Emissions a contentious subject

by Andy Bryenton

When it comes to overall greenhouse gas emissions, New Zealand is faring better than many other nations who are co-signatories of the Kyoto Protocol; the agreement to reduce the emission of atmosphere-harming gases to 1990 levels or below.

We’ve made our first target, with the help of our largely renewable-energy based electrical grid and the fact that our sparsely populated nation is mostly either pastoral or still cloaked in forest. A recent report backed by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton exonerates the position of farmers who have felt under pressure to circumvent natural processes in reducing methane and nitrous oxide from their herds. Mr Upton has indicated that, to meet the ‘reach’ targets of Kyoto in 2020, 2030 and 2050 some of our industries will have to go to zero emissions, but that farming is a special case, which should be allowed to offset their emissions.

That’s because CO2 from heavy industry, for example, is worse for the atmosphere than the gases emitted by the natural digestive processes of livestock, according to the report.

Assisting in finding ways to reduce emissions in the farming sector is the Biological Emissions Reference Group, made up of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Dairy NZ Limited, Deer Industry New Zealand, Federated Farmers of New Zealand, The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand, Fonterra, Horticulture New Zealand, Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment. They have set out to research options for a transition to reduced emissions, which will hit targets but still maintain this important industry. Some of their avenues of enquiry involve practical changes, such as actively breeding lower emission animals, or developing feeds which reduce emissions while promoting better animal health. Also well worth further research are methane, nitrification and urease inhibitors, and the option to offset emissions with tree planting.

The important keynote from a range of reports on this issue is that farming is different from industry or transportation when it comes to greenhouse gas production.

A blanket approach, which treats biological-process emissions with the same legislative tools as industrial or combustion based emissions may prove too crude a method to either tackle the targets or preserve the economic viability of the rural sector. A measured approach and some real innovation is the recommended way forward rather than punitive coercion.