Thursday, September 23, 2021

Climate Change: Why are we ignoring nitrogen fertiliser?

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is a significant source of greenhouse gas emisisons. According to Emissions Tracker, it was responsible for 1.4 million tons of direct CO2-equivalent emissions in 2019, plus an unspecified amount of indirect emissions due to enabling dairy intensification. This is big enough to matter, and you'd expect there to have been something about it in the Climate Commission's report. But there wasn't. Why not? Because they buried the reporting suggesting it:

A hidden report uncovered by Greenpeace shows that the Climate Change Commission ignored its own internal advice that could cut agricultural climate emissions by a third or more. The internal Climate Commission report, titled ‘Eliminating synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on dairy farms’, shows New Zealand could achieve significant greenhouse gas emission reductions simply by eliminating synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. However, the Commission ignored its own advice when putting together its final climate recommendations, which are now being considered by Parliament.
As for their reasons, the report is very clear: "Eliminating synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on dairy farms would entail lower levels of production". In other words, farmers might make less money. And that apparently put it off-limits. Instead, the Commission's agricultural recommendations started from an assumption that dairy production would not decrease. Which given that agriculture makes up ~50% of our emissions profile, is basicly giving up from the beginning and committing us to failure.

That's not acceptable. Quite apart from committing us to failure, it is also grossly inequitable, requiring deeper emissions cuts from the 85% of us who live in cities in order to protect the extravagant, polluting lifestyle and profits of a tiny minority of farmers. Instead, the government should make these polluters pull their weight and cut their emissions, rather than expecting the rest of Aotearoa to continue supporting them.