Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We should not subsidise fertiliser emissions

Yesterday the government released its discussion document on action on agricultural emissions. As sadly usual, it proposed enormous subsidies for farm emissions, including for nitrogen-based fertiliser.

This is a huge mistake. In addition to being one of the chief drivers of dairy intensification and freshwater pollution - things we want to stamp out - nitrogen-based fertilise ris in the ETS because it decomposes to nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is a potent and long-lived greenhouse gas, between 268 and 298 times worse than carbon dioxide, depending on what timescale you measure it over. Both farmers and the Independent Climate Change Commission are arguing that we should focus on long-lived gases, as they pose the greatest threat in the long-term. I don't think we have a long-term to average over anymore (in the long-term, we are dead, to riff on Keynes), but even with a short-term focus, reducing nitrous oxide is a hugely effective way of reducing warming, and one of the highest-impact things we can do to save the climate, to save ourselves.

So rather than subsidising farmers to produce this gas, we should instead be making them pay the full price of the emissions it causes - and removing the artificial cap on ETS prices so that the price can increase to its natural level. Farmers will no doubt complain that if they have to pay the full cost, they'll have to stop using it. Good. That's the fucking point. If there are high-value uses which justify the emissions cost, then they'll be able to afford to keep using it (or they'll make out like bandits by switching to alternatives). But for low-value uses, like fertilising marginal grass to grow cows and pollute rivers, we are all better off if people stop doing that.