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“Damien O’Connor could not be reached for comment”. I wasn’t surprised when those were some of the first words I read the day the Government’s Zero Carbon legislation was announced last week. To be fair, I would have been laying low and ducking for cover too if I had just sat around a Cabinet table and ushered in a piece of legislation that put the economy of the region I represent, heavily reliant on primary industries and the extractive sector, at risk. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact the Government had announced an overly ambitious methane reduction target that meant he wasn’t about to be ‘Primary Industries Minister of the Month’ with the bulk of rural communities up and down the country. O’Connor has been in damage control mode ever since, desperately trying to save face and talk down the possible ramifications for our economy – but there’s no talking himself out of this one. 

Let’s be clear. There are elements of this Bill that the National Party supports. We support the establishment of an independent, non-political climate change commission to advise successive Governments of all stripes and colours on how best to play a role in tackling the global issue of climate change. We support this because it takes it out of the hands of politicians, who often penalise the minority to please the majority, and asks experts to tell us what is required based on what the science is saying.

We are also supportive of a split gas approach that acknowledges that individual gases behave differently in the atmosphere. When it comes to the gases it is absolutely critical that we are guided by the science, that’s why we support a net-zero target for long-lived gases like carbon dioxide. Yes, this will pose challenges for our extractive industries down here, but the key word is “net”. This means we don’t necessarily need to stop what we are doing, but that these gases need to be offset with forestry or international carbon credits. There could also be technological advances that allows thermal coal to be used for heating as it is now. At the end of the day, you can’t make steel without coal and I don’t see a future for New Zealand without steel production any time soon.

Where we staunchly disagree is the methane target which requires a 10% reduction by 2030 and a range of 24 – 47% reduction by 2050. These are “gross” targets meaning they can’t offset or buy international units. Farmers are being asked to shoulder more than their fair share of the pain, and the science simply doesn’t require it.

The Government’s methane reduction range is not driven by science, but by politics. The Climate Commission should be charged with advising on the targets, rather than the Green Party. Their range is so broad that it is essentially meaningless – you could drive one of Evan Birchfield’s tanks through the middle of it. It allows the Greens to point to the 47% number when virtue signalling, while helping New Zealand First save face by pointing at the 24% number. They all point to the IPCCC reports and say it is required but the reality is that same report offers up a number of different pathways – they’ve cherry picked the science that fits their political narrative.

Further scientific opinions on methane are varied with Professor David Frame from Victoria University pushing for a new metric “Global Warming Potential” that better reflects the contribution to further warming that methane makes. He proposes that we only require a reduction of 0.3% annually in methane emissions to ensure this gas no longer contributes to climate temperature warming. This suggests a 10% reduction by 2050. We have also had a recent report published by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that suggested a range of 10 – 22%. Both of these reports are highly credible and originate in New Zealand so are appropriate for our unique context.

These more realistic targets would then become easily achieved with the development of new grasses that reduce the methane that stock produce. Unfortunately the Greens are not open to changing the HSNO law that would allow for field trials of these new grasses to be undertaken here in NZ. Instead they are being trialled in America, delaying the results for years.

There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge before this Bill has its final reading, including what I expect to be a vigorous and robust Select Committee process. I would strongly encourage Coasters to make a submission to make sure the voice of our community is heard loud and clear.

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