by Jeanette Fitzsimons
Hi Strings, you raised some really interesting questions in the comment section of this ETS post and I’m sorry I haven’t had time to answer them till now:
We can’t “leave agriculture out of Kyoto” – it is already in, for all countries, and all countries have liabilities that include all their emissions above their 1990 related baseline. The argument is about whether we leave it out of our carbon pricing system, in which case NZ would still face the full liability for all our emissions but the farming sector would pay nothing towards that liability, so everyone else would have to pay twice as much, because agricultural methane and nitrous oxide is half the total.
Even if you leave out farming, our carbon dioxide emissions per head of population are very high – well above the global average – partly because our transport system is quite inefficient and we have long distances as well.
No, I’m not advocating genetic engineering – that is quite unnecessary. Once we understand which genes in cows reduce their generation of methane we can test a blood sample of calves for that gene and selectively breed, just as we do now, for example, to identify rams resistant to facial excema. Genetics is a very valuable science if you keep it in the lab and use it for diagnostic purposes.
Re stocking rates, it’s not as simple as you’d think. High stocking rates give you less production per cow. Lower stocking rates can often be more profitable for the farmer as input costs are much lower and stock health better. It doesn’t help our trade balance to have to import heaps of palm oil kernel for winter feed (apart from the fact that it’s grown by clearing rainforest) or veterinary medicines for overcrowded cows.
My comment that many things farmers could do that would reduce emissions don’t count under Kyoto is not evidence that the whole trading thing is a sham – it’s because measuring the effects of many better farm practices is incredibly difficult and Kyoto only credits what you can measure and verify. Our interest lies in advancing this science so that the practices we want credit for are measurable and verifiable and then get them accepted under Kyoto.