How will we get to net zero emissions by 2050?

A goal of Net Zero Emissions Economy by 2050 is the number one policy for Green co-leader James Shaw, but Shaw either isn’t sure how to achieve it, or seems unwilling to openly say what he wants – a drastic cut in cow and sheep numbers.

Net Zero Emissions was number one on the Labour-Green C&A agreement.

Sustainable Economy

  1. Adopt and make progress towards the goal of a Net Zero Emissions Economy by 2050,
    with a particular focus on policy development and initiatives in transport and urban form,
    energy and primary industries in accordance with milestones to be set by an independent
    Climate Commission and with a focus on establishing Just Transitions for exposed regions
    and industries.

a. Introduce a Zero Carbon Act and establish an independent Climate Commission
b. All new legislation will have a climate impact assessment analysis.
c.  A comprehensive set of environmental, social and economic sustainability indicators will be developed.
d. A new cross-agency climate change board of public sector CEOs will be established.

It seemed like an idealistic pledge without much of a plan.

But it is still far from certain about how this might be achieved. Shaw is looking for ideas, and points at some, but even they say “how we plug the gap between 95% and 100% in New Zealand isn’t obvious yet.”

Briony Bennett claims “Changing land-use from dairy, sheep and cattle farming to new forests or low-emissions crops and horticulture (growing fruit, vegetables and flowers) is key to achieving carbon neutrality in New Zealand by 2050.”

That seems to be something that Shaw and the Greens are not prepared to come out and push openly.

Bennett has a Masters in Energy Economics and Policy from Sciences Po, Paris. She moved back to New Zealand in late 2017.

Before Christmas, the new climate change minister and Greens’ party leader announced the Government’s intention to pass a Zero Carbon Act, whereby the New Zealand economy would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Industry, think-tanks and public sector officials have produced huge volumes of data, modelling, analyses and arguments since then. Within the last few weeks, the Interim Climate Change Commission was announced and the Productivity Commission published a 500-page draft report on the transition to a low-emissions economy. We all want to know what do we need to do to reach net zero.

It seems that Green co-leader James Shaw made the pledge first, and is now looking for ideas on how to achieve it.

This points to Bennett as a Guest Writer at The Spinoff:  NZ has pledged zero carbon by 2050. How on earth can we get there? (abbreviated):


100% renewables

Around 85% of New Zealand’s annual electricity supply is generated from renewable sources. Gas or coal-fired generation is used to meet winter demand peaks and back up supply in low rainfall years. Hydroelectricity constitutes more than half of the national power mix. In a high hydrology scenario, with good seasonal rainfall and snow melt, hydro-power can meet up to 65% of our annual power needs, but dry years present a great challenge and a barrier to reaching 100% renewables.

Under current resource management laws, it is highly unlikely that a new large-scale hydro-power scheme would get built in New Zealand. We could feasibly expand lake storage in current schemes, but not double it, which is what would be required. Further, this would do little to address the main barrier to reaching a 100% renewable power supply, which is our dry-year risk.

Wind power

At an emissions price of $75 or greater it will be economic to build enough wind farms to reach about 95% renewables in New Zealand, according to Concept Consulting.

Today, a significant number of wind projects have actually been consented, over 2.5GW according to the NZ Wind Energy Association, but project developers are waiting for prices to rise before starting construction. However, wind power cannot ensure our power supply is 100% renewable in a dry year since it is not guaranteed to be available during winter peaks when demand is at its highest.

Grid-scale or rooftop solar exacerbates the seasonal storage challenge as it only generates during periods of low demand and has a much higher output during the summer. We need power sources that are as flexible as coal and gas-fired power plants to meet seasonal demand.

Big batteries

Grid-scale battery storage projects have been making headlines around the world. Tesla installed a massive battery in South Australia after Elon Musk made a promise to do it in 100 days or for free on Twitter. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) lithium-ion battery price index shows a fall from US$1,000 per kWh in 2010 to US$209 per kWh in 2017.

Nevertheless, this technology cannot economically provide seasonal or dry-year power storage of the scale required at present. They just do not pack as much punch as hydro storage.

…this suggests we need 400 million batteries, or over 250 Tesla Powerwalls per household. Even at a discounted price of just US$2000 this would require an investment of over US$500,000 per household or US$800 trillion in total. More than four times our current GDP. We could spend that money more wisely to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Car culture

Power sector emissions have declined 13% since 1990 and make up less than 10% of total emissions. In the same period, transport emissions rose 70% and constitute 20% to New Zealand’s emissions. Car ownership reached its highest level ever last year, at 774 light vehicles for every 1,000 New Zealanders.

This is the beast we must tackle. Electrification is the key pathway with existing technology to cut the majority of transport emissions. To charge electric passenger vehicles and e-buses, electrify trains, and reduce fossil fuel usage for heating, a reliable and affordable electricity supply is crucial.

Power outlook

With more wind, batteries and additional geothermal power plants, it is technically feasible to reach the 100% renewables target when we have average or high rainfall. This would be achieved at great expense and put significant upwards pressure on power prices. Other flexible technologies, such as demand response or renewable power-to-gas, hold great potential to help New Zealand reach 100% renewables. Biomass or tidal power generation could emerge as affordable means to generate electricity in New Zealand in the next few decades.

Solar and wind offer a comparatively low-cost pathway to reduce emissions in most countries that currently have a high share of coal and gas-fired generation, but how we plug the gap between 95% and 100% in New Zealand isn’t obvious yet.

Planting trees

All pathways to net zero, require forestry to play a major role. Afforestation is like a credit card, buying us time to develop alternative technologies to replace current agricultural and industrial processes. A methane vaccine for animals or other biological inhibitors that can be mixed with their feed are being researched, but these technologies remain unproven. Selective breeding, though it can take decades, will also continue reduce the amount of methane produced per animal.

Farming

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is our main tool for encouraging decarbonisation. The scheme requires emitters to pay for each tonne of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas produced – this is called an emissions unit. Farmers are currently exempt from participating in the ETS, which covers energy, waste and industry. To achieve net zero this will have to change since agriculture contributes over half of our emissions. To ensure a gradual transition for farmers, they should receive free emissions units upfront and have trading at the full emissions price phased in over time.

Changing land-use from dairy, sheep and cattle farming to new forests or low-emissions crops and horticulture (growing fruit, vegetables and flowers) is key to achieving carbon neutrality in New Zealand by 2050.

This implies that fewer sheep and cattle will be farmed in the future. Reducing, though perhaps not eliminating, dairy and meat exports raises important questions about food production. The carbon footprint associated with a diet rich in animal protein is an issue that is likely to loom larger in public debate.

There are few affordable means to cut emissions from pastoral and dairy farming without reducing herd populations at present.

If all sectors are covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme, businesses that reduce their emissions will be rewarded and pay for fewer emissions units. It is the main tool we have to encourage the changes and innovation required in all sectors to dramatically cut our emissions and reach net zero by 2050 in New Zealand.


So Bennett largely explains that it will be difficult to attain 100% renewable power – and she promotes electric vehicles as a way of reducing fossil fuel emissions, but this would require substantially more electricity.

She is basically saying planting a lot of trees is one way of getting to zero net emissions, but that’s only a short term solution,

Her primary suggestion is effectively applying the Emissions Trading Scheme to farming to drastically force cow and sheep numbers down.

Is this what Shaw and the Greens want? If so they should come out and say it.

Q&A – David Parker on farming and the environment

This morning David Parker was questioned about environmental issues, the science involved in addressing problems, and possible effects on farming.

It’s worth checking out on +1 or when it becomes available online. Parker was informative at times, but looked sheepish when talking about tenure reviews.

The panel includes Chris Allen of Federated Farmers, who says that he and farmers share many of the same environmental aims that Parker is talking about. How and how quickly are key questions.

Greens, farming and “more sustainable land use”

The leak of policies the Greens say were agreed on in governing negotiations will raise a few eyebrows in the farming and export sectors.

1. Climate action

“Significant climate action, with a shift towards a net zero carbon emissions economy by 2050” and the establishing of an independent climate commission. This would include shifting farms to “more sustainable land use” and a focus on transport, energy and primary industries.

New Zealand is supposed to be committed to zero carbon emissions anyway, and it was also Labour policy.

‘Sustainable farming’ is more contentious.

4. Water

Improve water quality and fund “freshwater enhancement”. Government support for irrigation will be wound down.

There has to be continued and increased efforts to reduce water pollution from farming. Somehow this needs to be done without impacting too much on farm incomes, employment and exports.

The farming sector may be concerned, given that Greens have said they want to reduce cow numbers by (I think) 25%. Some reduction is probably sensible, but significant reductions quickly could have a major impact.

During the campaign James Shaw said that a nitrate tax would cost the average dairy farm “no more than 5%” of their profits.

He said the party, if it were in government, would invest in the Sustainable Farming Fund and introduce a fund to support organic farming alongside a new sustainability accreditation scheme.

Mr Shaw said this would be paid for by a nitrate pollution levy on dairy farmers who continue to pollute the soils and water.

He said nitrate pollution was already measured by a modelling system called Overseer.

“The average dairy farm would pay no more than five percent of their pre-tax profits. So that’s the average and it would be no more than that.

That could be significant to struggling cow cockies, especially when it could be in addition to carbon tax for emissions as well as higher costs for irrigation.

What’s really important is that farmers would be able to get that money back by applying to the funds that we’re setting up.”

The Green Party would also place a moratorium on any more farms being converted to dairy, and instead support organic farming.

There have already been moves towards more organic farming methods and this should certainly be encouraged.

However the potential impact on the livelihood of farmers is not a minor matter.

Green policy (not all included in the governing agreement):  Clean water, great farming

The Green Party has a plan to support farmers to move to less polluting, more environmentally sustainable and more profitable ways of farming so that our rivers and lakes are safe to swim in and our drinking water from aquifers is protected.

We will put a levy on nitrate pollution from agriculture, starting with intensive dairying, and use the revenue raised to fund a package of game-changing support measures that farmers can use to reduce their impact on our environment.  We will:

  1. Help farmers move to more sustainable and profitable farming by
  • Extending the Sustainable Farming Fund with an extra $20 million every year.
  • Creating a Transformational Farming Partnership Fund of around $70 million a year.
  • Increasing funding for the Landcare Trust to $16 million over three years.
  • Rewarding tree planting by farmers and landowners.
  • Allowing accelerated depreciation on dairy farm equipment.
  • Support organic farming by introducing national standards, and new funding of $5 million a year.
  1. Implement a levy on nitrate pollution to help protect our rivers, lakes and aquifers, which will raise around $136.5 million in the first year. This will fund the programmes listed above, and an additional $20 million a year for freshwater clean-up projects.
  2. Put a moratorium on new dairy farm conversions.
  3. Wind up Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd and stop providing subsidies for big irrigation projects.
  4. Transition away from Palm Kernel Expeller/Extract (PKE) to alternative feed stocks, from 2018.
  5. Establish a ‘Good Food Aotearoa New Zealand’ national sustainability accreditation scheme for food products, processors and farmers, so those who work with the land, not against it, can prove it to consumers at home and overseas to fetch a higher price and are more attractive to export markets.

“Help farmers move to more sustainable and profitable farming ” – great ideals, but this is vague. I wonder if there has been any real research done on how much more profitable farming will be if it is made more sustainable, how much it will affect farm production, employment and exports.

There is a massive amount dependant on farming in New Zealand, and raising costs and reducing intensification could have a big impact. Do the Greens know how much?

An Ashburton farmer on vitriol and inconsistency in the water debate

David Clark, an Ashburton farmer, on hatred, vitriol, water tax, and farming’s contribution to the rural based economy:


It really saddens me to hear and read to the hatred and vitriol that been brought into this election campaign and I am very concerned at the rift between urban and rural and the disconnection between food production and our population.

We live in a nation of low unemployment, a world standard low cost health system, a no-fault accident compensation scheme, social welfare and pension provisions. We have an extraordinary high degree of food security in this country.

I live in a district whose main town has virtually the lowest unemployment in New Zealand. We have a vibrant, multi-cultural community that offers a wide range of employment opportunities and a very high level of community facilities. This is much transformed town that come out of the ‘80’s with its tail firmly between its legs.

Ashburton is a town that has been transformed in the last 25 years; this is a town that has been transformed by the development of irrigation, both in arable and dairying land uses. This district grows over half of the world’s carrot and radish seeds along with a wide variety of other crops exported worldwide. We produce 8% of the National Dairy production.

I am an arable farmer using irrigation to grow seed crops that are exported worldwide and grain and vegetable crops for domestic food consumption as well as finishing lambs for NZ butchers and export.

We first put irrigation on in ’98 and then in 2011 installed pivots to achieve more efficient water use and lower leaching than the older irrigators we had originally operated, at a cost of well over $1 million. We did that voluntarily because it increased our production, reduced our water use and significantly reduced our environmental footprint, however we could only justify that expenditure because our business was bankable.

Our business proudly supports local firms for the provision of goods and services and like our fellow farmers, most of the gross income is spent in the local community and profit, if any is largely reinvested in our business via local firms.

We operate our tractors on GPS guidance, running at 20mm accuracy to reduce overlap, our fertiliser spreader is GPS controlled and records all applications to a geo-spacial map, our combine weighs every kg of crop and overlays that data onto a map so we can track inputs and outputs accurately here as a result of investment in technology. It is investment in this technology that is achieving improvements in our environmental footprint.

On Friday night I attended a public meeting to hear Labour Water Spokesperson David Parker present his proposal for a tax on irrigation water. His presentation was headed by “How did we get to this?” and showed a series of photos from around New Zealand of environmental degradation caused by agriculture. The photos showed practices that are unacceptable for sure, no argument about that, but a selective portrayal of the worst of the worst in my view.

At not one point did I hear any positive comment of the actions of the farming community in NZ. But interestingly none of the photos depicted anything in Mid Canterbury, had nothing to do with arable agriculture and only one shot of Coe’s Ford after three years of drought had any connection to irrigation. There was only one photo of a degraded urban waterway and that was one that Federated Farmers had provided to Mr Parker earlier in the day and challenged him to display.

The purpose of the meeting and continuation of his presentation was to explain the Labour Party’s intention to impose a tax on irrigation in NZ with the intent of using the money raised to repair environmental damage.

The missing part of this logic was that his slide show did not depict irrigation as the cause of the degradation and this is confirmed by a report by Irrigation NZ that shows there is no correlation between areas of high irrigation development and regions with poor water quality in NZ.

So why tax irrigation? And Irrigation predominately in Canterbury and Otago that are regions with good water quality?

I listened to the proposal and wondered why, if using a public resource for private profit was so villainous, why would a food producer using irrigation be taxed, but a soft drink company abstracting water from the Auckland Municipal supply be exempt? I heard the argument popular in Ashburton about export water bottlers, but if the bottling company pumped from their own well, they would be captured by this tax, however if the plant connected onto the local Council reticulated supply, their export activity would be water-tax free.

I sat in the meeting heard a whole lot of vitriol and bitterness extended towards the agricultural community and I reflected on the fact that it was August 18th and that night our monthly bills would be paid and a not insignificant sum would be transferred to local businesses, local businesses that the attendees relied on for either direct or indirect employment or for taxation to fund their social payments. The receipts from our production re-cycle many times through our local community, and I’m pleased about that.

I reflected on the reality that in the last ten years a qualified tradesman in Ashburton could pretty much name their charge out rate or hourly wage on the back of rapid development, both urban and rural, largely, virtually entirely, whether direct or indirect, on the back of the productivity achieved irrigation in the Ashburton District.

This is a town where professionals view their income earning potential as better than in large cities, a town that offers an unemployment rate equal to the lowest in the country. A town with a man-made lake providing a housing location and leisure facility for all; a lake that is packed on any summer’s afternoon.

We have a town with a new art gallery; and a new aquatic centre costing $35m. A fantastic complex on which the paint was hardly dry and some around the town were grizzling that it needed the addition of a Hydro Slide for the children.

I listened to the anti-farming vitriol, and heard how they believed that we were stealing water and the town folk saw no benefit. Every dollar we earn is re-cycled into our local community, the employment generated by our business, direct or indirectly is significantly higher than it was in 1994 when we moved to a dryland sheep farm running 2,000 ewes.

A theme, which seems to be propagated at present by the Left is that Water Quality is a Rural problem, and therefore of Agricultural origin.

I accept that farming has an environmental footprint; no doubt, I also accept that practices need to and will change. In my view, technology and regulation will go hand in hand to solve those problems. Interestingly the three key policies that David Parker said he would implement are already in place by way of the Canterbury Land and Water Plan and he congratulated the National Government appointed Commissioners at ECan on introducing a robust water management framework.

But I don’t think that is the end of the debate. We regularly swim with our children in the river that bounds our farm; in fact I would happily drink it. I, along with thousands of others enjoy recreation in Lake Hood which is fed by the Ashburton River.
But the media and the Left would portray our rivers as dangerously polluted and degraded.

In comparison, I cannot swim in the Avon or Heathcote, nor the Christchurch Estuary which are subjected to storm water flows, overflows from the sewer network, seepage from broken sewers and heavy metals and petroleum contamination, which at times are several hundred times safe levels. Sure Christchurch has been devastated by the earthquakes, but the pollution of these urban waterways long pre-date the earthquake.

I would look forward to the day we can safely swim in the Avon adjacent to Oxford Terrace.

We hear much of the risks of the Ruataniwha Dam, but overlook the reality that the Hawke’s Bay’s two cities pump their sewerage out in the bay. Invercargill City is currently arguing in the Courts to renew its consent to discharge sewerage into four waterways including a lagoon.

In the Hutt Valley the sewerage system has contaminated an aquifer and will likely require the long term chlorination of the local water supply.

I grew up in South Auckland and enjoyed swimming at their most magnificent beaches during summer. The situation now is that one million cubic metres of sewerage and wastewater pours into the harbour every year regularly requiring the beaches to be closed to swimmers.

Two summers ago we stopped for lunch at a public picnic table looking out to Lion Rock at Piha. As our children walked across the mown grass their shoes turned green from the septic tank leachate oozing from the ground. Their shoes and the whole area stank; it sure didn’t do much for our appetite.

Yet the Left are silent on urban water quality issues, best not scare the voters with any suggestion they may need to fund the upgrade of their own effluent disposal system. It is far more politically expedient to poke the borax at farmers. We all have a footprint on this planet, and poor water quality has many causes and we are all responsible for the many solutions. Taxing only one group is not that solution.

Across New Zealand we are covering much of our elite food producing soils with the ongoing march of urban sprawl, permanently removing this land from production. Surely mankind cannot have more of a footprint that covering food producing soil with concrete.

In our world, we are challenged to produce food at the lowest price in the world. We do so by employing world leading technology to be some of the most efficient producers on the planet. Why would I say the cheapest in the world? Well, if we are not, the manufacturers and supermarkets will turn and import the ingredients quickity-split.

You see, as much as we talk about providence of supply and country of origin, animal welfare and environmental footprint, the brutal reality it that the vast bulk of consumers purchase the grocery item that the supermarket has a “special” tag attached to and couldn’t give two-toots as to where it came from or what standards it conformed to.

Our family has proudly farmed continuously in various parts of NZ for 140 years; I am but a caretaker and would hope that at least one of my children might take our family forward as food producers. It is in our very best interests to ensure that this property is in better condition for the next generation than when I began my stewardship.

I have listened to the hatred, I have read the posts on social media riping into farmers and it saddens me. This is a very nasty election campaign and I hope it is not a reflection on society as a whole.

It is a wet Sunday afternoon and I have stock to check on, best get my wet weather gear back on and get cracking.

David Clark.

As posted on Facebook

Q+A: the city/rural divide

Fonterra have been doing a lot of advertising on television lately – are they trying to win over public opinion? Or is it too late?

On demand:

Also on Q & A -the regions and farming

Also on Q & A this morning:

Can we reboot our regions?

The future seems grim for some of our regions that are facing flat-lining growth or even decline. But could there be a silver lining? Demographer Professor Paul Spoonley talks solutions in his new book, Rebooting the Regions.

And the man that runs New Zealand’s biggest farm talks about the future of dairy, doing more to fix our water problems and the changing face of modern farming. Landcorp CEO Steven Carden is interviewed by Corin Dann.

Joining our host Greg Boyed on the panel are political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards, former Labour candidate Dr Deborah Russell and businessman Sam Stubbs.