OPINION: It was an emperor's new clothes moment. The Government said what many had been thinking - that the Emissions Trading System isn't working for us and we'd be better off without it.
The Labour-led government signed us up to the ETS to honour international obligations to reduce global warming. I agree with the sentiments.
If global warming is happening - and there's some dispute about that - then we should do all we can to stop it.
But two things have got in the way.
One, we are unique in the world in that half of our greenhouse gases come from livestock.
And two, no other country has decided to tax animal emissions. Some of our main trading partners do not even have an ETS.
That puts us at a severe disadvantage.
Why should we penalise our main income earners if the countries we send their produce to aren't doing the same to their farmers?
It would be madness. But it is what Labour and the Greens want to do.
The Government hasn't exactly removed us from the ETS, but what it has decided to do is close to it. It will not commit to the next round of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that binds us to an ETS.
Instead, it has said it will pursue a reduction of emissions under the United Nations Convention Framework. Protocol targets are legally binding, but framework targets are not.
This puts us in the same camp as major trading partners like China and the United States, not to mention would-be free-traders India and Russia.
In the Kyoto camp are Britain and Europe. They are also important markets for us and the Government is gambling that its decision won't bring us lasting harm.
I used to think we needed to be in the ETS at least so we could show we were doing our bit to tackle global warming. It's cynical, I know, but it seemed important to placate such major customers.
Now I'm not so sure. A survey of British shoppers has shown that environmental concerns are well down the list of what determines buying decisions. And, anyway, New Zealand's environmental stocks are high in the northern hemisphere. Compared with their farming systems, which bring animals indoors in harsh winters, the British and Europeans know our year-round green pastures are home to well-cared-for sheep and cattle and high-quality meat and dairy produce.
The worry over food miles has now dissipated. A report by British agricultural research organisation CGIAR praised the environmental benefits of New Zealand's lamb, suggesting British consumers should buy Kiwi meat for the sake of the environment.
The people in New Zealand who feel let down the most by the Government's lack of commitment to an ETS are foresters.
They justifiably expected an increase in tree planting after strong statements by National in election campaigning. It is shameful that more has not been done to encourage this, particularly on highly erodible sheep country.
And the Government is also to blame for not doing enough to protect our own emissions trading currency, the New Zealand unit, from imported units. The New Zealand unit's value is now at rock bottom, hardly an incentive to plant more trees.
Foresters complain that trees are being replaced by dairy farms in the Central North Island, but that was always going to happen. Dairying is the higher earner and as long as the environmental effects can be controlled is the best use of the land.
Most, if not all, farmers will welcome the Government's decision.
It removes a threat hanging over them, that at some time in the future they will be unfairly penalised for the gas produced naturally by their animals' burps and farts. However, if there is a change of government next year, that threat will return.
Meanwhile, scientists are working on ways to ameliorate these gases through a New Zealand-backed global alliance.
When inexpensive, practical help is developed, then it will be time to look again at farmers' contribution.
To anyone seeing a dislocation with my previous stand on environmental controls on dairying, this is the way I look at it: The Environment Court says farmers have the science to help them reduce pollution and it has accepted evidence that it won't be costly.
Everyone agrees the science to help farmers reduce global warming is not available.
Forcing farmers to pay into a scheme that will not stop pollution - pollution that New Zealand contributes only a minuscule fraction of - is pointless.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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