James Palmer, CEO, Ministry for the Environment

If I dare use the word here, James Palmer this week gave a ‘chilling’ presentation on climate change to 135 or so farmers, growers and agribusiness leaders gathered at a forum convened by the HB Future Farming Trust.

Palmer, better known to most of us as the recent CEO of the HB Regional Council, is now CEO of the Ministry for the Environment, probably the government’s senior career official advising on climate policy.

‘Chilling’ because his observations were clearly intended to leave no doubt: climate change is real, accelerating, urgent to address, bringing unpredictable and threatening tipping points, and, bluntly, assuredly bringing really bad news ahead.

Probably not the message most of the ‘good weather’ dependent folks in the room wanted to hear.

To get the flavour, here are the points from his summary slide:

  • Check our optimism bias – our tendency to expect things will work out okay in the end
  • Check our assumptions the future will resemble the past – there is only evidence that it won’t
  • Check our misperceptions of time – and underestimation of the pace and presence of change
  • Prioritise our understanding of systemic and compounding climate change impacts
  • Expect our environmental challenges of water insecurity, soil & biodiversity loss to get harder
  • Anticipate and prepare for more worse-case scenarios of climate disruption
  • Place building greater resilience into biophysical, economic and social systems at the heart of our strategies: soil, water and biodiversity, in particular… plus maximise sequestration
  • The question needs to shift from ‘how much can we produce’ to ‘how much can we withstand (and still produce)’ 
  • Don’t rely on global co-operation, and the cavalry to arrive! Community leadership critical. Our soils will only be more precious and valuable, so let’s protect, nurture and invest in them!

The last point – about soils – was most pertinent to those in the audience, who had gathered to hear about farming practices that are demonstrably yielding more resilient soils, capable of storing more carbon and holding immensely more water.

I hope this is the presentation Palmer will be giving to the incoming Government ministers. David Seymour, fasten your seatbelt!

If climate threats weren’t compelling to the audience, then perhaps today’s market realities are, as presented to the forum by Mike Petersen, NZ’s former agricultural trade ambassador and still ‘in the game’ as chairman of Scales Corporation (e.g. owner of Mr Apple).

He made clear that NZ’s overseas food customers (corporates and governments) are strongly driving more demanding sustainability requirements, while overseas consumers don’t necessarily recognise NZ as the best provider in those terms. His message was as blunt as Palmer’s … change or get left behind.

All the presentations from the forum, titled Healthy Soils … Healthy Profits, were recorded, and when available, BayBuzz will let you know.

Meantime, here is Palmer’s full presentation.

More on the HB Future Farming Trust here.


Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks Tom for reporting the most important talk of that forum. A real and much needed kick up the butt. Whilst there were some great examples of what can be done in the regenerative space, disappointingly a lot of the rest of the forum focused on business as usual, without the major paradigm shift that is required and nothing mentioned about peak oil, relocalisation or nutritional aspects of healthy soils = healthy food (despite Phyllis’ best attempts as always – thank you Phyllis:))

  2. He may give a chilling message on climate change but spreading fear is never going to get the results he thinks. Energy is too closely correlated to wealth for people to accept, every dollar of debt we have, has a energy commitment implied . This should never be a roll of career bureaucrats, there is never consensus in science and using fear and lies to influence people is just wrong, on his income he will never have to pay for the costs imposed on society. I am hoping he gets to find a new job soon.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *