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IPCC report on Climate Change and Land - What can be done?

August 09, 2019


Partners Gerald Lanning, Sarah Scott
Special Counsel Mark Baker-Jones
Senior Associates Joanna Lim, Victoria Anderson

Climate change (inc Zero Carbon Act and Emissions Trading Scheme)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently released its Special Report on Climate Change and Land. The report acknowledges that land is under growing pressure and this is only being added to by climate change. It points at two solutions:

  1. Better land management
  2. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors.

This report comes at a critical time for the New Zealand agricultural sector. The future direction of the sector will be largely decided over the next few months, as dialogue with Government about the role the sector should play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions culminates in significant reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In summary the report confirms that:

  • Lack of action on climate change is already causing challenges for the global agricultural sector
  • Delaying action further on climate change will only add to the pressures the sector is already under
  • Urgently required land-related responses can have many co-benefits, although mutually supportive climate and land policies are needed (policies that operate across the food system).

No surprises

One of the key takeaways from the IPCC report is that a lack of action globally is impacting farming, and all sectors must now take urgent action.

Here in New Zealand, legislation has provided for agricultural emissions to be accounted for in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for over a decade, but the decision to give effect to this provision has never been made. It is not entirely clear why this decision has been put off for so long when it has been known for equally long that climate change would have a significant impact on land and food production. 

The IPCC report states that “successive Governments deferred the inclusion... due to concerns about competitiveness, lack of mitigation options and the level of opposition from those potentially affected”. Unfortunately, the failure to fully confront these inevitabilities now places the agricultural sector under substantial stress, has made it less competitive, and left it with even fewer mitigation options. 

Going forward

There are undoubtedly challenges ahead for the sector, here and globally, but the good news is that despite there being fewer options, there are at least still some options. Policy development by the Government promises to move on these options as it considers a programme of action. 

The programme will enable farm emissions reductions and progress for implementing farm-level pricing, and industry resourcing and funding to support the transition. The programme will need to include:

  • Development of an on-farm emissions calculation tool
  • Developing a method of free allocation for farmers
  • Building an administration system for the Emissions Trading Scheme and registering farmers in the scheme
  • Ensuring farmers have the tools and advice to enable them to respond to a farm-level policy. In particular:
    • building the capability of farmers and farm advisers to calculate, report and reduce emissions
    • developing a climate change module in Integrated Farm Plans
    • supporting farmers to take early action to reduce emissions - including specific programmes to meet the needs of Māori land owners
    • supporting ongoing research and development to expand the range of mitigation options available.

There is still time for stakeholders to have a say in how the agricultural sector will manage this transition. Submissions on the Government’s discussion document on proposals to address greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture close on 13 August.

What can be done?

The report concludes that, “There is real potential here through more sustainable land use, … and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping to address land related climate change issues”. This applies globally and here in New Zealand. 

Please get in touch with any of our contacts above to talk through how these actions might look at farm level or to discuss climate change adaptation and mitigation options for your business.