Our climate change policies are inadequate and will limit our ability to make any meaningful difference for mitigating climate change. The national climate narrative is fixated on primary production and specifically farming. In assessing the climate impact of farming, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions are the main focus. This sets the scene for targeted levies based on greenhouse gas (GHG) sources. The only on-farm greenhouse gas sinks considered are forests and vegetation that meet certain mitigating criteria; and now the Climate Change Commission is recommending that those sinks are not allowed.[i] Soil and pasture have been dismissed as sinks that sequester[ii] or neutralise different GHGs even though soil contains larger stocks of carbon than the atmosphere and vegetation combined.[iii], [iv]
Distracted by a simplistic framing of the problem, we are diverted from solutions that would provide much more leverage to mitigate climate change. This position negates our ability to achieve Net Zero Values for carbon or any of the GHGs, if we are unable[v],[vi] or unwilling to accurately monitor (or prescribe levies for) existing emission levels.
According to the IPCC, 87% or more of methane is recycled by hydroxyl radicals[vii], induced in abundance in Aotearoa New Zealand by water vapour and volatile organic compounds[viii] (VOCs), released from growing vegetation. Yet this sink is completely ignored.
Aotearoa New Zealand has high levels of photosynthesis year-round because of its soils, temperate climate and lush vegetation. This draws down carbon, generates the water vapour that is the raw material for hydroxyl radical production, and directly cools our environment by the transfer of latent heat higher into the atmosphere. This transfer, back into the atmosphere by transpiration-driven cooling, deflects the sun’s radiant energy away from the harder surfaces thus mitigating thermal emissions. This natural bounty we are blessed with provides our main agency, alongside eliminating fossil fuels, to moderate the climate. This video[ix] provides further explanation of the dynamics of water in climate mitigation.[x]
If these sinks – soil carbon and hydroxyl radicals – were included in carbon budgets, many farms in Aotearoa New Zealand would be in carbon credit. Finding mechanisms to include reduced heat emissions through the agency of photosynthesis and transpiration would further improve their position. We would then be evaluating farms on net emissions rather than gross emissions.
Our relatively large population of ruminants positions methane as our major GHG. In particular, our solutions must be tailored to this unique context. This means positioning pastoral/animal derived methane in a separate compartment from industrial methane, which may be impacted minimally by atmospheric cleansing plant-based hydroxyl radicals produced by pastures and forests. Recent attribution of increasing levels of atmospheric methane has been unfairly linked to anthropogenic emissions from agriculture[xi] when recent molecular typing (13CH4) proves that increases in methane are more likely linked with rogue emissions from unsealed oil or gas wells associated with shale gas extraction and fracking.[xii]
In addition, primary production remains the mainstay of our economy, recently crossing, for the first time, the threshold of $50 billion in export revenue. How perverse that we seek to unfairly hobble the potential of these industries that generate such resources to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Cities are recognised as urban heat islands, often two degrees centigrade warmer than the countryside and sometimes significantly more. Manufacturing and business activity that happens in cities will struggle to achieve sustainability. Yet primary producers can go way beyond sustainability to regenerate ecosystems, while still growing our food. The problem is not farming itself, but the level of intensification. The solution is the rapid and widespread development of practices that accelerate development of greenhouse gas sinks while fostering greater biodiversity and ecosystem regeneration. This remediates the climate and sustainably produces the food people need.It is consistent with the values embodied in kaitiakitanga.
It is bewildering that agricultural industry bodies have so meekly capitulated to a flawed climate narrative. Some gaze at a distant horizon looking for high risk technological silver bullets, while ignoring nature’s capability to sustain balance, if only we would work alongside her. Creating policy that recognises both GHG sources and sinks resonates with the more holistic view of biology and earth systems inherent in mātauranga Māori. We need climate policy that is fair to all people in Aotearoa New Zealand, while it continues to focus on climate remediation.
It is time to widen the debate moving away from inorganic chemical-driven industrial farming practices with high external inputs to biologically-based regenerative practices with proven abilities to build greenhouse gas sinks. The climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, human health and our economy will benefit. Now that is a silver bullet!
In climate change we face an unprecedented existential crisis. If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy a good life on this planet, we need to re-examine the assumptions that guide present action in the light of emerging understandings. We, the undersigned, ask you to foster the public debate on this important issue.
1. Support research into the efficacy of soil carbon and hydroxyl radicals as sinks and transpiration-driven cooling to moderate the climate.
We applaud the Government’s recent increases in climate change research. As with the public narrative, research resources are too focused on technological fixes and ignore the biological cycling perfected by nature. Irrespective of the proportional contribution New Zealand can make to climate remediation, because of our small size, we can provide leadership in providing biological solutions that will position us as world-leading producers of quality foods, with net Zero Carbon emissions.
2. Advance the global debate on GHG sinks (including carbon sequestration in soil, and hydroxyl radicals) and transpiration-driven cooling.
Given that current understandings of methane are very significant for Aotearoa, it is vital that we seek out those globally who share the signatories’ perspective of the need to advance the narrative. An example is the planned establishment of a multi-million dollar Indo-German Research Centre in Andhra Pradesh, India, to advance agroecology and reverse desertification of wastelands, increase water storage, retain topsoil and prevent soil erosion.
3. Impose graduated levies on artificial fertilisers.
We support the intention recommended by the Climate Change Commission to introduce graduated levies on synthetic fertilisers, especially urea. A Full Life Cycle Analysis must be carried out to quantify the manifest effects of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on soil health and nitrous oxide emissions.
4. Identify barriers and enablers for more rapid learning to enable us to moderate the climate.
The current nexus between policy development, science, and the profit motive inhibits our learning. The antidote is greater transparency in how research funding is allocated and decisions are made. We encourage the Government to foster a reflexive research culture that takes full advantage of emerging understandings and transcends the limitations of the current siloed approach to research.
|Emeritus Professor Frank Griffin (ONZM, FRSNZ) Director Ag@Otago, University of Otago email@example.com||Peter Bruce-Iri Independent Researcher firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Alfred Harris Scientist (structural biology)||Max Purnell Farmer|
|Millan Ruka (MNZM) Kaitiaki and River Assessor||Marcus Williams Director of Research and Enterprise, Unitec|
|Sir Alan Francis Mark (KNZM, CBE, FRSNZ) Botanist & Environmentalist University of Otago||Graham Shepherd Soil Scientist, Agricultural Advisor and author of the FAO Visual Soil Analysis|
|Wendy Bown Environmental Film Maker||Glenn Edney Ocean Ecologist|
|Fiona Douglas Executive and Organisational Coach||Trish Allen Retired Organic Farmer|
|Janette Perrett Dairy farmer & Chair of Organic Dairy & Pastoral Group of New Zealand||Richard Bentley, Freelance Writer specialising in sustainable agriculture and related science and technology.|
|Anna Harding Farmer, Dargaville||Ursula, Erwin, and Shani Eisenmann Waima Hill Organic Beef|
|Callum Lane Lane Family Farm||Sam Hogg Mingiroa Farm|
|Steve Erikson Chaos Springs Farm||John King Holistic Management Educator|
|Professor Craig Bunt Inaugural Professor in Agricultural Innovation Director Agricultural Innovation Programme University of Otago||Dr Sebastian Gehricke Senior Lecturer, Otago Business School Deputy Director, Climate and Energy Finance Group, University of Otago|
|Align Farm Group, Ashburton Dairy Consortium (6 farms) Impact Investor: John Buchanan CEO: Rhys Roberts Environmental Management: Clare Buchanan||Associate Professor Janice Lord. Botany Department, University of Otago Indigenous and Exotic Forestry Carbon Sequestration|
|Allan Richardson Avalon Farms, West Otago Organic and Regenerative Farming Board member of Organics Aotearoa||Hamish and Amy Bielski Rehoboth Farm Regenerative Farming, Beef & Lamb|
|Mark and Madeline Anderson, Westridge Dairy Farm, Clinton Holistic Annual Grazing||Andy Barratt Organic/Holistic farmer|
|Dylan & Sheree Ditchfield Ditchfield Group Dairy Farming and Business Leadership||Siobhan Griffin Farm Consultant, Next Level Grazing|
|Phyllis Tichinin True Health Ltd.||Jono Frew Managing Director, Natural Performance Ltd.|
|Wayne Douglas Regenerative farmer and educator||Tracy and Fred Ody Ody Farm|
|Rhodes Donald Director, Polson Higgs Wealth Management|
|Professor John Elkington Author and Founder & Chief Pollinator, Volans||Professor Peter Head CBE Founder and Chair, Resilience Brokers|
|Dr Christine Jones Independent Researcher||Walter Jehne Director, Regenerate Earth|
|T. Vijay Kumar|
Executive Vice Chairman Rythu Sadhikara Samstha
|William Becker Author and Executive Director, Presidential Climate Action Project|
|Professor Peter Byck Film maker and academic||Jon Schull|
Co-founder of EcoRestoration Alliance
|Judith D. Schwartz Environmental Journalist, USA||Gerry Gillespie Founding member – Zero Waste International Trust|
[i] Climate Change Commission, ‘Farmers Could Be Ready for “basic” Emissions Pricing by 1 January 2025’, He Pou a Rangi: Climate Change Commission, 6 July 2022, https://www.climatecommission.govt.nz/.
[ii] Elena Di Federico, ‘Sequestering Carbon in Soil and Retaining Soil Carbon Stores – Orientations for CAP Strategic Plans’, Text, 16 January 2020, https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/publications/sequestering-carbon-soil-and-retaining-soil-carbon-stores-orientations-cap-strategic_en.
[iv] Sam R. McNally et al., ‘Soil Carbon Sequestration Potential of Permanent Pasture and Continuous Cropping Soils in New Zealand’, Global Change Biology 23, no. 11 (2017): 4544–55, https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13720.
[v] Dave S. Reay et al., ‘Methane and Global Environmental Change’, SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY, 1 October 2018), https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-102017-030154.
[vii] IPCC, ‘IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007’, IPPC, 2007, https://archive.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch7s7-4-1.html.
[viii] Michael S. Waring and J. Raymond Wells, ‘Volatile Organic Compound Conversion by Ozone, Hydroxyl Radicals, and Nitrate Radicals in Residential Indoor Air: Magnitudes and Impacts of Oxidant Sources’, Atmospheric Environment 106 (1 April 2015): 382–91, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2014.06.062.
[x] Tina Perinotto, ‘The Power of Water to Cool the Earth Is Bigger than We Think’, The Fifth Estate, 7 November 2017, http://thefifthestate.com.au/columns/spinifex/the-power-of-water-to-cool-the-earth-is-bigger-than-we-think/.
[xi] Frank Mitloehner, ‘Why Methane from Cattle Warms the Climate Differently than CO2 from Fossil Fuels’, CLEAR Center UC Davis, 7 July 2020, https://clear.ucdavis.edu/explainers/why-methane-cattle-warms-climate-differently-co2-fossil-fuels.
[xii] Robert W. Howarth, ‘Ideas and Perspectives: Is Shale Gas a Major Driver of Recent Increase in Global Atmospheric Methane?’, Biogeosciences 16, no. 15 (14 August 2019): 3033–46, https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-16-3033-2019.