Government progress, but no guarantee farmers will end up paying for emissions

The Government has the farming sector on-side with its plan to make them pay for 5 percent of their emissions by 2025, but backing from the sector has come at a cost.

Environmentalists say the plan is far too weak and too slow, and with two elections between now and 2025, there is no guarantee that farmers will end up paying at all.

The primary sector is stoked with the gigantic carrot offered up to farmers by the Government. If there is good progress, under the plan, farmers won't have to pay for greenhouse gas emissions until 2025.

When they do, it'll be through a scheme co-designed with the Government, and farmers will get a 95 percent discount on emissions. 

And a threat - the stick - looms: if the plan's not progressing well by 2022, farmers will be bunged into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday between now and 2025, "tangible progress" will be made "towards emissions reduction, and if we don't, there is a fall-back option".

Ardern said she believes a "pricing mechanism will be enough to drive change".

But environmentalists are worried it doesn't go far or fast enough.

"When 170,000 people marched in the streets a couple of weeks ago, 5 percent in five years' time is not what they were hoping for," Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague told Newshub.

The Climate Change Commission recommended agriculture start paying for emissions in 2020 - through processors like Fonterra - until a farm-level scheme could get running. Under the farm-level scheme, farmers would pay according to their individual profile - cattle emissions would be offset against trees.

But the Government is giving farmers five more years.

"Everybody has got to be doing everything they can to fight climate change, and that means no special treatment for farmers," Hague said.

Climate Change Minister and Greens' co-leader James Shaw said the Government could have pushed things further, but he said: "Ultimately what that means is [at] the next change of government it would come unstuck."

The Opposition is not really opposing the Government's proposal but is sticking the boot in any way.

"This Government has spoken a very big game on environmental issues, on ETS, on climate change, and so far they've been not very good at delivering," National's climate spokesperson Scott Simpson said.

Newshub spoke to farming locals at the Hawke's Bay A & P show on Thursday who gave the Prime Minister's climate plan a passing grade.

"The way they're going about it, if we are going to be included, is a good way to do it," one said.

"The farming community, they want to change things, they want to get better, and we will, given some tools and technology," another said.

Federated Farmers has a similar view, with vice president Andrew Hoggard saying they won't support agricultural emissions going into the ETS without "significant technological and regulatory developments becoming available to farmers".

Nevertheless, he said the group supports New Zealand playing its part in addressing climate change, but also "recognising the fundamental priority of food production".