New Zealand's $10 billion red meat industry has cried foul over the Government's proposed methane reduction targets, saying they are well in excess of scientific advice and make agriculture an economic scapegoat for fossil fuel emitters.
Industry advocate Beef + Lamb NZ says it is "deeply concerned" over the proposed treament of methane and targets in the Zero Carbon Bill introduced to Parliament today.
Chairman Andrew Morrison said the Government is asking more of agriculture than fossil fuel emitters elsewhere in the economy.
Dairy sector leader Fonterra is taking a more reserved tone, saying it supports the Government's intention to lower New Zealand's emissions.
But the big farmer-owned cooperative is challenging the Government, having set "these ambitious targets" to support the significant investment in research and innovation needed to develop solutions to help farmers reduce their emissions.
"Tackling climate change is a critical issue for all New Zealanders and we are committed to doing our part to help New Zealand meet its international climate commitments." said director of sustainability Carolyn Mortland.
"Our focus now is on supporting our 10,000 farming families so they can continue to run sustainable businesses," she said.
Beef+Lamb's Morrison said the proposed methane reduction targets of between 24-47 per cent by 2050 "significantly" exceed both New Zealand and global scientific advice.
Advocate for the $16 billion dairy industry DairyNZ also said the 2050 methane target went beyond expert scientific advice for what was necessary for New Zealand agriculture to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C.
Chief executive Tim Mackle said DairyNZ supported a science-based approach where each gas was reduced based on it warming impact.
"It is very important to get the range right. If we get this wrong it will have significant impacts on not just the dairy sector, but the economic, social and culture wellbeing of New Zealand," he said.
DairyNZ supportd much of what was in the proposed legislation but would be pushing for the range to be reviewed and aligned with the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment of 10-22 per reduction in methane.
The meat sector was committed to playing its part in addressing climate change and acknowledged that in some areas of the Bill the Government had followed scientific advice, such as the split gas approach and proposed ambitious net zero target for nitrous oxide, Beef+Lamb's Morrison said.
"Sheep and beef emissions have already reduced by 30 per cent since 1990....and we accept we still have work to do. New Zealand needs a robust science-based and fair approach when setting targets for an issue which will affect future generations.
"It's unreasonable to ask farmers to be cooling the climate, as the Government's proposed targets would do, without expecting the rest of the economy to also do the same."
Beef+Lamb was urgently calling on the Government to be transparent and release all the advice on which it based its decision, Morrison said.
It was also calling for "a fair approach" where each gas was reduced based on its warming impact.
An equitable approach required carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide to go to net zero and methane to be reduced and stabilised by between 10-22 per cent, said Morrison.
"This is consistent with the advice from the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment who identified this range as meaning methane would be contributing no additional warming.
"Any target above a 10-22 per cent reduction is, therefore, asking methane to cool the planet," he said.
In its current form, the Bill would have a dramatic impact on New Zealand's regional communities and the entire economy with the knock-on effect being felt by every Kiwi.
The sheep and beef sector was worth about $10.4b, was the country's largest manufacturing sector, the second largest export earner and supported 80,000 jobs.
"These jobs form the heart of hundreds of regional communities," Morrison said.
"The social and economic impacts of these potential changes will reverberate beyond the farm gate and howl out the many regional communities who rely heavily on our sector."
Not allowing trees to offset biological methane, as was allowed for fossil fuel emitters, made worse the unequal playing field and was completely counter to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, he said.
Sheep and beef farmers had conserved 1.4 million hectares of native forest, an area the size of Hawke's Bay.
DairyNZ's Mackle said dairy farmers would be concerned by the 47 per cent methane target in the Bill but it was "not set in stone".
The Bill included a number of criteria for review including availability of mitigation otpions, what other countries were doing and reduction efforts by other sectors.
New Zealand was already one of the lowest emissions producers of dairy nutrition in thre world per kilogram of milksolids and wanted to build on that advantage, he said.