. Here I present and discuss just some of the big issues that he raises.

First, some explanation about Simon Upton and where he fits into the parliamentary scene. Continue reading

Posted in carbon farming, forestry, greenhouse gases, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Voluntary sequestration schemes create opportunities as well as confusion

Native forests that began regenerating prior to 1990 are excluded from the ETS. This opens opportunities for voluntary schemes independent of Government.

In a recent article, I wrote how carbon credits are not created equal. This inequality is now leading to game-playing and confusion across society. Terms like ‘greenwash’ as the carbon equivalent of a ‘whitewash’ are increasingly heard and there is increasing talk of ‘hot air’ carbon claims.

Since writing that article, I have been wrestling with the challenge of further deepening my own understanding of how the carbon game is being played. It is a game where different players are playing by different sets of rules, as are the certifying referees.  Many of the certifying rules are far from transparent.

Here in this article my focus is specifically on the rules surrounding sequestration that removes carbon from the atmosphere. That leaves other aspects of the carbon rules for another time.

In New Zealand, the dominant sequestration rules to date have been those of the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). However, that could now be changing with the emergence of voluntary certification schemes with potential for local and international certification outside of any official system. Continue reading

Posted in carbon farming, forestry, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Carbon credits are not created equal

Carbon offsets are fundamental to New Zealand’s greenhouse-gas policies. However, not all offsets are created equal. That sets the scene for all sorts of games to be played, with winners and losers. This is further complicated by marketing ploys that can lack transparency as to what is actually being bought and sold, and where the credits have come from. Continue reading

Posted in carbon farming, forestry, greenhouse gases, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Dairy is fundamental to New Zealand’s future but it needs an informed debate

The key message of this article is that dairy is of fundamental importance to the future of Aotearoa New Zealand.  However, the journey to get there is not straight forward and it will be controversial.

First, I set out the reasons why dairy is so important, and hence the need to face-up to the challenges that lie ahead. This then leads towards necessary actions to address the challenges. Continue reading

Posted in Dairy, greenhouse gases, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Carbon farming rocket has taken off

Nothing matches carbon-farming economics on sheep and beef land

This last week I spent two days in Rotorua at the New Zealand carbon-forestry conference where I was also one of the speakers. Both I and others presented perspectives on the path ahead for this new industry. There were close to 300 attendees plus an international online audience.

Although there was diversity of perspective as to how the industry might develop, I sensed no doubt that we all saw ourselves as being involved in something big that, one way or another, is transformational for New Zealand

Most of the attendees were either forestry people already in the business, or alternatively service-industry people who either are already or in future want to be part of this new industry. There were also some Government and Climate Change Commission people there to help explain the current regulatory framework. 

However, there were not many farmers at the conference, apart from those who were already in the business of carbon farming, and doing rather well, I might add. Continue reading

Posted in carbon farming, sheep and beef farms, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Mega changes announced to forestry and carbon policies

There were two big announcements by Government entities in the last week of July affecting forestry rules and carbon pricing. To a large extent, the announcements escaped media scrutiny.  

That lack of scrutiny was because explanations require an understanding of complex issues on which the general media is not knowledgeable. But let me be clear:  the announcements were of huge importance. They encompass mega movements of both climate change and forestry policies with long-term implications. Continue reading

Posted in carbon farming, forestry, greenhouse gases, Uncategorized | 15 Comments