The Prime Minister gave a heavy hint to the United Nations yesterday that the Government is looking to back off its proposal to force farmers into the Emissions Trading Scheme for the next five years.
Jacinda Ardern told the General Assembly that New Zealand farmers had made their own commitment to cutting emissions from food production.
They have — but they don’t expect those commitments to apply for five years.
In the meantime, the Government, has proposed that farming go into the Emissions Trading Scheme for five years when the technology, IT and management systems should be sufficiently developed to allow emissions to be measured on each farm.
“Our farming leaders have made their own commitment to cutting emissions from food production,” Ardern told the UN.
“Over the next five years, we will collaborate with farmers to build systems in New Zealand which every farmer will be able to use to measure, manage and reduce their own farm’s emissions.
Ardern did not mention the entry into the ETS which may be because there are proposals being discussed in Wellington that could largely avoid that.
POLITIK understands that a group f agriculture organisations have made significant progress in getting the three parties that make up the Government to accept their proposal for a self-regulatory approach to farm emissions rather than the ETS over the next five years.
The proposal, called “Eke e Waka Noa” has been endorsed by 11 agriculture groups including Beef and LambNZ, Dairy NZ, Horticulture NZ, the Federation of Maori Authorities and Federated Farmers.
The proposal is for a detailed five-year plan which rests on farmers each having a Farm Environmental Plan which would cover emissions, plans to reduce them, to offset them with tree planting and to mitigate them in other ways.
Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, confirmed to POLITIK yesterday that the plans were still under consideration and that no final decisions have been made.
The proposal was always going to be difficult for the Greens to accept because Greenpeace has been putting on considerable pressure to simply push agriculture into the ETS now.
“A voluntary agreement between big agriculture and the Government must absolutely be out of the question – voluntary efforts have failed to cut emissions over the past 20 years,” said Greenpeace CEO, Russel Norman in July.
But Federated Farmers opposes agriculture going into the ETS.
New Zealand towns and cities would be in for an economic “hiding” if dairy farmers were forced into the Emissions Trading Scheme and had to pay yet another crippling levy, said the Feds’ dairy chair, Chris Lewis in July.
That message got through to NZ First who have begun to get worried about the level of farmer protest against not only the ETS proposal but also freshwater nitrate limits and the Zero Carbon Bill.
“We could get wiped out by this,” one NZ First MP told POLITIK.
In ongoing negotiations between the three government parties, NZ First MPs say they have opposed the full ETS proposal.
As a result of that pressure, POLITIK understands that what is now being talked about is an addition to Eke e Waka Noa which would see farmers who failed to meet the Environment Plan targets forced into the ETS with their payments being collected at the processor level.
There is also the prospect that dairy companies might agree to not pick up milk from farmers who fail to submit a plan or fail to abide by the plan they have submitted.
This would be made easier by changes to Fonterra’s governing legislation, the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act which will make it easier for the co-operative to refuse to pick up milk from suppliers who do meet environmental standards.
During the negotiations over the ETS proposal, POLITIK understands there has been a discussion on the possibility that if the proposal works and farmers play by the rules, it might be possible to use a similar collaborative approach to the controversial proposals to lower nitrates and sediment in rural waterways.
Ardern plainly sees opportunities for New Zealand in cutting agricultural emissions.
“Agriculture makes up nearly half of our greenhouse gas emissions, setting us apart from our OECD counterparts,” she told the UN.
“But we won’t stay out there on our own for long.
“When other countries cut pollution from traditional sectors like energy and transport, their profiles will start to look more and more like ours does today.
“New Zealand will never produce all the food the world needs, no matter how many sheep you may think we have.
“But we can produce the ideas and technology the world needs for everyone to farm and grow in the most sustainable way possible.
“New Zealand is determined to do good, and be good for the world.”
It is a compelling pitch; unusual in the sense that the Prime Minister did not once mention security issues in her UN speech.
Instead, she has chosen to nominate New Zealand for a global leadership role in what is rapidly emerging as the most significant political issue facing the world. This week’s “Economist” points to that.
She still faces issues back in New Zealand in implementing her climate change policy where she faces a potential farmers’ rebellion.
Now she must bring the three parties that make up her Government to together to resolve this.
Her speech in New York suggests she is prepared to compromise to do that.
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