Climate Change Commission report has 'cow-shaped hole', gives dairy industry a 'free pass' - Greenpeace

The Climate Change Commission released its final report on Wednesday.
The Climate Change Commission released its final report on Wednesday. Photo credit: Getty Images

Greenpeace has lashed out at the advice of the Climate Change Commission, saying the independent Crown entity has given the dairy industry a "free pass" when it comes to its environmental responsibilities.

The Commission released its final report on Wednesday after a consultation period that saw thousands of submissions from individuals, organisations and lobby groups.

The report offers recommendations for the Government around New Zealand's path towards its ambitious climate goals of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and reducing biogenic methane emissions between 25-47 percent, also by 2050.

The Government now has until the end of the year to set its first three emissions budgets out to 2035 and release the country's first emissions reduction plan detailing the policies it will use to achieve the budgets.

But Greenpeace climate change campaigner Amanda Larsson says the Commission's final report has a "cow-shaped hole" in it.

"The Climate Change Commission's final plan seems more anxious about placating big dairy than doing what is scientifically necessary to avert the climate crisis," says Larsson.

"New Zealand has the world's highest methane emissions per person, largely thanks to those 6 million dairy cows. The Commission’s goal of a 16 percent reduction in methane is not only insufficient, it's unlikely to succeed because it relies on voluntary measures and future techno-fixes, like the fabled methane vaccine."

Larsson said the Commission was "completely missing the opportunity" to create a thriving countryside with vibrant rural communities and plenty of jobs" by putting more stringent goals in place.

But DairyNZ, the industry body representing the country's dairy farmers, said it wasn't fair for farmers to do all the "heavy lifting" when it came to achieving the country's climate goals.

The organisation's chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said farmers were committed to "doing their fair share and playing their part alongside the rest of the economy - but the work needs to be fairly spread".

"We do remain concerned agriculture may be asked to do the heavy lifting if we don't see urgent action to reduce CO2 emissions," Dr Mackle said.

"We are all in this together and we must have a fair and balanced plan that requires our communities to contribute equally."

He said goals around cutting biogenic methane would be "incredibly challenging" for farmers to meet.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand said it supported the Commission's advice telling the Government to reduce the country's reliance on forestry offsets. However the organisation's chief executive Sam McIvor said "the recommended levels of carbon removed by trees is still too high and will lead to swathes of New Zealand sheep and beef farmland being converted to pine trees".

"This will have significant negative impacts for sheep and beef farming and rural communities with knock-on effects for every New Zealand household."

McIvor said it was "critical there are strict limits on the amount of offsetting fossil fuel emitters can do by planting exotic trees".

He also said the sector was disappointed at the "lack of recognition of the marginal impact methane-emitting sectors have had on the atmosphere for the past 20 years".

"The science is clear, methane emissions in New Zealand have contributed little additional warming since the early 2000s. Furthermore, methane emissions from sheep and beef production have decreased by about 30 percent since 1990."

McIvor also expressed concern over a recommendation by the Commission advising the Government to implement measures that would lead to a 12 percent reduction of biogenic methane emissions on 2017 levels.

"This represents a 20 percent increase in the level of ambition compared to the 2030 biogenic methane target in the Zero Carbon Act, which is to reduce methane emissions to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2030.

"The agriculture sector is consolidating its actions to reduce emissions but this represents a shift in the goal posts on a target that is already too high. We are also concerned by references to livestock numbers needing to decrease by 13 percent by 2030, and references to an effective loss of grazing land of 20 percent of the area afforested with native forests."

National's Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith said the targets would be difficult for farmers to achieve.

"We still have questions on why farmers are being asked to do more than the targets set out in the Zero Carbon Act," he said.

Federated Farmers said the recommendations of the report would need to be backed up "significant investment in improving access to science and technology on farm, and the people needed to operate it".