Climate change & the primary industries

Climate change affects all producers (farmers, growers, foresters, fishers), the communities that support them, and the broader New Zealand economy. Find out about climate change and the actions MPI is taking.


Greenhouse gases are causing climate change

Climate change is a term used to describe long-term changes in global weather patterns that have:

  • resulted from increased levels of certain gases in the atmosphere
  • been caused by humans.

Gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – known as greenhouse gases – cause air and ocean temperatures to rise. Over time, warmer temperatures can change weather patterns and damage the environment.

Agriculture and forestry are the focuses in New Zealand

Agriculture and livestock produce about half of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions – an unusual situation for a developed country. Our forests also store a large quantity of carbon — preventing it collecting in the atmosphere and reducing our net emissions profile. As such, agriculture and forestry are important focuses for us in our role in reducing global greenhouse gas concentrations.

Greenhouse gases can be produced in several ways:

  • Carbon dioxide is produced in the extraction, production and use of fossil fuels – such as petrol.
  • Methane is produced by farm animals.
  • Nitrous oxide is produced in farming and industrial processes.

Find out more

What it means for our primary industries

Climate change is a global issue that will affect all countries. New Zealand's economy relies on our environment and the primary production it supports – such as farming, forestry and fishing.

There are risks and opportunities we know New Zealand will face:

  • Climate change will affect what and how much New Zealand can grow or harvest – both on the land and in the sea.
  • Increasingly unpredictable weather cycles could make some years more or less productive than others.
  • Some regions will become better suited to growing crops and producing goods than others.
  • Increased rainfall can result in erosion and increase sediment in our waterways. Soil loss can damage the stability of land and reduce its productivity.
  • The variety of pests and diseases we are vulnerable to could change.

Some fish populations are also at risk

Global ocean temperatures have been rising steadily. Scientists have found links between changing weather patterns and fish quantities in a number of important commercial fishing stocks. Species found to be affected include snapper, scallops, red cod, hoki and rock lobster. Carbon dioxide absorbed into the oceans is also increasing its acidity.

What MPI's doing about it

MPI is working to support the primary sector to reduce the amount of agricultural greenhouse gases it produces, support the expansion of forests where appropriate, and ensure that the sector is both responsive and resilient to a changing climate.

Our work includes:

  • funding research
  • providing policy advice to the Government
  • working with domestic and international agencies on climate change issues
  • informing farmers, growers, foresters, fishers and processors.

Funding research

MPI funds and participates in a wide range of climate change research programmes. The programmes aim to understand climate change and how it affects farming systems, livestock management, crops, horticulture and forestry. We're also interested in the impacts of climate change and how primary producers can adapt to a changing climate.

Our 4 main research programmes are:

1. Research into improving our national forestry and agriculture greenhouse gas inventory and reporting.

2. Research into the impacts of and adaptation to climate change, forestry and agriculture greenhouse gas mitigation research – as well as cross-cutting issues, such as social science, adoption and practice change.

3. Research on methane, nitrous oxide and soil carbon mitigation in agriculture. This research supports capability development and the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

4. Internationally coordinated research into finding ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions.

Providing policy advice

One of MPI's roles is to advise Government on policy matters. Our aim is to ensure we take care of our resources and our primary industries.

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)

The ETS puts a cost on greenhouse gas emissions to encourage environmentally sustainable behaviour. It also encourages planting and growth of forests to reduce net greenhouse gas production.

The Paris Agreement

To meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement, changes may need to be made to the Emissions Trading Scheme and our other climate change policies and programmes.

Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Research

The Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change: Plan of Action was released in 2007. It outlines how we will work to:

  • tackle the impacts of climate change
  • adapt to the changing environment
  • reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions
  • enhance our use of carbon sinks (areas like forests that can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere)
  • explore business opportunities climate change may create
  • understand our carbon footprint.

The action plan is available on Climate Cloud.

International negotiations

New Zealand is committed to reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas production. MPI has been involved in the United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations – along with other government departments. This led to us adopting the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Programmes funded by MPI

MPI funds research and development projects – several of which focus on areas affected by climate change.

Climate change-related funding programmes are the:

MPI produces a range of reports on climate change

We monitor agriculture, forestry and fisheries. We work with other government agencies, such as the Ministry for the Environment, to look after New Zealand's natural resources.

MPI is also involved in reporting the quantity of greenhouse gases produced or stored in trees by our agriculture and forestry activities.

Many of the reports MPI funds are available free on the Climate Cloud website – a digital library of resources on climate change, weather, and adverse events.

Legislation and regulations

The Climate Change Response Act was passed into law in 2002. It enables New Zealand to meet its obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The Act's primary role is to create a process for setting up and running the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The ETS puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions to encourage their reduction over time.

Forestry regulations

The Climate Change (Forestry Sector) Regulations were passed in 2008 and apply to all commercial forests.

The Climate Change (Pre-1990 Forest Land Allocation Plan) Order 2010 sets out the Pre-1990 Forest Land Allocation Plan.

There are also several standards for the forestry sector covering mapping and the measurement methodology for post-1989 forests.

Agriculture regulations

The agriculture sector must report changes in its emissions although it does not have to surrender carbon units for these emissions. The Climate Change (Agricultural Sector) Regulations outline the information those covered by the act must collect. It also states how annual emissions should be calculated for each relevant activity. Default values are provided for standard processes, such as milk solid processing.

The Climate Change General Exemptions Order (2009) describes any exempt participants and thresholds. The regulations and the Order are available on the NZ Legislation website:

Find out more

More information is on these websites:

Who to contact

If you have questions about climate change, email info@mpi.govt.nz.

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