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Brian Fallow is encouraged by the collegiality on display in Parliament over climate change, but notes the cow in the room remains agriculture

Brian Fallow is encouraged by the collegiality on display in Parliament over climate change, but notes the cow in the room remains agriculture

By Brian Fallow*  

In a rare display of consensus and concord, the last thing Parliament did before rising for the Easter recess was debate a report by Vivid Economics on how New Zealand can get to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.

The harmony on display in what is usually a forum for partisan scrummaging was not because it was Holy Thursday, or because Cyclone Cook was bearing down on us. 

Nor was it because there is anything particularly remarkable in the contents of the Vivid report, which does not really tell us much we didn’t already know about the potential technically and economically feasible pathways to a carbon-neutral future. 

What is remarkable is who commissioned the report -- a group of 35 MPs drawn from every party represented in Parliament, who have been shepherded by Green MP Kennedy Graham into a New Zealand chapter of GLOBE (Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment). 

“We have come a long way since Shane Ardern drove his tractor up the steps of Parliament,” Greens co-leader James Shaw said. 

“Our climate change debate here in New Zealand and around the world has gone through four stages of denial: first, that it is not happening; second, that if it is happening, it is not caused by us; third, that if it is caused by us, it actually is not that bad; and, fourth, if it is that bad, well, actually, there is nothing we can do about it." 

“All four of those stages have a response: it is happening, it is us, it is bad, and we can do something about it. It is that fourth and final debate that we are having here today - what we choose to do about it," said Shaw.

Consensus wide, but shallow

But the consensus, while wide, is not deep. It is one thing to accept a distant objective, a trajectory for the country to follow. 

That still leaves scope, as the MPs made clear, for plenty of disagreement about the pace at which to proceed. 

And, crucially, about when to give farmers the hard word about the emissions arising from pastoral farming. 

Unusually for a developed country, carbon dioxide represents less than half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. So moving towards all-renewables electricity generation and the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and biofuels will not get us there. 

We have an even bigger challenge dealing with the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide generated by cattle and sheep. 

The Vivid report, Labour’s climate change spokesperson Megan Woods said, “does not ignore the cow in the room. The report makes it very clear that in order to have an effective way of pricing carbon within our economy we must bring agriculture within our emissions trading scheme.” 

The Government has no plans to do that. It expressly excluded the issue from its review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), still under way.

Running defence

National MP Stuart Smith sketched the argument normally run in defence of the status quo: that it is pointless to expose farmers to a price on emissions when they do not yet have technological options for reducing emissions in response to that price signal. Imposing that “economic hairshirt” on them would only drive food production offshore to even more emissions-intensive models - the “leakage” argument. 

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett evidently agrees: 

“We make no bones about it, that we support farmers and how they do it, and actually there is no point in cutting them off at the knees here in New Zealand,” Bennett said. 

“The world still needs what they produce, and there are more inefficient farmers in other parts of the world who would then pick up that slack and actually the world would be worse off, from an emissions profile. So we should be backing our New Zealand farmers and looking more, I think, at how we get more consistency of sustainable and efficient farming across the agricultural sector, because there are still pockets that could pick up and take some better practice.” 


There are some promising technologies for potentially reducing emissions from pastoral farming: selective breeding of cows that emit genteel lady-like burps rather than volcanic eructations of methane, new strains of ryegrass or other forage plants, precision application of nitrogenous fertilisers, and the holy grail of a methane-suppressing vaccine. 

But the Royal Society reckons technical solutions for reducing agriculture-related biological emissions could take a decade or two to reach commercial viability. If they do. 

Vivid Economics believes a combination of emissions pricing instruments and regulation will be needed to encourage farmers to adopt cutting edge technology as it does become available. 

Overlooking three things

Opposition to exposing pastoral farmers to an emissions price tends to overlook three things, however. 

One is that it is not proposed that farmers face a carbon price for every tonne emitted, but only that they be treated the same as any other emissions-intensive trade-exposed sector. That means a free allocation of units covering the vast majority of their emissions but an exposure to carbon pricing at the margin, where economically important changes occur. The free allocation is the policy response to the leakage argument. 

Secondly the behaviour that pricing seeks to change is not just, or even mainly, farming practice but land use. Its absence has contributed to a rash of dairy conversions on land that might, for example, be better used for horticulture or cropping and perhaps pork production (pigs are not ruminants). 

Thirdly, New Zealand is internationally responsible for all its emissions. If those who profit from half of them do not bear the cost, the rest of us have to. That is a subsidy, and one that gets capitalised into land prices. Those who benefit are the vendors of farm land, who get a larger tax-free capital gain; the buyers just get a larger mortgage. 

Labour’s David Parker was enthusiastic about the potential for technological innovations to enable higher value uses of land – higher value than the mass production of milkpowder – as key to a wealthier as well as cleaner, future. 

“We put a huge impediment in the way of that land-use change by not making agriculture take responsibility for its emissions,” Parker said. 

“If we are elected agriculture will be coming into ETS very fast. We have always said it should. We have always said its free allocation should start at 90 per cent of 2005 emissions. We have not resiled from that.”

What about forestry owners?

Maori Party co-leader and Minister for Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell reflected anger among forest owners about how that crucial sector had been treated, or mistreated, by policymakers, resulting in net afforestation dwindling virtually to zero. 

“This has a huge impact on Aotearoa, and also on those hapū and iwi who have received large forests as a part of their Treaty settlements, and so have large carbon credits that are virtually worthless.” 

New Zealand First’s Denis O’Rourke said that while an increase in forestry would create a huge carbon bank that could be used as an offset to emissions, those emissions must also be reduced strongly. 

Some form of internal carbon pricing to allow that to happen would be inevitable, he said, but that did not require an ETS open to international trading. 

Clearly, then, the collegiality on display in Parliament last Thursday does not mean our political leaders are about to link arms and march in lock step towards towards the broad sunlit upland of a carbon-neutral future.

But it’s a promising start all the same.

*Brian Fallow is a former long serving economics editor of The NZ Herald. This is the fourth article in an election year issues-based analytical series on economic policies he's writing for

His first article is here.
His second article is here.
His third article is here.

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There are many reasons to start reducing stock numbers and to start re-purposing some of this land. But pointing the finger at farmers and saying you must take all the hit for this is not a realistic way forward. All New Zealanders will benefit from reduced stock numbers and we all need to contribute. We have to find a way of doing this without over burdening the farmers economically. This will need to be a long term vision with multi-party support. Most importantly it will need to actually tackle the problem. This will mean taking scientific opinion seriously and not just cherry picking the parts we want to hear.

Te Ururoa Flavell, ".. so have large carbon credits that are virtually worthless."


If we counted agricultural emissions on a scientifically accurate net basis instead of the current gross basis that ignores the absorption from the crops and grasslands - New Zealand's agricultural emissions would be halved.

It seems beyond comprehension that we would end up borrowing offshore as we are already in a current account deficit to purchase credits to offset emisssions that simply do not exist.

Farmers will be demanding a change in how emissions are counted and possibly a huge legal battle will ensue. I would be directly targeting the people and politicians who are pushing for agriculture to be brought into the emissions trading scheme as they are misinforming parliament in using the wrong measure.

"It's a promising start all the same." Not it is just more pointless virtue signalling eco-loonery.

"To hit the Paris climate goals without geoengineering, the world has to do three broad (and incredibly ambitious) things:

1) Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have to fall in half each decade. That is, in the 2020s, the world cuts emissions in half. Then we do it again in the 2030s. Then we do it again in the 2040s.

2) Net emissions from land use — i.e., from agriculture and deforestation — have to fall steadily to zero by 2050. This would need to happen even as the world population grows and we’re feeding ever more people.

3) Technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have to start scaling up massively, until we’re artificially pulling 5 gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere by 2050 — nearly double what all the world’s trees and soils already do.

If the eco loons take over and drive us back to the stone age by implementing the Paris Accord this will reduce the 2100 artificial construct "global temperature" by sfa/0.0187 degrees C.

"To keep temperature rises below 2C, we have to reduce CO₂ emissions by about 6,000 Gt across the century.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that even if every country were to make every single carbon cut suggested in the Paris Treaty, to the fullest extent possible, CO2 emissions would only be cut – provided there were no carbon leakage – by 56 Gt by 2030."

"To keep temperature rises below 2C, we have to reduce CO₂ emissions by about 6,000 Gt across the century."

Yes, but only if the models are true and correct. No one has yet invented any model that correctly and accurately measures the climate backwards (against actual past data) let alone accurately forwards.

"What has happened in the past 10 years is that the discrepancies between what's observed and what's predicted have become much stronger. It's clear now the models are wrong, but it wasn't so clear 10 years ago."

That was a fun link, thanks.

This means that since 1992, the models have been within 3 % of the measurements. In my mind, this agreement is the strongest vindication of the models ever found, and in fact, in our study we suggest that matches between climate models and ocean warming should be a major test of the models.


3% - hmmm. "Simulations conducted in advance of the 2013–14 assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the warming should have continued at an average rate of 0.21 °C per decade from 1998 to 2012. Instead, the observed warming during that period was just 0.04 °C per decade, as measured by the UK Met Office in Exeter and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK."

if you're worried about global warming, listen to this dear old grandfather who won a Nobel prize in physics.

Nobel laureate Ivar Giaever on Global Warming

Even Nobel prize winners can suffer from cognitive dissonance.

Too right - Freeman Dyson sums it up well: "Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere does more good than harm, he argues, and humanity doesn't face an existential crisis. Climate change, he tells us, "is not a scientific mystery but a human mystery. How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?"

sighhhh. Republican voter?

Always so light weight rastus - try critical thinking or analysis rather than simple labels. Or shock horror read a link from outside your norm sphere before commenting. "An Obama supporter who describes himself as "100 per cent Democrat," Dyson says he is disappointed that the President "chose the wrong side." i really cannot be bothered with such utter nonsense you spout. I have no intention of debating best practice science with you. Your denialist tripe is best ignored.

He doesn't really offer any evidence to back his claims. He is right that climate change is not scientifically mysterious, the basic science is simple. Put more of an insulating gas into the atmosphere, and the temperature rises. A basic condition born out by the geological record. The effects of increasing C02 in the atmosphere are not conceptually hard to understand...

Yes the direct effects of CO2 are 1.2 C per doubling hardly cause for concern. Dyson is not talking about the direct effects of CO2 doubling he is referring to the doom laden climate feedback predictions which are not falsifiable or as the IPCC puts it: "The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible." Don't go confusing direct effects with grant hungry feedback predictions. And don't go thinking Brian Fallow has got a lead on the IPCC when it comes to the future.

There are plenty of examples in the geological record where temperature rose faster in the past with lower CO2 concentrations than today - 1910 to 1945 for instance when there was no heavy industry to speak of compared to today and rates of temperature increase were faster than the past 20 years.

Giaever Debunked!

"Giaever plays like a magician with an audacious audience. He distracts the viewer and lets him focus on something completely unimportant, so that one does not look where something really decisive actually happens."

In using the term "deniers" it implies that they are wrong and won't accept the truth.
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” - Adolf Hitler

What makes me question climate changes is, why do we have to be constantly sold the idea by the news media. If it was really happening wouldn't we know, rather than have to be told? The other question i have is if NZ farming is restricted by rules, who benefits? Who picks up the slack?

Forestry & tree planting seems like an obvious solution. There's a lot of under utilised marginal or eroding land around the country that can be planted in forestry (harvestable) or other tree cover (e.g. native) to act as a nett carbon sink. Does anyone have the stats on whats needed to bring NZ to cover our liabilities, I had read 1.5 million hectares.
Forestry currently I understand is counted as emitting the stored carbon when cut/harvested. This should be changed so forestry turned into permanent sink like housing timber should not be counted as emitting CO2.

".. so have large carbon credits that are virtually worthless."

If they are worthless then I'll put a standing bid in now to buy any iwi carbon credits for $1, your size.

So either I'm about to buy a whole bunch of carbon credits or another MP is talking rubbish.

Too many farmers dont even know what nitrogen drawdown is and that is disgraceful.

Disgraceful...mmm. What's the point of knowing about it when it isn't considered as a mitigation by regional councils/Overseer when determining nitrogen leaching? Oh, and just because they don't know about it doesn't mean they don't practice some form of it without realising it. e.g. spreading calf shed woodchip over paddocks.

It follows that if most farmers have no idea that nitrogen drawdown can be used to ameliorate nitrogen runoff, it is no surprise that councils etc ignore the issue. So you farmers just continue to burn your woody farm wastes and send its carbon directly into the atmosphere. Of course getting best results would require expertise, so I have suggested that organisations such as Fonterra? set up travelling teams to teach farmers what best to do according to their specific situations.

You really don't understand farming do you. I could say that that is disgusting that you don't. ;-) Councils set the Rules around what can and can't be burnt.
Travelling teams to teach farmers what best to do according to specific situations Imagine what that carbon footprint would be. ;-) Have you not heard of 'digital information'.

Nitrate catchers are currently being trialled on farm. They are potentially going to be more cost effective than what you are suggesting.

I would be interested in URLs that prove what the cost benefit of what you are proposing is, in a NZ situation. Or at least that prove what the drawdown of using x number of trees, or x cubic metres over x ha is. Where we farm wood is a valuable resource for wood chip or firewood.

Didge your comments are way off the mark ,just well farmers somewhere are feeding you and your family

I doubt anyone thinks their food comes from farmers.
It comes from supermarkets , the marketplace or their garden.
Perhaps farmers have an image problem, as commodity traders.
Coal, oil, steel, milk powder..

Didge your comments are way off the mark ,just well farmers somewhere are feeding you and your family

Well, we could always just do what the wilier folks of the Eastern EU did: photocopy squillions of Carbon Credit notes, drop 'em from helicopters to all and sundry, and tick the box on the International Report Sheet that says 'Job done'. Worked for them......

In a comparatively short time scientifically synthesised milk will cure the problem.

mmmmm... scientifically synthesised milk... sounds so yummy i can't wait.

I guess if they can make it out of soy and coconut they can make it out of anything.
Ive just started drinking milk in coffee to keep the dairy farmers afloat.

They're planning on making it out of ... milk.

It's an interesting concept, though I wonder how economically viable it is. If they get the process down to a cost lower than a cow then dairy farms will go the way of the buggy whip manufacturers.

I ate margarine for years and have in recent years switched back to butter. At the time we were sold propoganda that fat was evil. The problem is that the corporations own the truth. If you are dumb enough to buy a lot of chemicals mixed together disguised as food then good luck to you. Farmers don't have the means to counter the lies being spread about the industry.

Isn't it interesting that one side proves they are right by quoting "scientific consnsus" and calls the other side "flat earthers" when history tells us that the flat earthers were in fact the "scientific consensus" of the day.

More akin to this, unfortunately...not historic belief in a flat earth, but persisting belief in flat earth / denial of climate change in the face of incredible accumulations of evidence.

It does seem to be primarily an older folks thing - perhaps due to the source of information they regularly consume - but unfortunately some of them (e.g. Trump) hold more power than is good for the world / country.

Citation please. When was it a consensus that the earth was flat?

Having said which - yes, it is the case that discoveries have been made in the past which challenged and eventually overturned the scientific consensus (although I'd be keen to see you produce an example of that from within the last hundred years).

However, the fact that scientific consensus has very occasionally been proved wrong, doesn't prove that scientific consensus is always wrong. Further, when it has been shown that the scientific consensus was wrong, this has been on the basis of real science done by real scientists, not as a result of non-scientists somehow spotting something which every highly trained specialist in the world had previously been too stupid to notice or check on.

Do you really think that that is the case here? That the huge majority of climatologists in the world - people who have spent many years doing real science on their subject - are so stupid that they have never thought to check something that seems apparent to people who've looked at a few articles on the internet?

You aren't allowed to have questions about global warming anymore.

And if you do, then people place a label on you designed to humiliate you, they put words in your mouth, they berate you, perhaps call you old, or stupid, or question your parentage. If you quote any scientific source that source is usually vilified with character assassination.

They will not tolerate alternative lines of enquiry. No discussion is allowed.

It's all very scientific don't you know.

An example from the past 100 years - stomach ulcers, dietary fat, plate tectonics, DDT... none of those consensus' had a $1.5 Trillion annual industry riding on them - or were asking mankind to halve industrial output every decade until the 2040's to change temps by 0.018 C in 2100.

Imagine how geologists used to explain earthquakes and mountains pre-1962 - I'm sure they were very convincing. Not to mention the millions lost, and still being lost, to the flawed DDT consensus.

What exactly is your contention as regards the mainstream scientific and political position on climate change?

Is it that thousands of climate scientists around the world, who have spent many years examining the evidence and researching their subject, are so stupid or careless that they have all missed something that seems apparent to non-specialists? All of them?

Or is it that climate scientists do actually know that climate change isn't really happening, but they are all being kept quiet by Governments?

Why, though? Why would Governments be going to so much trouble to fabricate reasons to take action which diverts resources away from political vote winners (health spending, education spending, tax cuts) and onto politically unpopular and economically damaging activity?

And how are Governments managing it? They don't seem to be successful in getting scientists and academics to toe the line in many other fields. Here in New Zealand, for example - Consider Jane Kelsey, Doug Sellman, Mike Joy, Jarrod Gilbert. They've all repeatedly proved themselves ready, willing and able to make public statements that are not convenient or helpful to the Government. How come the Government hasn't managed to shut them up, if it has been so successful in convincing all the climate scientists at NZ universities, as well as everybody in NIWA and at the Met service, to cooperate in maintaining what they all know to be a fiction?

This issue is we don't yet know for sure what causes natural temperature changes.

Leaving an ice age - of course there is warming - the issue is: Is it solely caused by CO2 as advocated by the IPPC.
We are not yet at medieval warm period temperatures.

Many of the researchers in this field simply do not have the physics background to attack these very complex problems.

Please take a moment or study this recent paper by Russian physicists on an alternative cause of global warming.

It is very hard to totally reject this work a the IPPC do.

They have now worked themselves into a situation where based on initial outputs they would struggle to accept any alternative perspective.

It is things like this that doesn't help 'trustng the scientists'
The report, produced by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), could not explain “why the planet has largely stopped warming over the past 15 years.” So it just ignored it. According to the climate data from the U.K.’s weather-watching Met Office, “global surface temperatures rose rapidly during the 70s,” but they have “have been relatively flat over the past decade and a half, rising only 0.05 degrees Celsius (0.09 degrees Fahrenheit).”
For the past few years, the Harvard professor David Keith has been sketching this vision: Ten Gulfstream jets, outfitted with special engines that allow them to fly safely around the stratosphere at an altitude of 70,000 feet, take off from a runway near the Equator. Their cargo includes thousands of pounds of a chemical compound — liquid sulfur, let’s suppose — that can be sprayed as a gas from the aircraft. It is not a one-time event; the flights take place throughout the year, dispersing a load that amounts to 25,000 tons. If things go right, the gas converts to an aerosol of particles that remain aloft and scatter sunlight for two years. The payoff? A slowing of the earth’s warming — for as long as the Gulfstream flights continue.

Good article, who knew Bloomberg was into such stuff, and brilliant photos. Thanks,