friesian5Saturday was agriculture’s day in the sun at the UN climate change negotiations in Bonn, with delegates discussing options for reducing the sector’s growing greenhouse gas. New Zealand made a presentation during the day and then in the evening the delegation ran a side event titled “Silencing the Lambs.”

Given that the increase in New Zealand’s agricultural greenhouse pollution is due to a rapidly expanding dairy sector, I think Hannibal Lactator would have been a better name for the event.

The morning had kicked off with speakers from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation highlighting the very large technical potential for greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture and stressing the non-climate change benefits of reductions.

I was interested to find out how New Zealand would deal with this in the morning presentation given the pervading domestic mantra that reducing agricultural emissions is very hard. Unsurprisingly, the audience was treated to a long list of the barriers to emission reductions. The presentation left me with more questions than answers and my overall impression of New Zealand’s presentation was that it was very defensive: ““we’re a little country with small total emissions, reducing emissions from agriculture is very hard and we’re doing all we can…..”

Given that New Zealand only invests around $6 million through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, I was left wondering whether New Zealand has become defeatist. If so, this could be very foolish for New Zealand agriculture– if New Zealand cannot significantly reduce emissions from agriculture, consumers will start to ask the question of whether we need to eat less meat and drink less milk.

Credit where credit’s due, “Silencing the Lambs” was a very slick and interesting presentation. Carefully picked images gave no indication of intensive dairy farming. Instead we were treated to a sweeping high country scene, where if my memory serves me right, the only noticeable animal was a dog.

Given that developed countries need to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to give a good chance of avoiding dangerous levels of climate change, those hard questions could come sooner than we think.

I was very surprised when an AgResearch scientist told attendees at the side event said that New Zealand didn’t use supplementary feeds. This is complete rubbish, which became apparent after the scientist was asked about palm kernels from South East Asia that are used for supplementary feed for New Zealand dairy farming. As readers may know, expanding palm plantations are a major driver behind South East Asian tropical deforestation. I was also surprised by what appeared to be snide remarks about critics of current agricultural practices in New Zealand. The presentation raised real questions in my mind about AgResearch’s objectivity.

I was also concerned to see New Zealand adopting an intensity approach to agricultural emissions. This approach would mean that New Zealand’s emissions would still keep rising, just at a slower rate. This will not fix the problem of climate change.

The European Union’s morning presentation on agriculture was much more upbeat. They claimed to have reduced agricultural emissions by 20% between 1990 and 2005, while maintaining production. To compare, New Zealand’s emissions from the dairy sector are projected to be 40.5% above 1990 levels by 2010.

So, while New Zealand politicians seem locked in arguments over whether climate change is happening and whether New Zealand should do anything about it, one of New Zealand’s biggest markets seems to be getting on with the job of reducing agricultural emissions. Again I found myself wondering how long it will be before Europeans start rejecting New Zealand’s products…