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POLL: NBR readers respond to govt's ETS changes

An overwhelming number of NBR ONLINE readers say New Zealand's agriculture industry should never be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

A poll run last week shows 62% never want agriculture to be included, while 17% believe it should be included once trading and economic conditions allow.

Twenty-one percent of respondents say agriculture should be included as soon as possible.

Last week, the government announced changes to the scheme, including delaying the introduction of agriculture until 2015.


 

OPINION: Waikato University head of agribusiness Professor Jacqueline Rowarth explains why the government was right to delay the inclusion of agriculture in the ETS. 

New Zealand needs a scientifically literate society. We don’t all have to be scientists but we should all have some understanding of biology, physics and chemistry.

These affect our lives – we’re human, we move things and we eat and drink.

Knowing something about the way things work would save a huge amount of time in arguing.

We have ongoing arguments about water quality and whether a change endangers river
life.

We’ve had arguments about land use and whether development replacing introduced species (hieracium, rabbits and wildling pines in the Mackenzie Basin, for instance) should be allowed.

“It’s brown, it’s beautiful” was the cry, forgetting that it used to be native trees.

The latest misunderstanding is in the announcements around the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The ETS is New Zealand’s way of meeting the country’s commitments in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

Not reducing them will, under the Kyoto Protocol, lead to a bill for the government.

Over the past few years New Zealanders have been paying part of the ETS on power and fuel.

The consequent increase in price might have made a few people modify their behaviour when it first occurred but most people have forgotten that they are paying it – the tax has been subsumed in the general concern about expensive power and fuel.

Taxes rarely change people’s behaviour. In fact, paying the tax sometimes leads to a sense of entitlement: “I’ve paid the tax so now I can turn up the heating and take a Sunday drive.”

In New Zealand, the ETS has resulted in a focus on agriculture because, in marked contrast to developed countries, biological emissions contribute half of the total.

Reports that farmers are escaping the ETS are, however, simply mischievous.

Farmers, like other individuals and businesses, pay the ETS on power and fuel – in their homes, in their
milking and shearing sheds, and in their cars, tractors and quad bikes.

The government has announced a delay in full implementation of the ETS and that agriculture won’t be brought in to the scheme until the science exists to mitigate their emissions, or until our international trading competitors put a price of carbon on their agricultural sectors.

This move would seem to be highly sensible given complaints about the price of food.

Yet opposition parties have already been vocal.

Concern appears to be focusing on that fact that no other major emitting sector was given concessions.

This overlooks the point that agriculture involves biological systems and has developed over millions of years.

Scientific research is trying to find ways of assisting in reducing emissions but changes will need to be evaluated over some time before they can be recommended.

The other major emitting sectors are power and fuel, which are chemical rather than biological, and can be
developed in renewable fashion.

At least part of the reason for delaying full implementation of the ETS is uncertainty in the global economy.

The government recognises that extra costs in business will suppress innovation, which will lead to developments in sustainable business and renewable energy.

Although the opposition has accused the government of having “zero commitment to curbing New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions”, the reverse could be argued.

Green growth will not occur if budgets are squeezed; the ETS will squeeze budgets everywhere as extra costs are passed on at every level.

Similarly, statements that the government’s “latest cop-out further subsidises polluters at the expense of taxpayers” misses the point that taxpayers are just as big in terms of “polluting”, or creating carbon, as farm animals.

Of further note is that farm animals are doing what they have always done.

Efficient production systems mean New Zealand agriculture is a low emitter per unit of product in comparison with other countries.

Research both here and overseas supports this. The only significantly more efficient producers are those using feedlots and housed systems.

New Zealand farmers are mostly free-range, which is what society says it wants. We should be lauding our farmers, not beating them up.

A scientifically-literate society would understand the issues.

The point is to separate the facts from the emotion.

For New Zealanders, anything to do with the environment is an emotive issue.

It is argued that people overseas won’t buy New Zealand food if we aren’t environmental leaders.

The facts are that all people focus more on value and price. They buy food that meets their cost-quality requirements.

New Zealand food is at a premium in some countries because it is safe – carbon is a secondary issue.

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser is not a scientist but he is right when he defends delaying agriculture in the ETS.

If members of other parties took the same trouble, the airwaves might be refocused on fact-based issues rather than inflaming emotions.

Huge amounts of time and energy would be saved – but if we stuck to facts, what would politicians have to argue about?

Jacqueline Rowarth is Professor of Agribusiness at the University of Waikato

jrowarth@waikato.ac.nz 

Comments and questions
13

Govt should be devoting it's ETS energies to seeking a way to escape from our Kyoto obligations with our honour still intact.
The whole thing is a needless imposition in a difficult economic time for NZ.
liberte

There are no Kyoto obligations to escape from since the rest of the world has ignored and forgotten the nonsense it produced.

Correct both of you.
Just a small problem!
What will the huge number of unemployable scientists come up with now that will put a chop on their table?
Sun dying because of us? Moon stopping tidal movement because of us? Earthquakes caused by to many us?
You wait, they'll come up with something and bet your house, whatever it is they come up with, it will be our fault and it will cost us.

Well, these unemployable "scientists" can't become crusading journalists because the newsprint business is going down the gurgler. So that leaves politics and the dole queue.

The ETS shouldn't exist full stop, and wouldn't if National weren't such a pack of socialist sellouts.

The Bro's like it, the Greens like it, Labour likes it, but where does Winny sit on it?

In one sentence Rowarth says that taxes do not change people's behaviour, but in the other she says that "people focus on price".

The two statements are an utter contradiction. Every serious economist knows that price influences behaviour, but Rowarth must have missed that.

The arrogance of Rowarth and farmers is outstanding - they think they are entitled to continue to pollute. It does not matter that farm emissions are biological - they are still harmful and the atmosphere does not care where they come from.

Dairy farming is so engrained in NZ that people forget that there is a choice about what the best use of land is. With the inclusion of farming in the ETS, it will not always be dairy farming. This would tip the balance in favour of poultry, fruit and vegetables, or even trees. Currently vegetable farming is at an unfair competitve disadvantage because of the free ride that dairy and meat farmers get. This is against National's broad philosophy of letting the market decide what is best. It seems that National does not really believe in the free market and is happy to keep subsidising ppollution.

It is perfectly possible to live without eating meat and dairy. I do, and I am an good health. I try and minimise the amount of pollution caused by the products I consume. A price on agricultural pollution would make that choice easier for everyone. Making choices that limit pollution is called personal responsibility, which I thought the National Party was in favour of.

You demonstarte the science illiteracy that Professor Rowarth talks about. For every molecule of methane our livestocjk produce today one that they produced yestaerdasy breaks down. A constant number of animals does not alter the concentration of gases in the atmosphere because it is a self balancing cycle.

To increase the amount of methane in the atmosphere would require an increase in the number of animals. If the whole world were to double the number of farmed livestock the global temperature would only rise by 0.01 degrees. That is right. It would increae by one one hundredth of a degree. Hardly enough to warrant an ETS is it?

You are incorrect. Methane has a global warming potential 20 times as strong as carbon dioxide over 100 years. While it is short-lived compared to CO2, we do not have the luxury of time to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees. Yesterday's methane does not break down today, it breaks down to CO2 after 20+ years. Even Fonterra acknowledges this. Methane levels in the atmosphere are directly measureable and have been rising, so that puts paid to your "self balancing cycle". There is a a case for putting short-lived greenhouse gases in a separate bucket from long-lived ones such as CO2. However, for a given temperature increase, the less methane that is emitted over the next 20 years, the more CO2 can be emitted in total. So there is a trade-off between the two and methane should therefore be priced to recognise this trade-off. Why should I have to reduce CO2 pollution by riding my bike instead of driving when farmers will not reduce theirs? You also ignore the other main agricultural greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, which lasts as long as CO2. There are technologies that will reduce nitrate emissions but currently no incentive to use them.

"Of further note is that farm animals are doing what they have always done". Yes, but they are now bigger and there are more of them: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/climate/greenhouse-gas-emissions/greenhouse-gas-emissions.pdf. So maybe business as usual is not sustainable. green growth might actually involve growing new low carbon expertise and sectors in the NZ economy, not just preserving everything as it is now at any cost. The government keeps saying it would be the only ones putting a price on bio-emissions. That would be true, but only because it has chosen to address emissions reduction all through the ETS and all that can do is put a price on things. Other countries (Europe, Americas, etc) are addressing bio-emissions as well, just a different way. It's up to NZ how it wants to address agriculture, but doing nothing is just going to get it left behind. Just a thought from the scientific illiterate.

Oh really? How are other countries ( Europe and america's etc) addressing bio emissions Anonymous? Dont they use many more units of nitogen on their crops than occurs here. Or is it subsidised production you spaek about perchance? So much verbal pollution from people who fear a future while enjoying the fruits of today. Hypocrisy abounds

I think if the scientists actually bothered to measure the methane being emitted from the east coast around north and south of Gisborne area and beneath the sea off the east coast of the North Island, they might find that whoever owns that part of the foreshore and seabed should be required to put in several retrospective RMA's for non permitted methane production. It would also put into perspective how irrelevant dairy methane is in comparison to the methane created by decaying materials in forests, swamps, earthquake fracced fissures above marine shales and termite activity. But that would mean they lost all their precious funding and had to do some real research that might actually have some economic value for taxpayers?

There is no reason to include livetsock emissions that is because they are emissions that were sourced from the atmosphere, the animal is just part of a cycle which is atmospherically neutral. There is no scientific link between livestock emissions and any increase in concentration of any greenhouse gas. In short they can not cause global warming.
The claim that farmers are being subsidised is false. Our Kyoto obligations and ETS obligations are quite separate. Just because farmers are not paying for their livestock emissions it does not mean the taxpayer is. We are meeiting our Kyoto obligations at no cost to teh taxpayer and would have without an ETS. Kyoto expires at the end of this year and we have no other international obligatoins.
The changes to teh ETS that the govt proposes are all about cahnging the ETS to cope with no Kyoto. They involve the govt setting a cap each year. These changes are far more important than whether agriculture is in teh ETS, yet ignored by the media. Thanks for this piece but we need this ETS exposed to the public more so that we can see what foly it is. There must be a journalist somewhere who understands it.