Chris Hipkins says National 'burying its head in the sand' on climate change despite Labour not yet finalising emissions policy

Labour leader Chris Hipkins thinks National is "burying its head in the sand" as the left and right blocs continue butting heads over the pricing of agricultural emissions.

"National's plan appears to be [to] not have a plan and just to hope that things get better in the future," Hipkins told AM.

National said on Monday it would push out the deadline for on-farm emissions pricing by five years if it won this year's election.

Party leader Christopher Luxon said farms still didn't have the technology to decrease their emissions and believed there shouldn't be any immediate charges.

As a result, there would be no agriculture caveats in National's climate change policy - but the party said it would "eventually" set up a system to charge for on-farm emissions.

But the National Party's policy was derided by Hipkins, who suggested the Opposition was saying, "Oh well, someone else can deal with that a decade into the future".

Speaking to AM on Tuesday, he said National's policy showed the party was "burying its head in the sand".

"Not many responsible political leaders are just saying, 'We'll leave that to someone else to deal with in the future,'" Hipkins told co-host Laura Tupou.

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Parliament TV

"There's [a] real risk for New Zealand in turning our backs on the challenge of climate change and pretending that it's not happening, or that it can be resolved in the future. Our exporters rely on New Zealand's clean, green image for their access to export markets internationally and if we just simply say, 'This is something we're going to deal with at some future point', the rest of the world could leave us behind."

He said his party would be backing He Waka Eke Noa - a group made up of industry leaders trying to put a price on agricultural emissions. National pulled its support for He Waka Eke Noa last week. 

In December, the Government said final decisions on agricultural emissions pricing would be made by Cabinet early this year - with the intention of having legislation introduced by mid-2023.

However, decisions have yet to be made.

Hipkins said its system would be in place by 2025 - but conversations with the sector about what that system would look like were "ongoing… I don't think we're that far apart".

"I think we're actually getting very close to having something that's both workable and that is actually going to make a difference."

He said National "don't really have a climate change policy, either".

"Yes, it's hard to find [an] agreement amongst the farming community about how best to price agricultural emissions - that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try and we are continuing to make sure that we do that."

But National Party Climate Change spokesperson Simon Watts said Labour was "the one that's killed the He Waka Eke Noa policy position".

"They're the ones that put that into the ground," Watts told AM.

He said simply reducing herd sizes, as some climate campaigners have proposed, wasn't realistic.

"To decimate our agricultural herds in this country will decimate our economy. How will we then pay for our health and education?

"Let's be clear, we're the ones with a policy on the table around what our plan is - the Government hasn't put their plan on the table… I think we're pretty bold about putting our plan on the table and I'm pretty confident it's going to deliver the outcomes."