Opinion: 'Let them eat bark'

  • Opinion
  • 06/08/2019
Mike Chapman says New Zealand's approach to climate change neglects food security and local food production.
Mike Chapman says New Zealand's approach to climate change neglects food security and local food production. Photo credit: File

By Mike Chapman.

OPINION: New Zealand faces several climate change challenges, thanks to being an island nation and having an economy that relies on primary production. 

One solution to our country's challenges being touted at the moment is the planting of even more pine trees as forest sinks to offset our carbon emissions. 

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton has raised questions about this approach, saying that 'our open-ended use of forests to license further carbon emissions will needlessly delay the critical transition to eliminating carbon altogether' (New Zealand Listener, 6 July 2019). 

Native forest currently covers 7.8 billion hectares while pine forest covers 1.7 billion. 

The Productivity Commission has estimated that New Zealand needs to commit up to 2.8 billion more hectares to forest if we are to contribute to meeting the 2050 climate change goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. 

The One Billion Trees target get us to 230,000 to 430,000 more hectares in 10 years.  That is an awful lot of what will predominantly be, at least at this stage of planning and planting, pine trees. 

This debate is going on at the same time that the Climate Change Select Committee is hearing submissions on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill. 

In its submission, Horticulture New Zealand pointed out that as it stands, the Bill does not completely honour the Paris Agreement as it neglects to include that climate change adaptation should be made 'in a manner that does not threaten food production'. 

At the moment, not every New Zealander has access to fresh, healthy food.  It's estimated that as many as one in five New Zealand children do not have enough healthy food to eat.  This situation results in diet-related illnesses such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which put increasing stress on our hospital systems. 

New Zealand needs to ensure that it has what is called 'food security'.  That is, that we are able to grow all the fresh and healthy food that we need, in a world where it will be increasingly difficult to import fresh food, due to the impact of climate change and flow effects like isolationism and trade tariffs. 

Currently, New Zealand's approach to climate change neglects food security and local food production.  It focuses predominantly on planting more pine trees, not planting more fruit and vegetables and ensuring that we meet future climate change obligations by reducing the carbon needed to produce the whole food basket. 

In New Zealand, it is getting increasingly hard to grow fresh fruit and vegetables - particularly vegetables, in traditional areas like Pukekohe, the Waikato, Levin and Canterbury - due to housing and lifestyle block demands, and Regional Council approaches to the current Resource Management Act. 

Therefore, we welcome the review of the Resource Management Act as this should be the opportunity to address the unnecessary impediments currently imposed. 

The policy changes we are seeking - while allowing us to meet climate change and environmental challenges - are to ensure that New Zealand can grow enough nutritious food to feed itself, while reducing the carbon it takes to produce that food. 

After all, we can't 'eat bark'. 

Mike Chapman is Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand.