The Climate Change Commission unveiled its long-awaited final report yesterday, laying out pathways for New Zealand to meet its greenhouse gas reduction obligations by 2050.
The report recommended cutting livestock numbers in New Zealand by 13.6 per cent by 2030.
Although this number was down slightly from 15 per cent, which was quoted in January's draft report, it has still been a cause of concern for farmers.
Today on The Country, Jamie Mackay spoke to the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw to go over the report, and find out what it could mean for New Zealand's agriculture sector.
James Shaw is the Green Party co-leader and more importantly for today's conversation he is the Climate Change Minister. Well Minister, you came out with your report - or it was tabled yesterday. Greenpeace are moaning on one side, some of the farmers are getting stuck into you on the other side. What do you say in your defence?
"Well, I'm not going to try and defend anything. I've always said there will be people who want to go further and faster on the one hand, and others who think it's too much too soon on the other.
"My sense is that the commission got it right, and my bottom line with all of this is that it has to meet the scientific requirements, and I think the commission has demonstrated that it does. So it's looking pretty good to me."
Can I go back to the Paris Accord? Wasn't one of the conditions that yes, you had to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but not at the expense of food production. Potentially you're going to ask farmers to reduce livestock numbers by up to 13 per cent by the year 2030. It is going to result in less food being produced, James.
"That's actually not what the report says. Just as we've seen over the past 30 years, [we've] had these huge gains in productivity, output per animal, for meat and for milk - [which] will offset that.
"The other thing that they say is it's about reduction in emissions, not reductions in animals and so if you can work out ways to continue to increase that output but with fewer emissions then good on you - and all of the research indications that that's highly possible."
James, any farmer will tell you, if you want extra production, the normal way of doing it is feeding the animal by a bit more. You're reducing the numbers, you're feeding the remainder of your flock or herd a bit more - total emissions could well be the same. What do you say to that?
"The evidence [suggests] that it is entirely possible for New Zealand to reduce its emissions while continuing to produce basically the same amount of food."
What is the plan from here on in? Because this was tabled yesterday and I think you have, under the Zero Carbon Act, until the end of the year to consider this, and decide on your emission reduction plan - and that'll be where the rubber meets the road.
"Yeah that's right. The Commission's report in itself isn't a plan. It's a series of recommendations for the Government to consider.
"The thing is of course, if we choose not to follow their recommendations, we've actually got to come up with something better, and that would be quite a hard task, because they've already asked everybody in the country what they think and have come up with the recommendations that they have.
"There will be a series of decisions…we've got to present the emissions budget, for example, that they recommended. We've got to do that before October, so people will have a sense of what the total amount is.
"Then essentially we need these sector-by-sector plans, whether that's for agriculture or waste or transport of industrial heat – you name it – we've got to have these sector plans to work out how we're going to support our various industries through the transition."
Why don't we pay farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? My understanding is other nations are doing it.
"One of the options that we're looking at through the He Waka Eke Noa programme is a levy rebate-type arrangement. So farmers who invest in efficiency and reduce their emissions will actually get paid, and those that drag the chain will have to pay a fee."
Are we at the bleeding edge rather than the leading edge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world? Are we sacrificing ourselves on the altar of Climate Change? I say that because we're nearly twice as efficient as the next lowest emitting milk producers in the world, so if there's any reduction in our production surely it's going to be replaced by competing nations with less efficient systems?
"We've already addressed the question about whether or not we intend to reduce production and we don't.
"We're not necessarily on the leading edge. There are other systems around the world that are moving pretty rapidly on this – California for example has been rolling out biodigesters on every farm.
"Their farming systems are quite different to ours, so it's a different solution for them than it would be for us but these things are happening in a number of different countries - including those we compete with."