NZ Farmer - Concern over social cost of Zero Carbon Bill

Written by Esther Taunton

Climate change policies must be good for people as well as the planet, farming groups say.

Both Federated Farmers and Horticulture New Zealand support moves to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, but not at the expense of New Zealanders' social or economic wellbeing.

"We must have regard for the impact various net zero options would have on emissions prices and on GDP, jobs and income," Federated Farmers climate change spokesman Andrew Hoggard said.

"We need that clear road map to a low net emissions economy and a long-term plan of action that endures political cycles."

Similar concerns were raised by Horticulture NZ, the organisation representing commercial fruit, vegetable and berry growers.

Chief executive Mike Chapman said growers in the industry were mostly small to medium sized businesses, with a few larger corporates in some sectors.

"Therefore, changes in costs can have a dramatic effect on the ability of these businesses to remain profitable and continue to offer job opportunities to New Zealanders," he said.

Particular attention should be paid to investment in research to develop the alternative technologies and fuels needed to ensure fruit and vegetable production remained viable, Chapman said.

"Horticulture can add value to a lower emissions economy.  But in order to mitigate emissions through increases in horticulture, barriers to horticultural expansion will need to be reduced, in particular, trade barriers and access to water."

In its submission on the bill, Federated Farmers also noted there was great potential for forests, farm woodlots and other planting to store carbon long-term.  

However, there could be a negative flow-on effect for rural communities if forestry took over farmland, Hoggard said.

"We're very concerned about the potential for climate change policy to drive large-scale land use change from sheep and beef farming to forestry, when it's farming that underpins the social, economic and employment viability of rural communities."

The notion that foresters would want to plant on marginal land was "highly questionable".

"Resource management, health and safety and economic factors are shifting new commercial forestry planting to land that is easy to maintain, and close to transport and processing infrastructure - the sort of land currently farmed," Hoggard said.

"When plantation forestry is harvested on steep, highly erodible land, land users and communities downstream are highly vulnerable to catastrophically destructive and costly debris flow damage.  Just think of recent events at Motueka and Tolaga Bay."