THE HAPS

ACT’s new MPs turned two today. They’ve silenced the naysayers by becoming a cohesive and competent team. Case in point, Brooke van Velden interviewed like a senior minister on Q+A yesterday, promoting ACT’s GST sharing policy to boost homebuilding. Meanwhile the Real Change tour has wrapped up with nearly 2000 people attending 14 public meetings. Thank you if you came.

BIZARRE SACRIFICE

Humans have spent centuries making bizarre sacrifices, offering up goats and chickens to the Gods. However Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw have taken it to the next level, offering up a large chunk of their country’s entire agricultural sector to the climate Gods. It appears to be a ceremonial sacrifice for the upcoming COP 27 meeting in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.

Like most religious sacrifices, Ardern and Shaw’s agricultural climate policy is not rational. The Gods in next month’s COP 27 aren’t real, and pleasing them with sacrifices won’t actually deliver their followers from any evil. In fact, the sacrifice will distract from real progress and leave everyone worse off.

To recap, it all started when every party but ACT voted for the Zero Carbon Act. All of them. The Greens, Labour, National, and New Zealand First.

As the name suggests, the act requires New Zealand’s households and businesses to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, meaning that they must absorb as much greenhouse gas as they emit.

Farms must reduce their emissions of biogenic methane to at least 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030. By 2050, farm emissions must be at least 24 per cent below 2017 levels. Crucially, these targets apply regardless of what other countries do.

What’s been introduced for farmers is the logical conclusion of the Zero Carbon Act. They’ll be required to pay a levy on methane, that Cabinet says will be ‘reviewed periodically based on progress against emissions targets.’

That is the rub of the new scheme which Cabinet describes as a ‘split gas farm level pricing system as an alternative options for pricing agricultural emissions in 2025.’ It is an ‘alternative’ to the ultimatum that the Zero Carbon Act gave the sector, going into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

To reach the target this way, it is estimated that milk production will be down 5 per cent, lamb and wool down 18 per cent, venison down 15 per cent and beef up 5 per cent. That occurs when much less efficient producers offshore are rushing to increase production.

One effect is that New Zealanders will be poorer. But this sacrifice is in vain. As production shifts to less efficient producers offshore, global emissions will increase. That’s because the Zero Carbon Act insists New Zealand go it alone.

The difficulty for the other parties who all voted for the Zero Carbon Act, is that it’s hard for them to explain what their position is. When they voted for something called the ‘Zero Carbon Act,’ how did they think it was going to work?

That leaves ACT as the remaining voice of reason. What will ACT fight for in Government if the party is in Government next year?

First and foremost, the New Zealand Government should never put a New Zealand farmer out of business if the production will only shift to a foreign competitor who emits more. It would be better for the climate if New Zealand took more market share of less efficient competitors, so any climate policy that gives away market share is nuts.

Second, if farmers pay for their emissions, they should be compensated for their absorption. The current Government says it might be able to do this by 2025. How is is possible that the Government can calculate what a farm emits but not what it absorbs. We find that awfully convenient. On farm sequestration should be compensated, too.

Third, if there is going to be a split gas approach, methane should be treated differently. Methane deteriorates in the atmosphere, so its warming effect fades. The Government of New Zealand should have been at the forefront of arguing for fair treatment of methane, but it has not. That is what the next Government needs to do.

Fourth and finally, New Zealand agriculture has been driven by innovation at least since the arrival of refrigerated shipping in the 1880s. So long as Parliament insists on a superstitious, medieval approach to genetic engineering, there is going to be little scope for reducing emissions without producing less.

So long as farmers are treated fairly in regard to methane and on farm sequestration, so long as there is access to new technology, and so long as there is a check no farmer is put out of business by a less carbon-efficient competitor, then New Zealand should have a climate policy. Farmers’ offshore customers, and their Governments, will demand it sooner or later.

But, the Zero Carbon Act approach? We won’t be leading, we’ll be bleeding.

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