Number 8 wire attitude needed to achieve Climate Change Commission’s targets for lower emissions

21 Apr 21

The Climate Change Commission’s 2021 Draft Advice for Consultation provides a detailed strategy for tackling climate change and meeting emissions reductions committed to by the Government. The Commission’s message is clear – we will not meet targets on our current trajectory and we must shift the focus from emissions offsets to reduction of emissions at source. So what does this mean for the agricultural sector?

Statutory background

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 (Zero Carbon Act) sets emissions targets for New Zealand, to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases(except biogenic methane) to net zero by 2050 and reduce emissions of biogenic methane to at least 10% by 2030 and24-47% by 2050, compared to 2017 levels. It also establishes the Climate Change Commission, to provide independent expert advice to Government on climate change issues and to monitor and review its progress towards emission reduction targets.

The Zero Carbon Act established a system of emissions budgets to reach the targets. The emissions budgets will set the maximum amount of greenhouse gases New Zealand can emit over the periods 2022-25, 2026-30, and 2031-35.

An Emissions Reduction Plan will then be prepared by Government to outline policies to implement those budgets.

The Climate Change Commission’s 2021 Draft Advice for Consultation (the Report) makes recommendations on the Emissions Budgets and Emissions Reduction Plan. The Report has been released for consultation, prior to Government confirming the Emissions Budgets.

Agricultural emissions

The two main agricultural greenhouse gases are biogenic methane and nitrous oxide. Biogenic methane has a different target to other gases (acknowledging its short lived nature), while nitrous oxide is included in the long-lived greenhouse gas target.

The Report records that in 2018 agriculture emissions made up about 90% of biogenic methane (primarily from farming livestock) and 18% of long-lived gas emissions (largely nitrous oxide, from animal urine and synthetic fertiliser).

The pathway to lower agricultural emissions

The Report assumes that no new technologies will be available to reduce methane emissions before 2035, so recommendations rely on currently available changes in farm management. The recommendations include:

By 2022

Decide on a pricing mechanism for agricultural emissions, drawing on the work of the He Waka Eke Noa Partnership (primary sector climate change commitment).

By 2025

Adopt low emissions practices on-farm, to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions. It is intended that the He Waka Eke Noa Partnership will develop the information and support needed to manage farms in a low emissions way. Many of these management changes are also driven by freshwater policy. The Commission identifies the need for policies to be cohesive across environmental issues to ensure they achieve multiple outcomes.

From 2025

Transform dairy land into horticulture at a rate of 2,000 ha per year.


Adopt low emissions breeding for sheep.

By 2030

Seek to reduce beef and sheep numbers by around 15%. The Commission proposes lowering stock numbers but improving animal, pasture and feed management to maintain production.


Encourage the adoption of new low methane technologies when available.

Looking forward – new technologies and alternative farming systems

The Commission has designed the emissions budgets to be met with currently available technology. However, it acknowledges we are going to need new technologies post 2035 in order to meet the next set of targets without reducing agricultural production. The Report recommends that a long-term plan is developed by the end of 2022 for targeted research and development of new technologies to reduce biogenic emissions from agriculture.

Promising developments include:

  • Methane inhibitors – chemical compounds that reduce emissions by targeting the methane-producing microbes within the rumen.
  • Methane vaccines – used to trigger an animal’s immune response to generate antibodies that suppress the activity of methanogens.
  • Nitrification inhibitors – chemical compounds which slow down the rate at which microbes in the soil convert nitrogen into nitrous oxide.
  • Plant breeding/modification to develop new types of low emission feed.
  • Nitrification inhibitors have been used previously, but have been discontinued for the time being due to issues with food safety approvals. The Commission recommends the review and updating of processes and regulatory regimes by the end of 2022, to ensure that new technologies and practices can be rapidly deployed as they become available.

Diversification and conversion of land uses plays a limited role in the proposed emissions budgets. The Commission identifies that this could play a key role in future budgets, but there are currently significant barriers and investment required to change land use, and a number of broader policy considerations to be taken into account. The Report recommends that Government support alternative farming systems through accelerating investment in information, and decision making tools and processes; supporting deployment of necessary systems and infrastructure; and prioritising initiatives to enable market access for low emission food and fibre products.

Reducing long-lived emissions

The Commission advises that the food and fibre sector will also need to reduce long-lived gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide emissions from:

  • Transport – this would be achieved through a shift to electrified transport, including electric vehicles and a significant shift of freight to electric rail and coastal shipping.
  • Processing – this will require that coal boilers be replaced with low-carbon alternatives such as bioenergy (for example, wood waste), electricity or geothermal.


Changes proposed to the forestry sector may also be of interest to the agricultural sector. A move away from planting exotic forests is proposed, with a new focus on establishing/regenerating native forests recommended to create a long-term carbon sink. The Commission suggests incentives will be required to ensure more native trees are planted which could be beneficial to farmers and there are further benefits such as erosion control and providing a use for marginal land.

Government support needed to transition

While the overall costs of meeting the targets are likely to be less than 1% of the projected GDP, the Report acknowledges they will not be evenly felt. The Commission urges Government to address this through careful policy design and targeted support, while recognising and encouraging the benefits that come from the changes.

It is recommended that the Government develop an Equitable Transitions Strategy to support New Zealanders and to ensure an equitable, inclusive and well-planned climate transition.

It will be important for the agricultural sector to keep informed about the support Government is offering.

Next steps for the Report

31 May

Final Report is to be released before this date. The Minister is not bound to follow the Commission’s advice but must give reasons for any departures.

31 December

Government has until then to accept the Commissioner’s proposed budgets or to produce its own and to create an Emissions Reduction Plan for meeting the budgets.

 Final comment

The agricultural sector is being called on to make further changes to farming practice, to continue to innovate and to adopt new technologies as they become available, as part of New Zealand’ s efforts to achieve the targets proposed for lowering emissions. In recent times farmers have had to make significant changes to the way they operate, including investing in expensive new infrastructure, to obtain the consents they need to operate and comply with national policy statements, such as the latest freshwater reforms.

It will be important for those in the agricultural sector to keep informed of upcoming changes to legislation (especially with significant resource management reforms underway), to assist with future planning for their business and also to take advantage of any opportunities which arise.


Want to know more?

If you have any questions about Number 8 wire attitude needed to achieve Climate Change Commission’s targets for lower emissions, please contact our specialist rural and agribusiness team.


PDF version: Number 8 wire attitude needed to achieve Climate Change Commission’s targets for lower emissions

This article was included in Edition 4 of our Rural and agribusiness newsletter – Rural Autumn 2021 which you can read here