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Guy Trafford reports on a recent 'agriculture' talkfest in Auckland where someone asked: Is it reasonable that the rural sector has to reduce its contribution to warming well before urban NZ halts its contribution to warming?

Rural News / opinion
Guy Trafford reports on a recent 'agriculture' talkfest in Auckland where someone asked: Is it reasonable that the rural sector has to reduce its contribution to warming well before urban NZ halts its contribution to warming?
Aotea Center
Aotea Center, Auckland

Last week there occurred in Auckland the Oceania 2035 Ag Summit. It brought together stakeholders from around the region to discuss how to collectively reduce agricultural emissions and design more resilient systems to address the impact of climate change.

Of the 42 listed speakers, two might generously be described as 'farmers' and one of those is Damien O'Connor. The other promotes kelp farming. Other than that, zero.

Coming shortly after the release of the Government’s version of the HWEN there was bound to be at least some comment on the proposal.

One coming from PwC’s Dr Victoria Hatton says that New Zealand has already largely missed the boat. She lays some of the blame on the fact that the two years removed from the rest of the world has resulted in New Zealand becoming “siloed from where much of the rest of the world is heading”. She believes that there are plenty of examples of “other suppliers, out of Europe and the US who have clearer net carbon goals that has us as laggards”. If we want to meet the market it needs to be as “net-zero”.

She fears for the estimated $60 million to run He Waka Eke Noa, which in itself may take out only 5% of methane.

The industry risks missing other opportunities to make more material gains, possibly for less investment.

However, another question posed by a student who attended was “Is there value in net carbon?" That was a question posed by a number of speakers at the conference, and it sparked many conversations around the voice of the end consumer. There is a tremendous amount of effort going towards reducing on-farm emissions for the greater good of the environment – but will there be any monetary gain for farmers as a reward for their hard work”.

Some other commentators have also questioned this while others have pointed out that reducing emissions worldwide is something we must do and that should be the driving ethos. No doubt the correct stance is somewhere in between. All or at least most are in agreement that something needs to be done.

An interesting commentary on the debate comes from Prof David Frame (Victoria University). He provides some perspective on the historical as well as current GHG emissions from both the dairy and sheep and beef industries and is worth a read for anyone involved or interested in the debate. One comment he makes which is sure to get a response is:

“Whether the current targets are well chosen is something over which there is and ought to be disagreement. In my view there was very little informed debate about either the 2030 or 2050 targets before they were chosen. The 10% reduction in methane emissions by 2030 is greater than that required to level off agriculture’s contribution to further warming. Seen through a contribution-to-warming lens, it asks the agriculture (ahuwhenua) sector to reduce warming, while New Zealand’s CO2-economy is asked to only reduce the rate at which its warming grows. This is a social choice, and it is one about which urban and rural NZ might not agree. Is it reasonable that the rural sector has to reduce its contribution to warming well before urban NZ halts its contribution to warming? Is it reasonable to ask NZ farmers (pāmu) to reduce the contribution their methane makes to warming, without making this, or future actions beyond 2030, contingent on similar action in other countries?”

This is a question for the politicians and given the subsidised cost that agriculture currently has the debate could go a number of ways. National’s new Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says that National would have just “tinkered” with the original HWEN proposal given the buy-in it had from the different sectors.

He said he cannot understand why emissions pricing should be set by the Climate Change Commission, or the recognised categories of carbon sequestering vegetation should be reduced. These are the two areas in the most dispute and the original proposals had the following:

  • A System Oversight Board with expertise and representation from the primary sector, will work closely with an Independent Māori Board to provide recommendations on levy rates and prices, and set the strategy for use of levy revenue.
  • On-farm sequestration is recognised, which could offset the cost of the emissions levy

The oversight board issue is perhaps a matter of trust but given the push back recently over joint decision making with Maori on other matters the proposed System Oversight Board may also not have met view the of some.

But some-one has to set the price.

It is likely it will be the price rather than "the who" that will ultimately win the day. 

The sequestration area was always going to be fraught given some of the complexities and the small areas being proposed (down to a minimum of .25ha and a minimum of 15 tree stems per hectare). However, there is still some water to flow under that bridge and the Government has changed tack enough times to not be surprised if they do so again if they think enough votes are at stake.

However the end results goes, there is going to be a whole new set of bureaucrats set up to administer this.

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The answer to the headline question is that Urban NZ needs to up its reduction significantly.  

I suspect this will happen after the election , regardless of who wins. just different methods. 

I would also point out farmers also have private vehicles and homes , its not like they are immune form the same carbon uses urban people are.  Most of all , I think itis important not to buy into the urban rural divide many are pushing for political gain . 


Agree urban NZ is an integral part of this plan and needs to be working on reducing footprint now.

Do we need a large suv to drop the children off at school? Perhaps a small petrol engine car or even an ev for around town?

Larger family sized ev's are still prohibitively expensive so a more efficient petrol/diesel for now.

Have you seen the price of battery replacements? Unbelievable..


Perhaps it's smaller, more local schools that kids walk to and teachers can afford to live by?

Many urban Kiwis have been asking for more viable public transport and intensification around it, but authoritarian NIMBYs in councils have been pushing sprawl instead. Which creates more congestion and transport emissions.


yes , quite surprising most cycleways don't connect to schools. Or shops etc .

Likewise public transport needs to be intergrated, so it is easy to get to most places people need to go . Without getting wet or sunburnt. or walking across acres of carparks to get to the shop.  


You can understand why some sheep and beef farmers are unhappy when you look at the BandL Farm service economic reports. I just got the latest for Canterbury/Marlborough.

Between 40 to 50% of all the hill country farms are losing money each year. Allowing for average interest payments and an average wage(equivlant ruling wage for an experience farm worker plus 1% management fee). These farmers are loosing between $100 to$500 per ha per year. Either they live on nothing or someone works off farm - probably both. They survive on capital gain.

Wool is loosing money each year and getting worse.

Its a sad state of affairs but if you think HWEN will take out 20% I would say based upon economic numbers these and more are going to go anyway in the next 10 to 15 years. The protests are as much about the continuing economic decline for many than anything.

The top 20 - 35% are doing well and will continue to flourish.


There was a BBC program on National radio comparing farmers in different countrie . They were Canada , Ireland , and Kenya. 

The Canadian was losing $ 300 per head on a 5000 head feedlot . He was making a fortune on grain though . The Irish were losing money , can't remember how much . The Kenyan Was breaking even , providing she did all the work herself. 



I dont agree. First up I am not sure how you survive on capital gain. You cant bank it. It doesnt buy food. 

What on earth is wrong with having two incomes. Most urban families do. Wife runs the farm and dad fences or shears or is an accountant. Its the story of our forbears. Its not new and there is nothing wrong with it. It does not mean a farm is not a productive part of New Zealand society. 



Of course , and many rural communities need farmers partners as school staff, nurses , etc etc . 

Even the lifestyle blocks, sure some are just large lawns , but many produce livestock or produce at a higher per ha rate than larger farms. Just gotta ignore the capital cost per ha .Pay the rates etc if your lucky. 


Marc Daalder from Newsroom sets out a very strong case on why farmers should be paying for their greenhouse gas emissions…



Really? Very strong? Perhaps you need to read it again. Try reading the comments section as well. 

Does anyone give any value to the grass I grow, from co2 and sunshine? The carbon I have sequestered in my very poor pumice soils of 30 years ago that now (used to be grey) are black with carbon?



Ag is doing its bit


 Agriculture forestry and fishery saw a significant decrease in emissions.

“ Stats NZ released the country’s quarterly greenhouse gas emissions figures.
The figures, which track the March 2022 quarter (January 2022 – March 2022), revealed the seasonally adjusted greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions had increased 1.7% on the previous quarter.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing saw the largest decrease, however, in emissions, down 0.8%.
Meanwhile, Stats NZ says electricity generation and manufacturing were the main culprit for the rise.
“One of the main sources of fluctuation in New Zealand’s total emissions is the variation in the energy sources used for electricity generation,” says Stats NZ environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley.”