A bi-partisan cross-party consensus on how to manage climate change appears to be in danger of breaking down over a last minute change to the Zero Carbon Bill’s methane targets.
Farmer organisations were up in arms about the change which National did not find out about till last Monday.
And in Parliament National’s Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller said there had been no negotiation with National over the past eight weeks over the targets.
Plainly something went wrong in the Beehive because Climate Change Minister James Shaw replied to Muller with an apology which raised more questions than it answered.
“I want to apologise to Mr Muller personally for some of the background process here which has not gone as I would have liked nor, in fact, as I had intended,” said Shaw.
If Shaw did not approve of the process, then that raises the questions as to who did.
Though NZ First yesterday supported the Bill they would have been highly unlikely to have supported tougher targets on farmers.
Indeed through the whole process, they have been briefing journalists warning that they would have to agree to stricter methane targets than they would like because of the big win they had over capital gains tax.
One New Zealand First source told POLITIK the situation over the past few weeks in terms of negotiations between the government parties over the Bill had been “confusing”.
NZ First leader, Winston Peters, was defensive in his statement yesterday and alluded to NZ First having obtained some assistance for farmers to help them once methane enters the Emissions Trading Scheme..
“In negotiations, New Zealand First sought to balance the interests of the agricultural sector and the need for the Government to take strong action and show leadership on climate change,” he said.“
“We also recognise that with this legislation our agricultural sector is facing new responsibilities around farm emissions.
“We are committed to assisting the industry through that transition with discounted emissions costs, better tools and knowledge to help them manage emissions and other environmental factors, as well as increased investment in research and development on ways to reduce emissions.
“New Zealand First will fully consult with the agricultural sector about how it wants the free allocation to agriculture to be fed back to the sector.
“What proportion of the assistance New Zealand First has secured in this agreement does the sector want channelled directly to farmers to assist their mitigation efforts and what proportion of the free allocation be directed to fund sector-wide research and development into methane inhibitors, vaccines and other new technologies?”
The Prime Minister did little to throw light on why National had been left out of the talks when she told the press conference that elements in the Bill had been in discussion with National for “quite some time.”
“So the final draft once approved by Cabinet went to them (National) but elements of the Bill, the most significant elements, we’ve been debating and discussing and negotiating since last year.
“So quite a bit of dialogue has gone on.”
National’s Caucus will debate the Bill next Tuesday.
Muller says they support the creation of the Climate Change Commission.
But what they do not support is the inclusion within the Bill of specific emissions targets inside the overall goal of reducing emissions to a level which will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
To achieve this, the Bill proposes that all greenhouse gases, except methane, be reduced to net zero by 2050.
Methane would be reduced to between 24 and 27% below 2017 levels by 2050 with a reduction of 10 per cent by 2030.
Farmer reacted angrily to the new 24 – 47 per cent targets.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the 2050 target, of reducing methane by 24 to 47 per cent, was based on global scenarios that were not grounded in the New Zealand context
“We will be pushing for the range to be reviewed and aligned with the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, of 10-22 per cent reduction in methane,” he said.
However, he was less critical of the 10 per cent reduction by 2030.
“The 2030 reduction target is the first step, which we know will be very challenging.
“But there is action that farmers can take, and are already taking, to reduce on-farm emissions.”
Federated Farmers, on the other hand, were highly critical.
“The 10% reduction target for methane by 2030 gives us a deadline for going beyond net zero more than 20 years earlier than for any other sector of New Zealand. It is unheard of anywhere else on the planet,” said Climate Change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard.
“The targets are significantly higher than what is necessary to be equivalent to net-zero carbon dioxide.
“The announced methane reduction target for 2050 of 24-50%, when coupled with the target of net zero for nitrous oxide, requires the New Zealand agriculture sector to reduce its emissions by 43-60%.
“Let’s be clear, the only way to achieve reductions of that level, is to cut production. There are no magic technologies out there waiting for us to implement.”
These two groups will have a powerful influence on the rural wing of the National Party.
But Muller yesterday was still optimistic that National might be able to sup[prot at least part of the proposed Bill.
“What was a surprise was the extent to which they wanted to reduce methane, and we think that actually, that doesn’t reflect what the science would tell you we would need to be done in a New Zealand context to stop methane from contributing to additional warming,” he told POLITIK.
Asked if National would still support the Bill, he said: “We are broadly comfortable with where the Climate Commission has landed in terms of the bill that’s being presented we have serious reservations about the methane target. “
Muller’s argument is that the independent Climate Change Commission should set specific targets.
But whether the Government would be prepared to accommodate that now would seem highly unlikely.
And that could be a deal breaker.