New research shows that Kiwi sheep and beef farmers are already offsetting the majority of agricultural emissions.
The independent research was led by Dr Bradley Case of Auckland University of Technology, and funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
The study showed that the woody vegetation, (such as shelter belts and native bush), on New Zealand sheep and beef farms is offsetting between 63 per cent and 118 per cent of their on-farm agricultural emissions.
If the mid-point in the report's range is used, on average the woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms is absorbing about 90 percent of these emissions.
Essentially, that meant New Zealand farms were close to being carbon neutral.
"This is a real source of pride for those sheep and beef farmers out there who have been managing 40 per cent of New Zealand land for decades," Case told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
The research took a year and a half and it was "a considerable amount of work," Case said.
Shelter belts and native bush were not currently included in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), due to international rules. Case said the ETS was a "relatively complex beast" and only "one mechanism" by which farmers could get credit for sequestered carbon.
"Really what the research that we've done underscores is that there's a lot of small pieces of vegetation that aren't eligible for the ETS, that are actually serving a function ... and they deserve to be recognised somehow."
Case said he hoped the research would show the limitations of the ETS, and result in people coming up with "other instruments" to record on-farm carbon sequestration.
Many sheep and beef farmers had been doing significant work over the last few years to enhance their biodiversity.
Beef + Lamb NZ said the report would support its ongoing work as part of He Waka Eke Noa, and help make a case to have on-farm sequestration recognised, so farmers were incentivised to do more.
It also hoped the study would broaden understanding of red meat's climate change impact and reassure consumers that New Zealand beef and lamb was among the most sustainable in the world.
Also in today's interview: Case discussed whether grass sequestered carbon and if a drop in sheep numbers meant a drop in emissions.
About the research
The AUT research was commissioned by B+LNZ. The report was written by Dr Bradley Case and Catherine Ryan, and was peer reviewed by Dr Fiona Carswell, Chief Scientist, Manaaki Whenua -Landcare Research and Dr Adam Forbes, Senior Ecologist, Forbes Ecology, Research Associate and New Zealand School of Forestry, University of Canterbury.