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New research casts doubt on Government’s methane targets


The Meat Industry Association (MIA) is calling for significant changes to the Zero Carbon Bill with a new analysis using the Government’s preferred modelling indicating that the proposed methane targets are excessive if all other gases go to net zero.

The MIA, together with the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ), commissioned Nicholas Leach of the Department of Physics, Atmospheric Oceanic and Planetary Physics at the University of Oxford, to examine the Government’s methane targets as part of its submission to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee.

In his analysis, the researcher used methodology consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special report on 1.5°C, which was used by the Government when setting the emission reduction targets in the Zero Carbon Bill.

The Government has sought to use the IPCC report on keeping global warming to within 1.5°C, but cherrypicked the biogenic methane target while ignoring the data for other gases.

According to the research, by following the Government’s conditions – a target consistent with the IPCC global pathways for limiting climate change to 1.5°C and net zero for all greenhouse gases except short-lived biogenic methane – the actual global biogenic methane reduction required by 2050 is seven per cent - not the 24-47% range picked by the Government.

While the research does not seek to identify the correct biogenic methane target number for New Zealand, it does suggest that the current targets in the Bill are incorrect if it is the intention to base the country’s targets on a global pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement.

“This report casts serious doubt over the methane targets in the current Bill,” says Tim Ritchie, chief executive of the MIA.

“We have said all along that the science indicates that to achieve a goal of no increased global warming from agriculture, nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture must come down to net zero as quickly as possible, but methane only requires a reduction in the order of 0.3% a year to have the same effect on the global temperature.”

The MIA is calling on the Environment Select Committee to significantly amend the methane target in the Bill.

“We believe that long-lived gases should reduce to zero by 2050, and short-lived methane reduced to a level where it has zero increased impact on the temperature.

“In its current form, the Zero Carbon Bill will have a significant impact on New Zealand’s regional communities and the country’s largest manufacturing sector. We want a sector that is not contributing to increased global warming and we accept the need to address climate change using the best available science-based policy.

“We are concerned the Government’s methane target is not credible and will threaten many rural communities who rely on pastoral agriculture. Our sector is the county’s second largest goods exporter and we directly employ some 25,000 people.

“Given the potential enormous economic and social cost to New Zealand from the Zero Carbon Bill’s targets, the Bill must get the numbers right. The targets must be supported by science and be transparent.”

The MIA is also concerned about the long-term impacts of the net zero target for carbon dioxide emissions. This allows fossil fuel users to offset their carbon emissions by planting pine forest. This raises serious risks of productive agricultural land being converted to permanent pine forest.

“We are asking the Environment Select Committee to consider how this risk can be averted. We can’t keep kicking this can down the road. At some point, Government or Parliament needs to address how much carbon emissions can continue to be offset by planting forest.”

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