New Zealand’s transition into a low carbon economy

Fact: “untold human suffering” is unavoidable unless drastic action is taken immediately.

Fact: rising temperatures are getting worse.

Fact: climate change is real.

This is the new world we live in, and it’s time we started accepting the consequences of our actions, and start becoming part of the solution, rather than the problem.

As the sun rose this morning over Owl farm in Cambridge, something occurred to me - surely there is no logical way you can still deny climate change is happening.

Yet still there are those out there who still put it in the fiction category. You know, the kind of people who reference 4chan articles as credible references of information.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the problem is accelerating at a faster rate than most scientists expected. We have taken the world for granted and now we’re paying for it.

Yesterday James Shaw’s Zero Climate Bill had its second reading.

It follows a coalition of more than 11,000 scientists from more than 150 countries who endorsed a declaration of a climate emergency. Yes that’s right, the rest of the world has officially recognised that Houston, we have a problem.

Ironically, I have spent the morning with Fonterra, talking to them about their commitment to the environment.

There are six main areas the scientists say we need to focus on to avoid turning the Earth into Venus - which scientists believe suffered a runaway greenhouse effect at some point in its history, and is now the hottest planet in the solar system with surface temperature above 460C.

The agriculture sector is one of those main areas. It’s no secret that it’s a big contributor of methane emissions. Previously New Zealand farmers long resisted being included in any formal efforts to reduce emissions, saying that would severely damage the economy. However there has been a shift in recent years.

Fonterra North Island Sustainable Dairying Manager Doug Dibley recognises this. By his own admission after working in the sector for over a decade, he recognises farmers have been part of the problem, but now need to be part of the solution.

That solution could lie in Owl farm where we have spent our morning learning about the different ways the industry can be sustainable, and yet, function productively and remain profitable. The farm is a joint venture with St. Peter’s School, Cambridge, and Lincoln University.

There has been a significant investment and development over the past four years here to demonstrate what these practices could look like.

From the constructed treatment seat lands built for the purpose of intercepting groundwater and extracting nutrients before entering the Waikato river, to the construction of effluent ponds and significant riparian planting.

It’s places like this that give me a little bit more hope than I had before.

The agriculture industry goes hand in hand with with survival of New Zealand’s economy. It will never not be around, the point however is how we it function in a low carbon economy.

So what exactly is Fonterra doing to help reduce carbon emission, ensure farmers improve their practices on water quality, and help, not hinder the environment?

Currently, there is a team of sustainable dairy advisors working to support the development of farm environment plans. Specifically, these plans cover the entire farm from a holistic environmental perspective (effluent, waterways, nutrient management, land management, irrigation, water use, waste management, infrastructure). The plan’s goal is reduction, rather than removal, ultimately reducing our environmental footprint. On the ground, or rather the paddock, that means keeping tabs on our farmers and ensuring they are doing their part.

Fonterra will now issue farmers with a specific emissions profile that is constantly monitored. That means accountability and an increase in awareness and understanding around their own practices. It also means there’s an open dialogue between farmers, Fonterra, and the public, and that’s where initiatives like Open Gates are important.

Happening this weekend, the event invites members from the public to visit one of 14 farms around the country to see for themselves what kind of work is being done. Transparency is of the upmost importance and so the public are invited to ask questions, understand processes, and decide for themselves if the work is sufficient - open dialogue.

It brings me back to a thought I had earlier in the morning. If our own farmers around the country can recognise they themselves are part of the problem and are working to be a part of the solution, how can climate change deniers around the country still exist?

My experience talking to Doug this morning has been refreshing. Admittedly I came in with a preconceived idea of what I was going to see and hear. I was pleasantly surprised.

Transparency should exist in every sector, and for Fonterra to open the dialogue is hugely important and proactive.

We have a way to go, and I think there is a deep seeded societal mentality that needs to change, but this is a step in the right direction, a direction that takes us further away from Venus.

Fonterra's Open Gates starts on November 10. Click here for information.

This article is created for Fonterra.