New Zealand will be leading the way on tackling agriculture emission reduction, says Fran O'Sullivan.
Trade Minister Tim Groser deserves special mention for the way in which he has married NZ's objectives on the trade and climate change front.
Groser's brainchild - a global alliance to research ways of reducing agriculture emissions - has gained huge support from powerhouse countries like the US and India, supported by others like Denmark, Japan, Australia and Canada.
The launch of the alliance in Copenhagen last week was a bright spot in an otherwise spectacularly disastrous conference. Groser - who is a very adroit and experienced negotiator having led the agriculture committee negotiations at the World Trade Organisation - described the atmosphere at the conference as "madness".
But irrespective of the flim-flam at Copenhagen, NZ is set to drive forward the global agenda to mitigate the effects of climate change.
In March, representatives from up to 30 nations that are signing up for the global alliance will come to New Zealand for a summit on agriculture emissions.
This is serious stuff.
Each country is expected to field at least two representatives who are likely to be a policy wonk and a scientist.
The alliance will develop new farming approaches and develop environmental technologies that reduce emissions from livestock, crops and rice production.
What's notable is the big NZ financial contribution - some $45 million of the $150 million so far committed.
This might seem over the top. But with nearly 50 per cent of NZ's greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture it is important that action is taken to protect a sector which drives more than 35 per cent of our exports.
New Zealand's leadership has been endorsed by other nations - like the US which has upped its agriculture emissions budget by US$90 ($128) million.
But it's important to note this foreign policy initiative has not been universally acclaimed.
The US Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is concerned that research agenda will "simply duplicate the pitfalls we've seen within the US agriculture research agenda, which for example spends billions of dollars on genetically engineered seeds that largely benefit transnational corporations and can take a decade to develop", said its president Jim Harkness.
"The loss of traditional knowledge and seed varieties in the Global South is a much more urgent crisis, and much more crippling to the world's capacity to address climate change, than what has been the traditional US research model. Unfortunately, national research institutions have largely ignored the types of low-input, sustainable, small-scale systems that are needed for both food security and climate-friendly farming."
Back home, Labour is still making a great deal out of the fact that National canned the previous Government's $700 million Fast Forward fund over 10-15 years. At issue is whether the $45 million the Government is now putting into agriculture emissions reduction will be enough to offset prior Budget cuts and bolster research funding for the sector which underpins one of our prime export industries.
Putting that to one side, it's fair to say NZ's negotiators also survived the first hurdle at Copenhagen in their quest to get substantial changes to the rules relating to forestry, and the ability for New Zealand to offset greenhouse gas emissions outside our borders.
In NZ, it is important to get the existing Kyoto Protocol rules changed so this country is not overly penalised when forests are felled and replaced by trees planted elsewhere or when trees are converted to wood products such as timber and fibre board.
New Zealand is also seeking rule changes over land use and the international carbon market - which the Ministry for the Environment says are important because it will impact on New Zealand's ability to meet its future target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The draft negotiating agreement contains clauses which give effect to the rules NZ wants. But they are not cast in concrete. The draft text has plenty of "square brackets" which indicate particular clauses are still disputed.
Groser and his fellow Cabinet Minister Nick Smith seem to have made the best out of the hand that was dealt to them at Copenhagen.
John Key must be wondering whether it was worthwhile passing up the Fleetwood Mac concert to spend 24 hours in wintry Copenhagen, once again speaking to a relatively empty auditorium.
But I'm sure he'll be singing along anyway:
"What's the world coming to?
What's the world coming to?
Everyone's gone to the moon.
What's the world coming to?
Every night, every day, in this house filled with shame
I can say I care but there's no one there."