Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Climate change: Getting there from here

If we're to meet the challenge of climate change, we need to radically decarbonise our economy and significantly reduce our emissions - quite possibly, to zero in order to allow the atmosphere to recover. But how can we get there, and what would a zero-emissions New Zealand look like? GLOBE-NZ, a cross-party group of MPs, has produced a report giving us a glimpse:

Slashing pastoral stock numbers by up to 35 per cent has been suggested among ways to push New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2100.


Under the first scenario, the country would further slash the emissions intensity of its economic activity through technological advances, such as cost reductions in electric vehicles for freight, electric heating technologies for high temperature applications and a vaccine to reduce methane emissions from pastoral agriculture.

This would be accompanied by a structural shift away from pastoral agriculture - with animal numbers around 20 to 35 per cent lower than today - to less emissions-intensive activity.

The country would instead support a diverse range of land uses, including horticulture and crops, alongside extensive planting of forests, covering an extra million hectares of land by 2050.

This scenario could result in a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in net emissions compared with current levels, however the authors said this option still relied upon breakthroughs like high-grade heat and non-passenger transport, along with extra tech in the agriculture sector.

Under a second scenario, an extra 1.6 million hectares of forest planted by 2050 would "substantially reduce emissions" - a 65 to 75 per cent reduction - and provide opportunities in a significantly enhanced forest products industry.

There's a lot that has to go right for the first strategy to happen, including that methane vaccine. But there's a common feature of both that is going to have to happen regardless: rural New Zealand will have to change. If we want to beat climate change, the dirty economic strategy of destroying our rivers to make bulk milk powder for export is going to have to end, in favour of other uses and higher-value products. And that's entirely reasonable: agriculture produces 50% of our emissions. If we're to reduce overall emissions, the 15% of the population in rural New Zealand which produces and profits from those emissions needs to do their share, rather than leaving it to the rest of us to carry the costs of their pollution.

Interestingly, this report is backed by 35 MP's from across the political spectrum, representing all parties other than United Future (because no-one cares about them) and ACT (because they don't care about the climate). Which suggests that the ground is shifting away from the current foot-dragging and towards a recognition of the radical action we need to take. It's a hopeful sign, and one which suggests that we might finally see some progress. Hopefully it won't be too late.

The full report can be read here.