Many farmers are concerned about the Zero Carbon Bill, and if they are not yet, they should be. We have been told repeatedly that agriculture must be brought into the Emissions Trading Scheme to help stop runaway global warming.
The debate about the importance of methane in this issue has been bubbling along in farming newspapers in recent weeks. Thankfully this debate can finally be put to bed with the admission in the Discussion Document that "Reducing long-lived greenhouse gas emissions to zero and stabilising our short-lived gases, which would mean our domestic emissions would not contribute to any further increase in global temperatures".
This statement describes option 2 from the choices and is probably where NZ agriculture already is today, methane emissions have stabilised and N2O should comfortably be offset by farm trees.
'Why have a submission process on how agriculture should be included in the ETS when the vast majority of the public have no concept of agriculture's actual effect on the climate?'
Now my concern is not about the science, but rather the way the inconvenient science has been buried deep in discussion documents and reports by the Government.
Why have a submission process on how agriculture should be included in the ETS when the vast majority of the public have no concept of agriculture's actual effect on the climate? Only the very keenest of submitters are willing to read down to page 22 of the Zero Carbon Bill Discussion Document to find this.
People and companies submitting via the Productivity Commission's Low Emission Economy process had to read to page 200 of that draft report to find it. This is evidenced by the fact most agricultural submissions missed this point.
So the question becomes, why is the fact simply stabilising stock numbers at current levels in accordance with option 2 not clearly described as warming neutral? I suspect if most of the public knew this they would be quite content with agriculture simply not contributing to any more warming.
Even when this question was posed directly to the Ministry for the Environment at a recent Zero Carbon meeting, the response was "there is devil in the detail" and even though it's clearly stated in the discussion document "that was my opinion". Really? Maybe it's time MfE started looking at that detail because something does not add up here.
The fact is thousands of submissions per day are flooding in, many pre-populated by organisations such as WWF NZ, asking for option 3 which will no doubt result in a large reduction in stock numbers.
Green Party leader James Shaw had no concern that most people still don't understand the basic facts of this discussion and has made no public attempt to clarify them. Even when challenged on why he didn't mention it in his speech at the meeting I was told there was not enough time to discuss everything.
Yet he still found plenty of time to talk about land use change and the need to reduce stock numbers.
Farmers will have to just hope that the science will outweigh the wave of public opinion pushing for reduced stock numbers. And if the submission results are later used as justification for this purpose I think farmers have every right to cry foul.
If the goal here is to stop global warming then Shaw and co need to talk more about warming and less about changing the agricultural industry to his vision.
Farmers might be interested to note that even after years of campaigning to bring agriculture into the ETS, he could not provide any information on NZ agriculture's actual influence on global warming. It makes you wonder.
Steven Cranston is an agricultural and environmental consultant for Cranston Consulting based in the Waikato.
All opinions are the writer's and notthose of Hawke's Bay Today. Steven Cranston says farmers will hope that science will outweigh the wave of public opinion pushing for reduced stock numbers.