Sheep grazing near a wind farm in Wellington, New Zealand Alamy Stock Photo
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Agri-reliant countries must pave way for cutting agriculture emissions, says New Zealand expert

No sector can yet say it is doing enough to fight the climate crisis, according to a climate ambassador.

NO SECTOR CAN yet say it is doing enough to fight the climate crisis, according to a climate ambassador from New Zealand.

Kay Harrison, Climate Change Ambassador at New Zealand’s Department of Foreign Affairs, has said that Ireland and New Zealand must collaborate on solutions to fight the climate crisis.

She said that island countries like Ireland and New Zealand that have traditionally relied on agriculture are now examining the sector’s role in climate change before other, more industrialised countries. 

In an interview with The Journal at the Dublin Climate Summit, Harrison said that overall, “if you look at the world, and you look at climate change, and you look at any sector, could you honestly say any sector was doing enough?”

“I’m not sure that we can ever sit back and say, yeah we’re doing enough on anything, because we haven’t done enough for the last 30 years on anything.” 

“Agriculture has got its own particular challenges but I think the rest of the world is going to turn to New Zealand and Ireland in a few years’ time when they’re finished with their clean energy revolution and say, ‘have you got agriculture sorted, what do we do’?” Harrison said.

“We’ve been given this opportunity and challenge perhaps ahead of others and we need to get on with it.”

On Thursday, Ireland and New Zealand launched a joint initiative to support research into climate and agriculture. 

The initiative is open to research proposals that would study how to improve the accuracy of greenhouse gas emission inventories from the agriculture sector and technologies for the selection of low-emitting cattle and sheep. 

Agriculture is the sector with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland, much of which comes from cattle.

The Climate Change Advisory Council has advised that reducing the number of cows in Ireland would substantially help to reduce emissions in a sector that has emphasised carbon budgets as “challenging”.

Polling last year by Ireland Thinks for The Journal found that 23% of people thought the number of cows in Ireland should be limited to the current level and 22% felt it should be reduced.

However, 39% believed there should be no limit and that farmers should be allowed to determine their herd.

In New Zealand, the number of sheep has fallen from over 70 million in the early 1980s to 26 million as of 2019. 

During the same period, beef cattle fell from 50 million to 38 million (with a low of 35 million in 2016), while dairy cattle increased from just under 30 million to 62 million.

Asked whether a reduction in herd numbers is something she believes Ireland and New Zealand should be implementing, Harrison said: “I think it’s not a simple ‘reduce the numbers’.”

“Our Climate Change Commission suggested that probably we’ve maximised the number of animals that we can sustainably hold on our land, but there are different pressures in different parts of the country as well in terms of whether or not that’s the best use of land there.

“We see numbers probably levelling off, but these are private decisions by private landowners that are constrained by what local communities through resource management will accept.”

IMG_2703 Kay Harrison addressing the Dublin Climate Summit Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has been clamouring to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, which are a major source of energy for many European countries, particularly former Soviet states. 

At the same time, it must avoid backtracking on efforts to reduce emissions and consequently put the planet in further peril.

“I think the first challenge to focusing on climate was Covid and the second challenge is this most recent situation [in Ukraine],” Harrison said.

“What I’ve consistently heard out of Europe is this is a reason to double down on renewables, this is a reason to double down on investment in the kind of technology and innovation that we need for the future.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s neighbour Australia has been listed among several countries with the biggest expansion plans for oil and gas production.

“New Zealand has specifically said it will not issue any further permits for offshore oil and gas,” Harrison said.

“We think it’s really important to send those kinds of signals to investors and also to level the playing field so that the kind of clean energy that we need to take over is as adopted.”

As the climate crisis threatens countries around the world, Harrison said that the “strongest hope that we have is in collaboration and cooperation and in this recognition that we are confronting so many of the same things”.

“We’re going to be much, much stronger than the sum of our combined parts by working together.”

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