Why has the Climate Change Commission provided this advice?
The Climate Change Commission was formed alongside work to set the country’s climate targets (including biogenic methane targets). The establishment of the Commission is legislated under the Zero Carbon Act 2019. Their main purpose is to provide evidence-based advice on climate issues.
As set out under the Zero Carbon Act, the Commission was required to deliver this advice on setting emissions budgets across the entire economy to Government. This advice has implications for all sectors of the economy, including farming.
What are the next steps for the Commission?
The Commission has opened public consultation on this draft advice for six weeks, from 1st February to 28th March 2021. The Commission will then consider any submissions on the draft advice and finalise advice to Government by 30 June 2021.
DairyNZ will be submitting on the Commission's advice and will support and encourage you to develop your own submission. You can expect to hear from us on a regular basis with updates being added to our climate change website page.
How will the Government respond to this advice?
The Commission’s finalised advice will be provided to Government by the 30 June 2021. This advice will have a suite of recommendations for changes to Government climate policy. The Government has 20 working days to consider this advice and respond.
What are the key transitions the Commission recommends for the whole economy over these budgets?
What are the Commission’s recommendations for emissions budgets?
Emission Budget 1 (2022-2025)
Emission Budget 2 (2026-2030)
Emission Budget 3 (2031-2035)
Carbon dioxide (gross)
Reduction from 2018
35.1 Mt CO2e
Reduction from 2018
7.7 Mt CO2e
Reduction from 2018
1.34 Mt CH4
Note: All reductions in the emissions budgets are relative to 2018 emissions. This is different to the Zero Carbon Act 2019 targets which are relative to 2017 emissions.
What are the Commission’s recommendations to Government regarding Agriculture?
- Government must provide support to ensure that He Waka Eke Noa will succeed.
- Drawing on the work of He Waka Eke Noa, Government must decide in 2022 on a pricing mechanism for agricultural emissions as is required by legislation
- Ensure the Rural Broadband Initiative is resourced and prioritised to achieve its 2023 target. This is essential to ensure farmers can access information and data needed to measure and monitor emissions on-farm.
- Review current arrangements and develop a long-term plan for targeted investment and research and development of technologies to reduce emissions from agriculture
- Review and update processes and regulatory regimes to ensure that new emissions reducing technologies and practices can be rapidly deployed as and when they are developed. Specifically, the Commission recommends that the conversation around genetic engineering and GMOs is revisited.
What is the Commission’s advice for biogenic methane?
Under emissions budgets, the Commission has recommended that biogenic methane is reduced by 11.4% by 2030 and 15.9% by 2035 (below 2018 levels).
Following analysis of several future scenarios, the Commission has advised that it is possible for biogenic methane to be reduced by between 12-26% by 2030 and 25-59% by 2050 (below 2017 levels).
NB: The Commission was not tasked with looking at the Zero Carbon Act biogenic methane targets (10% by 2030, 24-47% by 2050). These will be reviewed by the Commission in 2024.
What does this advice mean for dairy farmers?
This advice does not impact dairy farmers until Government responds through enacting recommended climate policy. Remember that the Commission advises the Government and the Government makes policy decisions. Under the Zero Carbon Act 2019, the Government must establish an emissions reduction plan by 31 December 2021.
Why is there a range in this advice for methane emission reductions?
The Commission looked at four scenarios to investigate the potential for future emissions reductions. These scenarios ranged from Headwinds (least optimistic with large barriers to new technology and behaviour change) to Tailwinds (most optimistic with few barriers to technology and behaviour change).
The low and high end of the ranges of possible biogenic methane reductions, 12-26% by 2030 and 25-59% by 2050, show the possible reductions under the Headwind and Tailwind scenarios. The lower ends of these reductions (12% by 2030 and 25% by 2050) can be achieved using currently available practices and technologies (headwinds). While the high ends of these reductions (25% by 2030 and 59% by 2050) can only be achieved if there is new technology such as a methane vaccine.
Why is it important to still reduce methane emissions in the short-term?
Reducing methane emissions earlier rather than later in the century leads to a higher likelihood that temperatures will not overshoot the 1.5-degree threshold.
Why does the advice suggest a 15% reduction in stock numbers by 2030?
This was not a recommendation made by the Commission – although they did model this as a possibility in the future. What the Commission has actually recommended is the Government introduce policies that will reduce barriers to conversion to lower emission land uses. If stock numbers were to reduce this would not be a blanket rule across all farms and would be more likely to be driven by some farmers choosing to convert to other land uses like horticulture.
What implications does the Commission’s advice have for conversion from dairy to other land-uses?
Land use change, for example, from dairy to horticulture on flatter and more productive land could reduce biogenic emissions per hectare. However, it could also cause water quality to deteriorate due to the increased use of fertiliser, and consequential nitrogen and phosphorus losses.
Nutrient losses would vary depending on the crop, the site, weather conditions, the soils’ physical and chemical properties, and how the land is managed. Increasing the area of horticulture could also increase water demand. The Commission says that in light of the physical impacts of climate change, this increased need for water would need to be weighed up when considering converting to horticulture as a climate action.
What support can we expect?
The Commission has specifically recommended the Government increase investment in research and technology to improve efficiency on farm. This includes investing in other enablers of change such as rural broadband. This is great news for farmers.
What is the difference between short-lived gases (methane) and long-lived gases (carbon dioxide)?
Long-lived gases accumulate in the atmosphere – they are effectively being added faster than they are being removed. Therefore, a constant rate of emissions leads to increasing concentrations and more warming. Short-lived gases do not last as long in the atmosphere, so a constant rate of emissions would eventually lead to a constant concentration.
Does the Commission recognise the difference between long-lived gases and short-lived gases (like methane)?
Yes. The different lifetimes and effects of long- and short-lived gases means different actions are required to reduce their effect on the climate. Emissions of long-lived gases need to drop to zero to stop warming. In comparison, any reduction in the rate of emissions of short-lived gases will lead to less warming. The more they are reduced, the greater the reduction in the warming.
What are the main assumptions for farms, behind the Commission’s pathway to the 2035 emissions budgets?
The Commission’s modelling assumed a number of practise changes on-farm that would reduce on-farm emissions:
- Careful balancing of stocking rate, pasture and fertiliser management and supplementary feed can lead to a farm system where production, profit and emissions are optimised.
- The type of feed livestock eat can affect how much nitrogen is excreted and thus the nitrous oxide emitted from agricultural soils.
- Switching from a twice a day milking system to once a day milking can result in lower methane and nitrous oxide emissions but could maintain profitability if reduced labour costs balance a reduction in total milk production.
- Using calves from the dairy industry for beef production reduces the need for beef breeding cows.
- Switching some of their land away from livestock farming to lower emission uses, such as forestry or horticulture to reduce emissions.
- Potential for some soils to increase the quantity of carbon they store, even though Aotearoa generally has naturally high soil carbon stocks.
Other options that were explored as potential on-farm practice changes were:
- Targeted breeding of livestock to emit less methane per kilogram of feed consumed.
- Using plant breeding and modification to produce pasture that reduces methane emissions per kilogram of feed consumed.
- Use of methane inhibitors that when fed to livestock, reduce emissions by targeting the methane-producing microbes within the rumen.
- Developing a methane vaccine to trigger an animal’s immune response to generate antibodies that supress the activity of methanogens and therefore methane.
- Use of nitrification inhibitors that slow down the rate at which microbes in the soil convert nitrogen into nitrous oxide and reduce emissions.
What recommendations has the Commission made about land-use change to forestry (both exotic and native)?
The Commission has recommended that 25,000 hectares of new native forest would be planted per year from 2030. In total, close to 300,000 hectares of new native forests would be established by 2035.
Exotic afforestation would continue at around 25,000 hectares per year, up until 2030, and from 2030 onwards this rate would reduce. In total, around 380,000 hectares of new exotic forestry would be established by 2035.
What recommendations has the Commission made about transport?
The Commission recommends that there will be no further internal combustion engine light vehicles imported after 2032 and that 40% of the light vehicle fleet would be electric vehicles by 2035. By 2030, 15% of medium trucks and 8% of heavy trucks would be electric and by 2035, these would increase to 84% and 69% respectively.
The average household travel distance per person would be reduced by around 7% by 2030 and the distance travelled by walking, cycling and public transport can be increased by 25%, 95% and 120% respectively by 2030.
What effect will these recommendations have on the economy?
Modelling suggests that reducing emissions to meet the proposed emissions budgets would cost $190 million each year for the first 5 years, $2.3 billion each year for the next 5 years, and $4.3 billion each year for the next 5 years.
This modelling also says that New Zealand can decarbonise the economy while continuing to grow GDP. The overall costs of meeting the targets and the proposed emissions budgets are estimated at less than 1% of projected annual GDP. While the overall costs are small relative to the size of the whole economy, they will not be evenly felt. Some sectors of society will experience greater impacts, both positive and negative.
The Commission recommends that Government must put in place policies to support those most disadvantaged and those least able to adjust, and to ensure an equitable and inclusive transition.
Are they just picking on farmers?
No. All New Zealanders are being asked to reduce their footprint whether that be on the farm, on the roads, or in our homes. We know this will be challenging for our sector, but dairy farmers are not the only ones being asked to change.
Is the dairy sector taking a united approach?
We will be working with our sector partners throughout the submission process such as B+LNZ and Federated Farmers. We will be seeking alignment on key agricultural issues and ensuring we maintain communications through the next six weeks to the end of the consultation period.