Parliament gets an environmental 'reality check'

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright

Parliament's independent environmental watchdog has issued what she calls a "reality check" about the urgent need to reduce agricultural emissions.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) Dr Jan Wright has released a report urging New Zealanders to work together to tackle the problem of greenhouse gases from agriculture.

She wants the Government to ramp up its research, including the development of a methane vaccine to reduce gas emitted from animals, genetically modified feed that reduces gas and selective breeding of low emission animals.

Dr Wright warns other sectors will become increasingly squeezed if the agriculture sector does not begin to take some responsibility for its greenhouse gases.

She accepts there are practical challenges and compliance costs in measuring emissions on individual farms. But that's not an excuse for doing nothing, she says.

Dr Wright says regulation might be the best way to drive change.

"For instance, farms could be required to monitor and report on their biological emissions."

She suggests a partial inclusion of agricultural gases into the Emissions Trading Scheme, for example including nitrogen fertiliser, or bringing in farms above a certain size because compliance costs would be lower.

She also advises planting trees to soak up and store carbon dioxide, a measure that wouldn't rely on "technological breakthroughs".

She said that planting a million hectares of trees would make a big difference in reducing emissions.

"National isn't doing farmers any favours by telling them no change is needed while the Government searches for a scientific silver bullet that may never exist," said Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

"In the long-term, the most profitable farmers will be those who respond to the challenge of climate change early and find more efficient, low-emission ways of growing food and fibre products".

Harry Clark, Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) said: "The more options we have to reduce agricultural greenhouse gases, the easier it will become for New Zealand to achieve its 2030 emission target signalled under the Paris Agreement of a 30 percent reduction in emissions compared with 2005."