According to the OECD the contribution of New Zealand’s agricultural sector accounted for 49% of our climate change emissions in 2014. The highest share in the OECD. This is for a sector that, in 2016, accounts for roughly 5% of our GDP.
That is a problem.
We can remove 95% of our economy and we would still have only cut our emissions by 51%. Or, we could remove 5% of our economy and cut our emissions by 48% which looks like a no brainer until you remember that food is more important than cars and this sector includes not only farming but other business as well.
Looking closer at it, 76% of the agricultural emissions (37% of our gross emissions) come from livestock and out of that 73% (35% gross) comes from cows and sheep.
So we could remove 35% of our emissions by stopping the farming of of cows and sheep. This would remove roughly 4% of our GDP.
That is a huge sector of our economy. Removing the agricultural sector overnight would make things 4 times worse than they were in 2008 when we were in recession from the GFC. It should also be pointed out that our recession would have been a hell of a lot worse without the farming sector which for various reasons was going through a commodity price boom.
We also don’t want to interfere with the food intake of New Zealanders. We eat 21kg of red meat a year. I haven’t been able to find the current dairy consumption but according to Te Ara we were eating 6kg of butter, and 4kg of cheese, per person in the early 2000’s. In the 80’s we drank 155L of milk per person.
Climate Change: What can we do?
We could stop exporting dairy and red meat.
In 2012 we exported 741787 tonnes of red meat and ate 92568 tonnes at home. So this would cut the red meat market to 12% of it’s size. Dairy exports 95% of it’s output so that would cut it to 5% of it’s size.
Obviously, destroying these industries overnight is economic suicide. And yet continuing on our current path of emissions will help destroy these industries in the long term.
Why not do it over 10 years?
If we take the GDP size of these industries at 4% then restricting them to zero exports over 10 years would be a 0.4% drop in GDP per year and with an average GDP growth of around 2% we could achieve that without going into recession.
What about the people?
There were 108,220 people employed in agriculture in 2012. That is a huge amount of people to change employment on. What happens to their businesses and employees. How would the banks deal with their debt?
To put it simply, I don’t know. There would have to be huge restructuring. The people of New Zealand would have to invest in changing farms and communities to other forms of business.
There are a number of ways this could be done. Identifying the most unproductive farms and transitioning them to non ruminant farming, horticulture, forestry, and tourism would be a start. Free retraining would be another good idea and covering their debt (perhaps proportional to the time left) would be needed.
In the end these people would need to be helped. We would be taking their livelihoods. Unfortunately, not doing anything is taking their livelihoods in the long term as well.
It would be a massive and sudden change even over the course of 10 years but the benefits to the country and the world would be huge. It would mean a 30% reduction in our emissions.
A little about this article…
I can point out a lot of holes in the information here so please don’t point that out to me. Things have been rounded at times, different data sets and methodologies used. There is no way I can say that it is accurate. And I am not. If you can point out errors and provide better sources of reference then please do.
This, in the end, is to make you think. Currently we have to reduce our climate change emissions by 24% to reach our Kyoto targets. This is the only way I can think to do it.