Methane emissions from agriculture, particularly from livestock farming have come under increasing scrutiny due to their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. While it's essential to address environmental concerns, we must exercise caution if we go down a road of implementing a blanket tax on farmers for methane output as this approach can overlook the complexities of agricultural systems.
It is the farmer who often operate on thin profit margins, that will bear the brunt of such taxes. These farmers already face numerous challenges, including unpredictable weather patterns, fluctuating market prices, and rising input costs. Taxing them for methane emissions could push many to the wall, threatening the viability of family farms and rural communities.
Taxing farmers for methane output may create a disincentive for investing in sustainable technologies. Many farmers are already adopting innovative practices, such as methane digesters and improved feed formulations, and improved genetics as a couple of examples to reduce emissions, some of which I have talked about before. However, the upfront costs of implementing these technologies can be prohibitive. Taxation further hampers their ability to invest in these solutions, slowing down progress towards more sustainable farming practices.
The implications of taxing farmers for methane emissions extend far beyond economic considerations. Agriculture is the backbone of global food security and is particularly important to New Zealand, and any policy that undermines its stability jeopardises our ability to feed a growing population.
Instead of punitive measures like taxation, perhaps policymakers should focus on incentivising sustainable practices through targeted support, investment and fair recognition for the good work already being achieved on farm. This approach acknowledges the importance of reducing methane emissions while ensuring that farmers are not unfairly penalised for their essential role in food production.
So what about exotic trees in the battle against climate change? Trees stand as stalwart allies, offering a natural solution through carbon sequestration. However, the question arises: who should benefit from this resource? Should it be fossil fuel companies, whose practices contribute significantly to emissions, or farmers, who can utilise trees to both generate income and offset their own emissions?
Trees possess a remarkable ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby mitigating climate change. By strategically planting trees on marginal land, farmers can contribute to carbon sequestration efforts while also reaping economic benefits.
Farmers are not only producers of food and fibre but also stewards of the land. They have a vested interest in preserving their natural resources for future generations. Harnessing trees for carbon sequestration aligns with their ethos of environmental stewardship, allowing them to play an active role in combating climate change.
Planting trees for carbon sequestration also presents farmers with an opportunity to diversify their income streams. Through the ETS it should be farmers earning revenue by sequestering carbon on their land and enabling farmers to offset their own emissions effectively reducing or eliminating their emissions, contributing to overall emission reduction efforts, the ETS should not benefit international corporations who provide no value to the New Zealand economy and no value to rural communities.
I believe It is imperative to prioritise farmers over fossil fuel companies when allocating resources for carbon sequestration initiatives. Unlike fossil fuel companies, farmers have a vested interest in adopting sustainable practices that benefit both their livelihoods and the environment.
Allowing large emitters, particularly companies reliant on fossil fuels, to offset 100% of their emissions undermines the imperative for genuine change in their business practices. Allowing companies to offset all their emissions may seem like a straightforward solution to achieving carbon neutrality. However, this approach fails to address the root cause of emissions and provides little incentive for companies to transition to more sustainable practices.
When companies can simply purchase offsets to falsely reduce their emission profile, they are relieved of the pressure to invest in sustainable technologies or reduce their carbon footprint in real terms. This lack of accountability perpetuates the status quo and hinders progress towards a low-carbon economy.
Furthermore, relying solely on offsets can lead to greenwashing—the practice of presenting a misleadingly positive image of a company's environmental impact. Companies use offsetting as a PR tool to mask their continued reliance on fossil fuels and portray themselves as environmentally responsible, without making meaningful changes to their operations.
This should not be taken as an attack on large emitters rather it should be seen as getting settlings right in this country, we should not allow falsities like emitters being able to essentially dump their pollution on New Zealand’s food producing farms, they should face up to their own activities and drive innovation. And if we are going to continue to use exotic trees to absorb carbon emissions, it should be as part of a mixed farming model that benefits New Zealand farmers, and New Zealand farmers alone and not at the expense of the ever growing demand for food.
Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.