Climate change and 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 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is taking.

How climate change impacts our primary industries

Climate change is a global issue that is affecting all countries. Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – cause air and ocean temperatures to rise. Over time, higher temperatures can change weather patterns and damage the environment.

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 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.
  • Scientists have found links between changing weather patterns and fish quantities in important commercial fishing stocks. Species found to be affected include snapper, scallops, red cod, hoki, and rock lobster.
  • The variety of pests and diseases we are vulnerable to could change.

New Zealand’s emissions profile is unique

Greenhouse gases are produced in several ways:

  • Carbon dioxide is a long-lived gas. It stays in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. Carbon dioxide is produced in the extraction, production, and use of fossil fuels such as petrol.
  • Nitrous oxide is also a long-lived gas. It is produced in farming, from fertiliser and animal urine, and industrial processes.
  • Biogenic methane is a short-lived gas. It takes only decades to degrade in the atmosphere. Biogenic methane is produced by farm animals such as cows and sheep, and natural sources such as swamps. Climate policy only deals with emissions that are related to human activity, which includes farming.

Agriculture and forestry are important in our role in reducing global greenhouse gas concentrations:

  • Agriculture and livestock produce about half of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions – this is unusual 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.

Find out more about agriculture and greenhouse gases

The government has set clear targets for reducing emissions

In 2019, the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Act passed into law. This set domestic targets for reducing New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. (These are separate to our international commitments to contribute to global climate change targets through the Paris Agreement.)
Our domestic targets are:

  • net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases other than biogenic methane by 2050, and
  • 24% to 47% reduction below 2017 levels of biogenic methane emissions by 2050, including a 10% reduction by 2030.

These targets will be reviewed in 2022.

Government decisions on reducing agricultural emissions

The Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Act 2020 supports New Zealand’s move to a low-emissions, climate-resilient economy. It includes decisions to address our agricultural emissions and commits the primary sector to have a system for farm-level accounting and reporting of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions at farm level in use by all farms by 2025. This is being developed by He Waka Eke Noa – the Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership between Government, the Primary Sector, and iwi/Māori.

Find out more about international and domestic emissions reduction targets – Ministry for the Environment

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
  • ensure that the sector is both responsive and resilient to a changing climate.

We do this by:

  • working with industry and Māori on He Waka Eke Noa – the Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership
  • funding research and development programmes
  • providing policy advice to the government
  • working with domestic and international agencies on climate change issues
  • contributing to climate change reporting.

He Waka Eke Noa – The Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership

He Waka Eke Noa – the Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership is a 5-year plan to address agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. MPI’s deputy director-general policy and trade is on the He Wake Eke Noa steering group.

The partnership is working together with farmers and growers to reduce Aotearoa's greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to climate change. It was formed by the government, food and fibre sector leaders, and Māori groups following consultation in 2019 on Action on Agricultural Emissions

The Climate Change Response (Agricultural Emissions) Amendment Act 2019 sets out milestones that must be achieved between 2020 and 2025. These are to demonstrate that progress is being made on reducing agricultural emissions, and will be monitored by the Climate Change Commission.
By 2025, all farmers and growers will:

  • have a written farm plan in place to measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions; and  
  • take part in a farm-level reporting and pricing scheme for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Find out more about He Waka Eke Noa – HeWakaEkeNoa.nz  

Funding research and development projects

MPI funds and participates in climate change research and development projects. These 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 main areas for research are:

  • improving the accuracy of our national greenhouse gas inventory and reporting
  • understanding more about how greenhouse gases are produced and how they can be reduced
  • the impacts of climate change and supporting adaptation to its effects
  • international research into finding ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions, through the Global Research Alliance.

Read more about our environment and climate change research

Climate change-related funding programmes are:

Funding and rural support programmes

Our work with domestic and international agencies on climate change issues

New Zealand is committed to reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas production. One of MPI's roles is to advise the government on policy matters. Our aim is to ensure we take care of our resources, primary industries, and rural communities.

We also work with other government agencies, such as the Ministry for the Environment, to look after New Zealand's natural resources. We are involved in reporting the quantity of greenhouse gases produced or stored in trees by our agriculture and forestry activities.

MPI has been involved in the United Nations climate change negotiations, along with other government departments. This led to us adopting the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)

The ETS puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions to encourage their reduction over time. It also encourages planting and forest growth to reduce net greenhouse gas production.

Find out more about the ETS

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.

Find out more about the Paris Agreement and other international responses

Find out more

Climate change – Ministry for the Environment
New Zealand’s interactive emissions tracker – Ministry for the Environment
Climate change – NIWA
What is climate change – Te Ara Encyclopaedia

Who to contact

If you have questions about climate change and the primary industries, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: