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The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s (PCE) just-released report, Farms, Forests and Fossil Fuels, looks to have been influenced by the agricultural lobby, says Greenpeace.
Senior Campaign and Political Advisor, Steve Abel, says while the report has some merit, it continues to treat our dirtiest industry – dairy – with kid gloves, because it focuses on offsetting the highly potent greenhouse gasses nitrous oxide and methane, rather than actually cutting them.
“We expect the champagne corks will be popping at Ravensdown and Dairy NZ this afternoon, because they are being let off the hook once again,” he says.
Greenpeace opposes the unbundling of greenhouse gasses, which Abel says, “goes against our international obligations”.
“Unbundling greenhouse gasses and then lumping nitrous oxide and methane into their own group is highly problematic,” he says.
“We don’t support the recommendation that nitrous oxide be put together with methane in climate policy. Nitrous oxide is a long-lived greenhouse gas, 298 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide. It is also the most problematic gas for depletion of the ozone layer.
“Both methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture must be urgently reduced at their source. That can only be done through eliminating synthetic nitrogen and heavily reducing cow numbers. We cannot primarily rely on offsetting these emissions through tree planting.”
Nitrous oxide emissions in agriculture come from the application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and livestock effluent. According to the Ministry for the Environment, direct nitrous oxide emissions from synthetic nitrogen fertiliser in New Zealand have increased 478% since 1990.
Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is used on New Zealand farms to increase stocking rates. Since 1990, the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser has increased seven-fold in New Zealand. In the same period dairy cow numbers have more than doubled.
Abel says any serious response to the climate crisis must include the country’s biggest emitter – agriculture.
“To deal with the climate crisis requires a sense of massive, unified national effort, and this cannot be created if we are running a system which continues to privilege the agricultural industry and fails to deal with methane and nitrous oxide emissions at source,” he says.
“Privileging biological emissions also has international implications. Livestock produce 19% of global emissions, and it’s the area where New Zealand has a responsibility to offer global leadership.
“For New Zealand to dodge addressing agriculture is like Australia giving a free pass to the coal industry merely because they are hugely influential industries.
“We need the Government to listen to the science and the people and stand up to big lobbies like dairy, rather than kowtow to their influence.”
However, Abel says there are also positive aspects of the PCE report. Greenpeace supports the call for a cut to gross emissions of carbon dioxide, but says it must begin immediately and be achieved much sooner than 2075.
“We support getting to gross fossil fuel emissions down to zero, but waiting until 2075 is too late,” Abel says.
“To deal with the climate crisis requires an urgent transition away from industrial livestock farming. That starts with fewer cows, a ban on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and a nationwide shift to regenerative farming.”