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Allan Barber points out that if we adopt a prescriptive state plan for livestock production, it will be a slippery slope for many other industries too, driving increasing distortions and away from essential consumer demand signals

Allan Barber points out that if we adopt a prescriptive state plan for livestock production, it will be a slippery slope for many other industries too, driving increasing distortions and away from essential consumer demand signals

By Allan Barber

In spite of its measured, unconfrontational tone and its science-based approach, the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice for consultation is a masterpiece of communist state planning.

The Commission has delivered exactly what I imagine it was tasked with doing: produce a step by step template for a thirty year plan which is very hard to argue with and, therefore, the Government can adopt as policy to silence almost all critics, both national and international.

This will counter claims New Zealand is not serious about tackling climate change and protect our trading status from the threat of non-tariff barriers imposed by more environmentally responsible trade partners. The draft advice allows for a short consultation period, after which it will be finalised and, most likely, formally adopted.

Presumably the Government will be seeking cross party support to ensure the policy is not subject to amendment or abolition with each change of government. Environment Minister David Parker’s attitude to discussing such matters with the National opposition does not bode well if he follows a similar course to the just announced replacement for the Resource Management Act. He hasn’t yet spoken to National because “they’re not the government.” Bearing in mind climate change is our “nuclear free moment”, according to Prime Minister Ardern, it seems this will require all the cross party support possible.

The release of the CCC draft advice document has provoked relatively little downright critical reaction if agricultural sector responses are anything to go by. There is general relief the recommendations are as apparently reasonable as they are, with livestock numbers “only” required to fall by 15%, offset by a recognition planting more land in pine trees is not the way to solve the problem. The MIA points out reducing livestock while maintaining productivity will be difficult, while the meat processing sector will be affected adversely by reduced throughput.

B+LNZ’s General Manager – Policy and Advocacy, Dave Harrison, told me the CCC document contains both positives and negatives, but the main positive is the Commission’s political independence which will create certainty for the sector. He agrees the 15% livestock reduction is a concern with no silver bullet to achieve it, but he is optimistic a whole series of small, incremental improvements will make it possible, just as has been the case over the last 30 years. In his opinion it is more important to focus on the desired outcomes, rather than prescribing how to achieve them.

He is also convinced carbon sequestration through native tree planting on pastoral land provides a major opportunity for sheep and beef farmers to meet their obligations. B+LNZ is preparing its response to the consultation and it is planning to hold a series of webinars at which farmers will receive a briefing about the recommendations as well as assistance to prepare their own individual responses.

I am surprised by the low level of pushback from industry lobby groups and commentators in general. I have only been aware of two opinion pieces which question the validity of the CCC’s prescriptive approach, neither of which tries to argue against the importance of fighting climate change. Their scepticism is based on the failure of communist Russia and Mao’s China to deliver a successful outcome for their populations by adopting grandiose and prescriptive five year plans.

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, PR-man and former National Party staffer Matthew Hooton says CCC chair Rod Carr has gone from being a champion of the free market to a proponent of more far-reaching, centrally driven economic and social change than envisaged by Michael Joseph Savage and Roger Douglas. Even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognised the impossibility of a single committee prescribing a solution to the threat of climate change, preferring to let individual governments impose sinking lids on carbon emissions and use trading schemes to set the price for emissions.

It is of course much simpler to devise specific targets for a single economy, although past experience suggests lobbying by interest groups will soon create exceptions which will inevitably distort the overall plan. It can be argued the exclusion of agriculture from the ETS as a result of successful lobbying is an excellent example of how distortions arise. How much harder it will be to achieve the different targets for biogenic and non-biogenic methane, long-lived gases, electrification of heavy, medium and light vehicles, reduced volumes of waste to landfill, let alone a given reduction of livestock numbers.

Assuming the government of the day is unable to compel measurement and achievement of these targets, performance will be entirely dependent on the emergence of new technologies at a realistic cost to implement and the willingness of companies and individual operators to adopt them. Central and local government will also have to do more than appeal to people’s sense of duty, but set an example of the campaign in action.

Unfortunately just telling people how critical the battle against climate change is for the planet’s survival, the government must explain what the adopted measures will achieve and why. From a purely personal perspective, I will remain sceptical about electric vehicles, until a politician stands up and presents clear evidence the mining of minerals in impoverished countries for battery manufacture and the disposal of those batteries when they wear out are less harmful than burning fossil fuels.

While I support this government’s intention to fight climate change, I remain unconvinced the means proposed by the CCC will achieve the desired result. It may solve their PR problem.


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11 Comments

If you accept, as I do, that anthropogenic climate change is a major global issue, then what next?

Entirely voluntary approaches are unlikely to work well enough, so some form of compulsion through legislation is necessary. No country can survive without laws specifying whether certain behaviours are acceptable or not. No 'free market'-a contradiction in terms in my view- can exist without such legislation.

We have an elected government with an absolute majority. In its term of office-under 3 years- it can pass pretty much whatever legislation it wants, but if it goes further than the electorate is prepared to support, it will lose office. In under 3 years, any draconian legislation would have little time to take effect and could quickly be reversed.

Of course, with a multi-generational issue such as CC, then as much cross-party support as is achievable, should be sought.

Persons who represent the pastoral greenhouse gas research consortium and the climate change commission (eg Harry Clark) have a clear conflict of interest. Biogenic methane is measured in parts per billion. For context 4.3 litres in 2,500,000litres, an olympic swimming pool. Of that methane only that from ruminants/grasslands is warming, therefore the prodigious quantities from forests and wetlands is excluded. You simply cannot reduce the complexities of climate to the least abundant gas without proof. It is just rather improbable conjecture as the cartesian reductionist method requires a control (another planet Earth). Does not matter who says it there can be no proof. So we have to resort to common sense. How likely is it that the living carbon cycle of grassland ecologies which have existed for 10s of million of years before humans became a thing now cause anthropogenic (human induced) climate change. Without ruminants there can be no grasslands or their thousands of associated species.
As to why our farming leaders are failing us might be that the Feds have become like a wholly owned subsidary of Life Sciences so are more interested in advocating for GM ryegrass as a technological solution to this invented problem and beef and lamb have been left in an unfamiliar role. Yet to learn that you do not go into negogiations with a compromise position.

Re: "How likely is it that the living carbon cycle of grassland ecologies which have existed for 10s of million of years before humans became a thing now cause anthropogenic (human induced) climate change. Without ruminants there can be no grasslands or their thousands of associated species."
I would like an answer to this question because I have yet to hear a scientific explanation of the whole methane/carbon cycle that explains why grass-fed ruminants are such a problem.
P.S I believe in anthropogenic (human induced) climate change is an existential planetary crisis and in general I support a go hard approach to climate change.

No you don't. You're oxymoronic. You advocate growth.

It's called Cognitive Dissonance, and it's more widespread that most folk realise. Even Local Authorities can 'adopt the doughnut economics format' while still championing 'economic growth' - and the same individuals will vote for both.

And the problems with agriculture as practiced in NZ (outside of organics, arguably) are that (1) it is entirely dependent on fossil energy and (2) it is monocultural (no biodiversity. I'd add a third and a fourth; it relies on resource draw-down, and it has no choice but to believe in yet-to be-invented tech.

Those who placed their bets, well, I have little sympathy. I've been pointing this out for years, and I've lost count of the arrogant looks I've gotten from Ag-folk sure they known better.......

Sheep and beef farming is arguably the most bio-diverse and least fossil fuel dependent yet is in the firing line for methane and land for monoculture trees.
My own belief is that the more the diversity of species living on the farm the healthier and more productive it is, Nature's default is abundance. There simply is no requirement for bulk fertiliser or pesticides in a healthy bio-diverse ecological system. Further we look at ecological health through the lenses of water cycle, mineral cycle, solar cycle and community dynamics. The point being that you simply cannot have functioning (no leakage) water, mineral and solar cycles without a dynamic bio-diverse community.

If the CCC advocated for a reduction of the human stock by 15% then I might take them more seriously.

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As I understand it, the CCC was not being prescriptive when discussing reduced stock numbers, but rather indicating a trend that has been going on for some time, at least as far as sheep and beef are concerned - that stock numbers have been steadily declining but production if anything has been increasing. If this trend continues at its present rate, the CCC says, NZ will have reduced its stock numbers and therefore its biogenic methane emissions by the stated percentage, but will the trend continue? Dairying is another matter entirely. From an economic perspective it is far ahead of any other land use, except perhaps horticulture and viticulture in specific climate zones. Even so, there is virtually no financial pressure to change land use away from dairying. It is therefore unlikely that dairying will reduce stock numbers voluntarily. Farmers who have invested in genetic improvements of their herds resulting in increased per cow performance will want to retain those benefits as the return on the investment they have made. I agree with Allan Barber that the CCC's report has been designed to provide political cover to enable the present government to do what it always intended to do. What it has not done is to examine the corollary to the Paris Agreement, which is that the Agreement indicates that it is acceptable for a nation to not reduce its emissions where doing so would compromise food security.

Barber's final statement is correct. Carr - whether via background indoctrination or scoping-restriction, has opened the discussion but not widened it far enough, nor mentioned the need to do so.

People say they understand climate change is a global issue. Can they report what they have seen with their own eyes in the real world (not on TV) to lead them to fear the end of the world?

What have I seen in my locale? Glacier recession, snow lines lifting, frosts disappearing, coastal erosion accelerating, more pests appearing..... and it's just getting started! I don't "fear the end of the world", the world will still be round long after humans have finished depleting it and exited. Human stupidity is what I fear!