How climate change impacts our primary industries
Climate change is a global issue affecting all countries.
Greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere – like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. This is causing 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, like 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 could make some years more or less productive than others.
- Some regions will become better suited to growing crops and producing goods than others.
- More rainfall can result in erosion and increased 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.
Scientists have found links between changing weather patterns and fish quantities in important commercial fishing stocks. Affected species include snapper, scallops, red cod, hoki, and rock lobster.
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 like 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 like cattle and sheep, and natural sources like 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 store a large quantity of carbon. This prevents carbon from collecting in the atmosphere, reducing our net emissions profile.
Greenhouse gas emissions profile of the Māori economy
The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and MPI commissioned Business and Economic Research (BERL) to do research to better understand the greenhouse gas emissions profile of the Māori economy.
The research highlights risks and opportunities that the transition may bring based on the industry composition of the Māori economy asset base, GDP, and workforce.
The key findings are:
- The Māori economy has a relatively high share of pastoral farming and as a result is over-represented in New Zealand's emissions profile.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from the Māori economy account for 11.2% of New Zealand's emissions profile, despite the Māori economy making up 6.4% of New Zealand's GDP. This is solely due to the high emissions intensity of the sectors in which the Māori economy is located, not because these businesses are high emitters relative to their peers.
- The key driver of the relatively high emissions profile of the Māori economy is the investment of Māori collectives in pastoral farming.
- Sheep, beef, and dairy farming account for 72.4% of Māori economy emissions, compared with 53.4% of the whole New Zealand economy.
- The report identifies opportunities for the expansion of low-emissions industries that are already well-established parts of the Māori economy like forestry, low-emissions horticulture, and education and training.
- The findings in this report focus exclusively on gross emissions. Accordingly, the results do not capture emissions removals through Māori forestry activity. Subsequent work (which will be done in discussion with Maori landowners) will consider the more nuanced question of gross emission, removals and net emissions.
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.
What's being done to reduce emissions – Emissions reduction plan
New Zealand’s first emissions reduction plan was published in May 2022.
The plan includes a set of key actions to support farmers, growers, and whenua Māori owners to lower agricultural emissions, while continuing to produce high-value, high-quality food and fibres.
This will require a combination of changes to on-farm practices and land use, as well as advancements in research and technology.
Key actions outlined in the ERP include:
- introducing an effective system to price emissions
- establishing a new Centre for Climate Action on Agricultural Emissions to accelerate new research and development
- supporting producers to make changes on-farm
- developing specialised extension services with a climate and environmental focus
- establishing tikanga-based programmes to support the needs and aspirations of Māori.
MPI is working to support the primary sector 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.
National adaptation plan for climate change
The first national adaptation plan for Aotearoa New Zealand was released in August 2022. It's called Adapt and thrive: Building a climate-resilient New Zealand.
The plan will ensure communities have information and support to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
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.
Climate change-related funding programmes are:
- One Billion Trees Programme
- Centre for Climate Action on Agricultural Emissions
- Erosion Control Funding Programme (ECFP) for the Gisborne district
- Hill Country Erosion Programme for councils
- Adverse Events support programme
- Greenhouse gas inventory research fund
- Extension services programme for farmers
- Māori Agribusiness Extension programme
- Funding the AgMatters.nz website
- Primary Industry Advisory Services
- 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, like 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.
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
Who to contact
If you have questions about climate change and the primary industries, email email@example.com