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More trees please: environmental watchdog

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 19/10/2016

There is no silver bullet to curbing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and the country needs to start on the available steps now, warns parliament's environmental watchdog.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, has looked at the problem of New Zealand's greenhouse gases from the rural sector and says it should be something of a reality check.

New Zealand has signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, which commits it to reducing emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Agriculture accounts for about 48 per cent of our greenhouse gases. Stock emit large amounts of methane and most nitrous oxide comes from animal urine.

Last year, Prime Minister John Key said he was confident technology would address agricultural emissions but Dr Wright is less sure.

A vaccine that could reduce methane from sheep and cattle by 20 per cent showed some promise, farmers could use feed pads when cows' urine was most damaging and farming fewer animals could still be profitable.

However, she wanted to see more trees, both native and exotic, planted for carbon storage.

"It might not be the whole solution, but a million hectares of trees would make a big difference," she said.

"This investigation has made me a greater advocate of planting trees, although we cannot rely on trees alone. Establishing forests does not rely on technological breakthroughs.

"The transition must begin. If we ignore the biological gases from agriculture, other sectors of the economy - and the taxpayer - will become increasingly squeezed."

Dr Wright noted diversifying land use would not be easy for New Zealand, a remote country which exports most of the food it produces.

Food of the future would different "in ways we can scarcely begin to imagine", Dr Wright said.

"But New Zealand farmers are nothing if not adaptable."

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