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Picture this. Jacinda Ardern standing in the middle of Queen St on the bonnet of a tractor with her middle finger raised as ten of thousands of climate strikers stream by.
She may as well have.
Wednesday’s post cabinet announcement means that agribusiness will pay zilch for their next five years of climate polluting. No mandatory measures from the Government to drive down agricultural emissions.
A cynical flip of the bird.
Let alone the millions who didn’t march but hold this subject so dear to their hearts and future survival. Seventy nine per cent according to a poll in June.
Agriculture makes up 49 per cent of New Zealand’s emissions. Those emissions have risen 13.5 per cent since 1990. The dairy sector is the largest single polluter, emitting more than the entire transport sector.
To be clear, this polluters pact between the reactionary farming lobby groups and the Government is the opposite of climate action.
It’s the type of lily-livered politicking which we’ve come to expect from National governments.
“This is about certainty,” said Ardern.
Well, we certainly know where the Government stands on climate. More than just cosying up to the interests of agribusiness – this is the lamb lying down with the lion. We know how that one ends in the real world.
Ardern said the outcome will be significantly better for New Zealand as a result of this co-operation, this partnership between the Government and big agribusiness, whose only interest is in protecting their profits.
As our Prime Minister stood up and trumpeted her own Government’s consensus to a waiting world – a solid looking man in a powder blue suit stood by.
Is that her diplomatic protection guy? Nope – it’s the head of Dairy NZ, a lobby group that receives its levy funding based on the volume of milk produced by the nation’s bloated dairy herd.
What’s going on? Maybe Labour HQ has been thrown by the industrial farming lobby’s pushback against regulations to protect our rivers and lakes, maybe they’ve been spooked by the most recent polls that put them behind National.
The Labour party policy was to bring agriculture into the ETS in this electoral term. This was reiterated in their coalition agreement with New Zealand First, where they committed to only pricing 5 per cent of agriculture’s emissions, effectively giving the sector a 95 per cent subsidy.
And that was a cosy deal – but at least it sent a pricing message to the dairy industry that climate polluting won’t be free and its price will only increase over time. And agriculture entering the ETS at only 5 per cent would still have told the sector that it was the end of the road for its decade long strategy of investing heavily in PR and lobbying rather than investing to cut emissions. But now the Government has rewarded the industry for that PR lobbying strategy.
Including agriculture in the ETS at 5 per cent was predicted to have minimal financial impact on the sector. With a 95 per cent free allocation dairy farmers would pay just 1 cent per kilogram of milk solids, cattle farmers 1 cent per kilogram of beef, and sheep farmers 3 cents per kilogram of meat.
One lousy cent. The Labour Government, which floated into office on this miasma of climate change being the issue of the age, that much vaunted nuclear free moment. How far away that seems now.
This plan will see the New Zealand taxpayer subsidising the agricultural emissions for the next five years. The IPCC says we have just eleven years left in which to dramatically cut global emissions.
As our agriculture campaigner Gen Toop puts it: “Agriculture is our biggest climate polluter. An emissions trading scheme without the sector in it is a joke and won’t be able to combat the climate emergency – the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.”
Green Party leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw concludes for the Government saying that New Zealand is finally getting down to the business of keeping the planet safer. More like keeping polluting businesses safe from those businesses and people who genuinely want to save the planet.
Be in no doubt. This is the ugly face of realpolitik from an administration that seems to care more about ending up in opposition than it does about climate catastrophe. They may discover both will come to pass.