With New Zealand’s government planning legislation to cut agricultural emissions, co-ops in the sector will have to make a series of changes.
The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill aims for a 10% reduction in biological methane by 2030, with a 47% target by 2050.
Under the bill, keeping global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase forecast by UN experts between 2030 and 2052 becomes legally binding.
Responding to the proposed legislation, dairy co-op Fonterra said it was ‘committed to doing its bit’ in New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon future but warned about the challenges this would bring to the farming industry.
The co-op said it shared DairyNZ’s view that the 2030 methane target was ambitious, but could be reached with the help of a range of new ideas and tools that needed to be developed and put in the hands of farmers.
The UN estimates that livestock farming accounts for 18% of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell said: “Kiwi farmers are already some of the most emission efficient producers of milk in the world, but the fact is that nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases come from the wider agriculture sector.
“Our actions today will keep New Zealand at the forefront of sustainable food production. We know this means some of the ways we farm will need to change. Fonterra farmers are adaptable and resourceful people. Once set a clear science-based target, they will want to get on with the job and the co-op will be there to support them.
“It’s not going to be easy. It will require farmers, industry, government and researchers to all pitch-in and jointly develop innovative, yet practical solutions for New Zealand’s emissions reduction challenges. The increased investment in research and development signalled by the government and industry is key to bringing new innovations to life.”
Fonterra supports DairyNZ’s view that the 2050 target should be based on official scientific advice and set at the lower end of the proposed range and regularly reviewed against the science and options available to farmers.
It is in favour of the split gas approach recognising the differences between the shorter-lived gas of biogenic methane and the longer-lived gases of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
Yet the co-op adds that the 2050 target for methane reduction is “very ambitious” and “will be extremely challenging to meet with technology currently available”.
Fonterra suggests a 2050 methane target that is provisionally set at up to 24% net reduction from 2017, with regular reviews of this target must be based on scientific and economic analysis.
“Climate change is a challenge for every New Zealander,” added Mr Hurrell. “Collectively, we must continue to address our use of fossil fuels in transport and manufacturing, as well as find a way to manage and mitigate animal emissions.
“Agriculture depends upon a stable global climate, so there’s no shortage of motivation for us. Fonterra has a strong appetite to do its bit alongside the rest of New Zealand to reduce climate pollution.”
Fonterra also supports the agriculture sector’s proposal to establish an emissions pricing system by 2025, funded through levy organisations like DairyNZ.
Fonterra Shareholders’ Council chair Duncan Coull said the co-op was “up for the challenge” but some farmers may have some apprehension.
“This is the beginning of a process. New Zealand has a scientifically advanced agricultural economy, and the world will be watching us. However, regulations must be fair and drafted with care not to jeopardise our comparative advantage in global export markets.
“I’m a firm believer that science and technology will provide solutions over time. Therefore, it is imperative that regulation doesn’t get too far ahead of the scientific solutions.”
He added: “Given the magnitude of change, I would also call for wider industry collaboration to ensure we always act in the best interests of our farmers and caution against industry politics getting in the way of such an important issue for us all.
“I would urge all farmers to engage with the industry to lift their understanding and awareness as to how collectively we can work together to tackle this issue head on to capture further opportunities as the lowest emitting, most sustainable producers of nutrition to the world.”
The proposed changes were introduced as an amendment to the current Climate Change Response Act 2002, which the Environment Select Committee is considering.
Speaking before the committee, managing director of co-operative affairs Mike Cronin told MPs a cross-party approach was critical. He encouraged the committee to seek a political consensus going forward while also warning that the targets needed to be based on what was scientifically possible and economically viable.
Fonterra also pledged to publish reports informing farmers about emissions and helping them understand their numbers.