New Zealand eco bill under attack from environmental lobbies

Farming and environmental lobbies in New Zealand have criticised their government’s introduction of a bill that aims to make the nation mostly carbon neutral by 2050.

Agriculture industry leaders say the plan would involve drastic reduction of agri-food output. Environmentalists, however, say the bill does not go far enough to protect the environment, notably its soft stance on reducing methane emissions and the lack of a clear plan for penalising offenders.

Nonetheless, Tim Ritchie, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said meat processors and exporters are alarmed at the targets, which could only be achieved by reducing herds.

“This will impose enormous economic costs on the country and threaten many regional communities who depend on pastoral agriculture.” he said.

The bill proposes tackling climate change by planting a billion trees over 10 years and ensuring the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy by 2035.

The bill would require all greenhouse gases except methane from animals to be reduced to net zero by 2050. Methane emissions would be reduced by 10% by 2030 and by between about a quarter and a half by 2050.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said climate change is the biggest single challenge facing the world.

“We know the climate is changing. People can see that,” she said.

This legislation makes a start on tackling climate change because the alternative is the catastrophic cost of doing nothing.

Agriculture is a key source of overseas revenue for New Zealand, which is home to just under 5m people but more than 10m cows and some 28m sheep.

Those animals emit methane, resulting in an unusual greenhouse gas profile for the country, with nearly half of total emissions coming from agriculture.

The bill says lower targets for methane reduction reflect that it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, Russel Norman, the executive director of Greenpeace in New Zealand, said the bill would have little clout because there is no mechanism to hold anybody to account.

To come into effect, the bill would need to be passed by a majority in the parliament with a final vote expected later this year.

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