The climate can’t wait any longer - we need urgent cuts to agricultural emissions

Across the world this year, we’ve seen the devastating impact of the climate crisis.

Floods have swept through Pakistan, displacing millions. Rivers dried up during a record-breaking European summer. Antarctic ice is melting at alarming rates, faster than we thought.

And here in Aotearoa, heavy rains and flooding wreaked havoc on hundreds of Nelson homes, and warm winter storms washed away the snow base on Mt Ruapehu. It’s clearer than ever before that we need to act urgently.

New Zealand may be small but we have a long history as a leader on global issues, from our role in setting up the United Nations to our celebrated nuclear-free stand.

We have the opportunity to lead again by becoming one of the first countries in the world to tackle agricultural emissions – half of our total emissions footprint – at source.

The Government has put out a discussion document seeking feedback on a final set of options for pricing agricultural emissions.

This is another crucial step in creating a climate-safe future for our children and grandchildren. That we have got this far – in the face of an industrial agricultural complex that has lobbied against change at every turn – is cause for celebration. Where New Zealand leads, others will follow, and future generations will have the chance to live in a world where they do not face the worst effects of climate change.

But we need your support to push the Government to act.

The Government must not get cold feet in the coming months. The details that sit beneath its proposals – particularly the way we set the price of methane – will play a large part in whether we achieve the targets we set in 2019 in the Zero Carbon Act.

The Government wants feedback on its proposal to:

  • Price emissions at the farm-level from 2025, with a levy on methane output. The levy price would be set by Cabinet, informed by the advice of the Climate Change Commission
  • If the farm-level levy is not operational in time for 2025, use an interim processor-level levy for likely no more than two years

The Government also wants public views on some aspects of emissions pricing, including:

  • Whether it should investigate tradable methane quotas, where the market would be determined by the total amount of pollution permitted each year (the preferred option of Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw)
  • Whether nitrogen fertiliser should be part of the ETS, or covered by the levy system
  • How to account for on-farm sequestration within a system for pricing agricultural emissions
  • How it can best protect the interests of iwi, hapū and Māori, and honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, during the development of agricultural emissions pricing

You can read about and submit on the Government proposals here.

What our Green MPs are working for:

  • A price on agricultural emissions as quickly as possible (no later than 1 January 2025), and use of the interim processor-level levy if needed
  • Working towards a system to manage the total volume of methane, rather than the price. This is to guarantee cuts to gross emissions and a fair pricing mechanism. This would be achieved by the Government committing to implementing tradeable methane quotas with a sinking cap by 2026. Under this scheme the cap would be linked to the targets in the Zero Carbon Act and the price of emissions would be set by the market, for a fair scheme free from political interference.
  • Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser brought into the ETS (not accounted for separately). We think this is the most equitable and efficient method for its pricing, as well as the simplest to implement.
  • On-farm sequestration that is closely linked to New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory and the ETS, with a farmer-initiative system for adding new types of vegetation.
  • Development of tradeable methane quotas, and all other proposals, must be done in partnership with tangata whenua, in support of a national climate change response grounded in tikanga and maatauranga. This would ensure that emissions pricing protects Māori interests, and that the Government honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi during development and implementation.

Tradeable methane quotas are much better than bringing agricultural methane into the ETS. This is because:

  • The ETS is set up for net emissions reductions, which allows for solutions like forestry offsets. This isn’t the best way to address methane emissions from agriculture.
  • In New Zealand’s context, with methane from livestock making up 39% of our total national emissions, we need a system that specifically drives gross methane reductions. This is why we want to see Government implement tradeable methane quotas with a reducing cap, which would set maximum emissions and leave the market to decide the price
  • The ETS doesn’t match the split gas targets in the Zero Carbon Act, which means it isn’t well-suited to achieving these gross reductions in methane we urgently need

Your submission matters!

The Government asks 15 consultation questions throughout its discussion document.

On the Ministry for the Environment’s consultation page, you can answer each question individually, or you can leave a general comment.

These are some points you could include in your submission:

  • In answer to consultation question 2: The Government should implement tradeable methane quotas for pricing agricultural emissions as soon as possible, because it is the fairest option for all farmers, will prevent political distortion of the methane price, and will guarantee real reduction in methane emissions.
  • In answer to consultation question 3: Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser should enter the NZ ETS (option b), because this is the fairest pricing option available. It will capture all fertiliser emissions across all sectors and incentivise the broadest reduction in use, which is good for the climate, the environment, and the health of our waterways.
  • In answer to consultation question 8: A system to recognise rigorous and robust sequestration is needed. This must align with New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The onus should be on farmers and other organisations to prove that their vegetation meets that threshold.
  • In answer to consultation question 13: The Government must undertake deep and genuine engagement with tangata whenua regarding potential impacts on Māori interests of agricultural emissions pricing. This includes consultation on design of specific elements, such as a cap and trade market mechanism for methane. The Crown must honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi throughout both development and implementation.
  • Other key points to make:
    • Cabinet must implement pricing for agricultural emissions by 1 January 2025 – we can’t wait any longer for emissions reductions in our worst-polluting sector.
    • Climate action right now is critical to mitigate the worst effects of global warming for future generations.
    • New Zealand has the chance to lead the world with agricultural emissions pricing, like we’ve done in the past on important global issues – but our pricing must be effective to do so.