No 1 dairy exporter gets five years for climate mitigation

No 1 dairy exporter gets five years for climate mitigation

New Zealand’s decision to give its farm and food industry five years to to measure and price its greenhouse gas emissions at the farm level puts it up to competing national agricultural industries, including Ireland’s.

Not surprisingly, DairyNZ, representing their biggest farm sector, has welcomed their Government announcement, which keeps agri-food out of their Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). In New Zealand, only agriculture is outside the ETS, which puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions, thus forcing sectors to reduce emissions, or purchase credits at the carbon price.

The EU has a similar system, except that the ETS covers only power stations, industrial plants, and airlines (about 29% of emissions in Ireland, 45% in the EU). As the No 1 exporter nation, New Zealand has put the cat among the pigeons in the global dairy industry.

Accounting for 19.3% of global milk exports, it sets the pace for competing nations (of which Ireland is ranked 13th, with an estimated 2% of global milk exports). DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said their government initially wanted a broad-based tax on farmers, which would have piled on more cost, with no environmental benefit, taking money out of farmers’ pockets at a time when it would be better-invested on-farm to prepare for and start the process of reducing emissions.

Europe sold over 52.5% of worldwide milk exports in 2018, while the continent of Oceania, led by New Zealand, had a 22.5% share. The New Zealand climate mitigation move puts Europe under pressure not to take a hard line on climate targets with its dairy producing member states, led by Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. That is true for Ireland also, one of the few countries worldwide with a greenhouse gas situation like New Zealand’s.

Both countries have a small share of global GHG emissions, but high gross emissions per person. Here, many call for stricter control of agriculture, because it contributes about a third of Ireland’s emissions.

But in New Zealand, emissions from agriculture are 48% of the total. New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were 80.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Ireland’s national emissions are estimated at 60.5m tonnes in 2018.

Neither figure includes Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), which offset nearly one third of New Zealand’s gross emissions (despite decreasing 22.9% from 1990 to 2016 due to high harvesting rates of planted forests).

New Zealand farmers say they are committed to playing their part, and want to take action to reduce agricultural emissions. They say the agreed five-year work plan includes clear and measurable actions, outcomes and time frames.

It includes rolling out environment plans for all farms by 2025, to ensure every farmer knows their emissions footprint, where those emissions come from, and how they can manage them. This process has been going on in Ireland for a few years.

Still, New Zealand farmers do not seem full on board for climate mitigation. They say it is disappointing that their Government has reserved the right to bring agriculture into the ETS in 2025, or earlier if recommended by their Independent Climate Change Commission.

Like Irish farmers, they say their pasture-based dairy sector is one of the most emission-efficient, high quality, and sustainable. Their government now claims credit for a “world-first plan for farmers to reduce emissions”, and “one of the most significant developments on climate action in New Zealand’s history”.

From the Irish perspective, it strengthens IFA’s call for our Government to continue working with the agri-food sector, and leading co-ordinated delivery of Teagasc’s climate roadmap, which sets out an emissions reduction plan for the next decade, without impacting on the national herd.

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