Opinion: Growers and farmers need to be empowered if they are to tackle climate change

  • Opinion
  • 11/03/2021
Mike Chapman says growers need to be empowered if the country is to meet its climate change goals.
Mike Chapman says growers need to be empowered if the country is to meet its climate change goals.

By Mike Chapman

OPINION: It no longer matters whether or not you believe in climate change. The way we live our lives is changing forever. 

To help create a plan for how we adapt to climate change, the Government set up the Climate Change Commission, which recently released its draft report and is now calling for submissions on it.  Once finalised, this report will form the basis of the blueprint for our Government's action to curb emissions. 

Our Climate Change Commission is modelled off the United Kingdom model, whose pragmatic recommendations are largely being followed, resulting in significant progress. Lord Deben, Chair of the UK Climate Change Commission, has clear views that climate change mitigations and adaptation "will not work if they are run by the state".  He is firm in his belief that "government will create the parameters, but the market will deliver the goods".  This distinction of who will deliver the necessary change is a very important point and is also true of any initiative that seeks to change our environment.  

Unless the people living and working in that environment are leading the way on climate change adaptation, nothing will change. If New Zealand is to meet its climate change goals and obligations under the Paris Agreement, we need to empower growers, farmers and landowners, and develop tools to reduce emissions.

In New Zealand, nearly half of our emissions result from our most valuable export sector, the primary sector. The Paris Accord clearly states that producing food while adapting to climate change is vital. No food, no people. As a country, we need to produce food to feed ourselves and to export, to earn essential overseas revenue. Lord Deben is clear that food production must continue, but his comment is that we must "farm differently".  He does not advocate rapid and crippling change, rather a progressive and planned change. 

In other words, give our farmers the tools, incentives and time, and we could be world leaders and reduce our emissions. Creating the necessary tools will require our government to make some changes to redirect research funding into the projects that will make a difference. New Zealand has the opportunity to take a leadership role in developing technologies that will enable us to farm differently. We are one of the smallest nations but are also one of the most advanced nations in farm innovation and ground-changing research and development.  

Our Government has declared a climate emergency: it is now time to respond to that emergency. The way to do that is to support innovation and R&D. That is the most significant action the New Zealand Government can take. This is not the time for regulation. It is the time to empower our front line to fight climate change by giving them the tools growers and farmers need.  But everyone needs to remember Lord Deben's insight that "we cannot produce the food we need, without some emissions".  

Lord Deben's sage advice is "unless we act, there will be no world for our grandchildren". A sensible, balanced and progressive approach needs to be taken based on innovation and R&D, not emotion and rhetoric. Then there will be a world for us and our grandchildren.

Mike Chapman is chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand