This classic myth is used by National/ACT as an excuse to not do anything about climate change and, now, to attempt to undermine emissions reduction targets in the international climate change agreement to succeed Kyoto. And it is nothing more than a myth.
Between 1990 and 2005, agriculture became 30% more efficient in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture produced $115 (in 1995 dollars) worth of goods and services for every Kg of carbon (or carbon equivalent) emissions in 1990. By 2005 that had risen to $150 per kg of emissions. That 30% improvement in carbon intensity is actually better than the economy as a whole, which had a 24% improvement.
As, you can see the improvement in carbon intensity for agriculture went flat in the last few years, probably because the switch from lower-carbon crops to dairy has counteracted general improvements in carbon efficiency. But the fact remains, we can and we have cut the amount of greenhouse gas we emit for each dollar of agricultural production.
Of course, because production is growing the actual emissions from agriculture have grown even as carbon intensity has improved. To actually reduce emissions we need to improve carbon intensity faster (or stop growing production). That’s not impossible, carbon intensity is improving anyway, we just need to invest in research. Unfortunately, our new government is set to destroy the multi-billion dollar Fast Forward Fund that was established to do just that.
Remember, when National/ACT says that we can’t reduce emissions from agriculture they are wrong, and they are the ones who are preventing further progress. They simply have no commitment to fighting climate change.