WELLINGTON, N.Z. — Environmental and financial implications must be balanced in New Zealand’s post-2012 climate change policies and 2020 emissions target, said Mike Petersen, chairman, Meat & Wool New Zealand. "These issues are critical for sheep and beef farming businesses as they will set the direction for pastoral farming for the next 50 years," he added.

New Zealand’s 2020 emissions target must have international credibility, be achievable and realistic, and minimize harm to New Zealand’s economy and the industries that have a long-term competitive advantage, such as agriculture, he added.

"No other country is including agriculture in its climate change response," Mr. Petersen said. "If the U.S. and China — the two largest emitters, responsible for 40% of global emissions, were to reach a deal, then this will set a precedent for what will be agreed elsewhere. But, neither the U.S. nor China are including agricultural emissions in their thinking."

Canada and Japan have set reduction targets of 3% and 8%, respectively, below 1990 emissions and the U.S. has only committed to reducing to 1990 levels by 2020.

A target being advocated by some quarters of 40% by 2020 is aspirational, but is neither achievable or realistic for the agricultural sector, Mr. Petersen said.

Greenhouse gases from dynamic biological processes, which have evolved over the last 80-90 million years, combined with modern day farm-management practices, are a very complex field requiring significant research before useful conclusions can be reached about mitigation of agricultural emissions, he said.

Analysis of two sheep and beef farming businesses shows the extra costs generated by a 2020 target of 40% would reduce farm profit by up to 26% to US$33,800 for the Marshall family in Southland and by up to 78% to US$10,600 for the Von Dadelszen family in Central Hawke’s Bay, Mr. Petersen continued. This new expenditure would represent three times the current amount spent on things like electricity and maintaining the health of their sheep and cattle.

"This loss of profitability would lead to a sharp reduction in economic activity in many rural communities and townships and a loss of jobs and services," Mr. Petersen said. "The economic impacts on New Zealand’s productive sector would also have flow-on effects into the larger centers of New Zealand."