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Climate change, farmers, and foresters

Farmers were confused on climate change, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton said the debate about climate change had been confused because of an incorrect linkage between the greenhouse gas emissions created by pastoral farming and the carbon sinks created by forestry.

"The forestry sector including small woodlot investors and farm foresters told the Government that they did not want the liabilities associated with deforestation, so the Government could have the credits from forests.

"This is a separate issue from pastoral agriculture and its emissions.

"Some farmers have invested heavily in forestry, and this is admirable. But at the early part of policy development on the Kyoto Protocol implementation, they were part of a sector that advocated the Government holding both the liabilities and the credits associated with the protocol. I wondered at the time whether they were receiving good advice."

Mr Sutton said the Government would carry the liability for up to a 10 per cent of reduction in forest sinks. Work was continuing on issues around incentives.

"The reality is that pastoral agriculture is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in New Zealand, and we have to address that. Farming leaders know that. They told the Government in April that they knew the industry had to make a contribution to combat climate change, but that it would have to be done by a compulsory tax, as they could not guarantee approval of a levy under the Compulsory Levies Act.

"That is why we are now working to implement this agricultural emissions levy. It is an investment in the future of farming, not a tax on emissions. Farmers are not being taxed on their emissions the Government recognises the importance of pastoral agriculture and is protecting the sector from charges. In effect, farmers are getting a subsidy of at least $117 million a year."

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