Methane’s different warming impact still not accounted for

Andrew Hoggard

Federated Farmers is very concerned the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice to the government on emissions budgets puts a much bigger ask on methane-emitters – largely farmers – to make up for a lack of action on those sectors emitting carbon dioxide.

This is because in the terms of reference the Climate Change Minister did not task the commission with finding out ‘What level of reduction in biogenic methane is zero carbon equivalent?’

A big worry for us is that if targets to reduce long-lived gases – such as galloping carbon dioxide emissions from transport – are not achieved, farmers will then be asked to do even more.

This would not only be disproportionately harmful for farmers, the agriculture sector and the New Zealand economy, but also the atmosphere.

Delaying reductions in long-lived emissions but reducing short-lived emissions risks adding to long-term warming and achieves emissions reduction targets in name only.

In a submission sent to the commission by last weekend’s deadline, Federated Farmers said it appreciated the commission’s efforts to correct media reports that the draft advice had recommended a 15 per cent reduction in NZ’s dairy, sheep and beef animal numbers.

But any assumption that the tremendous productivity improvements that have occurred on New Zealand farms since 1990 can continue at a linear rate is misplaced.

As farmers approach fixed biological limits, a steep diminishing productivity return on investment may result, even for the most cutting edge farmers.

On the 8-10 per cent reduction in stock numbers expected as a result of current policies by 2030, Feds has requested the commission provide a detailed breakdown as to the specific policies assumed to reduce stock numbers, and in which regions the reductions in stock numbers are assumed to occur.

Farmers certainly support the commission’s recommendations for better rural internet connectivity.

Our Rural Connectivity Survey 2020 report revealed that around two thirds of farmers across the country endure download speeds that would struggle to support most modern-day online services let alone farm productivity improvements like precision agriculture

We also support the commission’s recommendation that the government revisit the effective ban on genetic engineering (GE).

Reversing this ban is an important step towards enabling emission reducing technologies for the agriculture sector.

As GE matures as a technology, the opportunity cost of New Zealand’s current prohibitive policy framework will increase, and Kiwi farmers risk being left behind.  Let consumers make their own choices.

Feds has also again emphasised farmers’ deep concern about planting the wrong trees in the wrong place. Much of this blanket afforestation is driven by the allure of valuable emission units from forestry (‘carbon farming’), while planting restrictions under the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry drives it away from marginal land towards productive farms.

On the east coast of the North Island in particular, our members have already seen jobs lost and rural schools close and there is a fear large amounts of productive land will be lost long term for a short-term climate accounting gain, with no beneficial behaviour change resulting, and rural communities being blanketed in increasingly fire-prone pine trees.

While pleased that the commission’s report makes it clear that all sectors of our society – not just farming – have a part to play in reducing greenhouse gases, Feds believes the recommended path ahead squanders an opportunity for New Zealand to champion a better, scientifically-sound metric for accounting for the warming impact of short-lived (mainly methane) and long-lived (mainly carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) gases.

The advice and recommendations in the draft report show acute awareness of perceived international expectations yet go to great lengths not to demonstrate genuine global leadership regardless of there being strong scientific reasons for doing so.

The Government listened to the science and adopted a split gas approach for domestic targets. While the targets set for methane are unscientifically harsh, setting a separate target took genuine international leadership.

We are disappointed there remains no split gas emissions budgets and disappointed that the commission has not recommended that New Zealand adopt a split gas Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

The unusual nature of NZ’s emissions profile has resulted in our climate policy having a greater focus on agricultural emissions than most developed nations.

The Paris Agreement allows some flexibility when setting NCDs.

This is an opportunity to demonstrate global climate leadership and we are disappointed that, despite making many compelling arguments for doing so, the draft report does not recommend that the New Zealand government adopt the most fit-for-purpose GHG metrics or split-gas targets.

– By Andrew Hoggard


Andrew Hoggard is President of Federated Farmers of NZ

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