Thursday, 19 July 2018 10:55

Zero to hero in agriculture’s chase for carbon neutrality

Written by  David Evans, acting chief executive of DairyNZ
David Evans. David Evans.

The current political climate has increased the emphasis in the media on how New Zealand will meet its international climate change commitments. 

The Zero Carbon Bill is the Government’s mechanism for ensuring we do so, with a new 2050 emissions reduction target in the pipeline to ensure we succeed. 

Few people in agriculture argue about which of the three proposed options the sector should support. Ignoring methane altogether is a sceptic’s game. 

A target which splits the different types of gases (long-lived carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide versus short lived methane) with a view to reducing carbon dioxide to net zero and stabilising methane is the only ambitiously achievable option that won’t coincide with obliterating the primary sector.

The question farmers should be asking is, at what level should methane be stabilised?

Instead, we are being inundated in the media with alternative commentary arguing that due to the closed cycle of methane we shouldn’t even be including it in our greenhouse gas inventory.  

While some climate change commentators may believe there are alternative ways to account for our emissions, ultimately unless there is consensus at the international level these alternative metrics cannot be used domestically. 

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas inventory must conform to the same rules as the rest of the world when recording and reporting our emissions.

In NZ this means 48% of our greenhouse gas emissions are allocated to agriculture (the responsible gases are biological methane and nitrous oxide). 

Science shows that although methane is short-lived in the atmosphere, the warming effect it causes continues for many decades; so stabilising methane emissions below current levels would prevent more contribution to global warming.

We are as interested as everyone else in other options for methane accounting, as more science on methane and its warming impacts emerges, but this won’t happen overnight.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and many other primary sector stakeholders understand that methane must stabilise and are supporting a new 2050 target which proposes this option.  

Rather than putting our heads in the sand, we all need to get engaged in the Zero Carbon Bill and understand the issues at play.

Whether methane should be a consideration is not on the table. How methane is to be treated under this new legislation is. 

Let’s work together to ensure the final legislation that becomes law is as workable as possible for the rural community. 

• David Evans is acting chief executive of DairyNZ.


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