Climate change pragmatism vital
Buy-in needed over agricultural emissions to escalate action: committee chairman
An overly purist treatment of agricultural gasses in climate change policy risks slowing this country’s response and politicising the process, the chair of the Interim Climate Change Committee says.
Debate over the relative contribution of methane and nitrous oxide, and whether the former is a flow gas, risks distracting from the more pressing task of getting emissions from agriculture into the climate regime somewhere, David Prentice said in Wellington yesterday.
While the country’s climate change policies needed to be science-based, he said there was also a need for pragmatism and buy-in, given the pace of action needed.
Five scientists would give five different answers on how agricultural gasses should be treated, he told delegates at the New Zealand Emissions Workshop. What is needed is action.
“We must de-politicise the issue as much as we can to move forward,” he said.
“We must use science as a base for any decisions that we make, but any decisions now need to be done on a pragmatic perspective,” he said.
“That methane argument; it is important, but we must not let ourselves get caught in it.”
The Labour-led government has pledged to get the economy to netzero emissions by 2050 and is trying to get cross-party support for a new legislative framework.
But it has already damaged its policy credibility by persisting with a pre-election target for 100 per cent renewable power generation by 2035 — against the advice of the already highly renewable industry — and by banning new offshore gas and oil exploration.
National has said it will repeal the latter policy, which will do nothing to reduce emissions and could increase them.
Prentice’s biggest fears for the process were politics and complacency.
He said Climate Change Minister James Shaw was leading “furious conversations” with the other parties in Parliament to find common ground on the proposed Net Zero Carbon Bill.
If that isn’t achieved, Labour would push the bill through regardless, Prentice said, at which point it would become “another political football” and allow future governments “to come in and change things willy nilly.”
The committee was appointed in April to make progress on key policy choices pending the formal creation of the Climate Change Commission next year.
We must de-politicise the issue as much as we can.
It was specifically tasked with advising the Government on how to implement the renewable generation target and how agriculture — which accounts for close to half the country’s gross emissions — can be brought into the emissions trading scheme.
Prentice said polling as part of the Net Zero Carbon Bill consultation was encouraging and showed broad consensus on the need to include agricultural emissions. Even farming groups understood the need to take action.
What farmers particularly wanted, he said, was something that was relatively simple, that set a clear direction on what was required and guidance on how best to minimise those impacts.
He was not sure it made sense to rush to try to include agricultural gasses in the trading scheme, given it was not working well and was going to be reformed anyway.
“There are other ways of accounting for agriculture emissions that we believe are fair, that deal with the distributional impacts, and are significantly cheaper to implement across New Zealand and would provide better benefits back to farmers,” he said.
The committee was taking a “far wider perspective” than just looking at the ETS and also trying to put together a suite of “companion measures” that would help minimise the impact on-farm.
“We are trying to take a more pragmatic, hopefully commonsense view to that.”
Prentice said whatever the country does on climate change, it will cost billions of dollars and there will be winners and losers.