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Methane target could be catastrophic - Shareholders' Council

By Rebecca Howard

July 17 (BusinessDesk) - The government's proposed 2050 methane reduction target could be "catastrophic" for New Zealand unless there is a major scientific breakthrough in the meantime, the Fonterra Shareholders' Council says.

The Climate Change Response Amendment Bill proposes that gross emissions of biogenic methane be cut by 24 percent to 47 percent below 2017 levels by 2050.

The council says a gross target, requiring a reduction in absolute emissions, is not appropriate. Nor is its scale reasonable.

“A target which potentially requires almost half of the livestock farming sector to disappear within 30 years would necessitate a rate of change which does not represent a fair and just transition for rural New Zealand,” the council says in a submission on the bill.

In 2017, New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to 80,853 kilotonnes carbon dioxide. Of that 42 percent was methane.

While the bill proposes a 24 percent to 47 percent methane reduction by 2050, it also includes an interim requirement to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2030.

The council accepts the 2030 target but says a 47 percent methane reduction by 2050 would require an approximately proportional reduction in the number of ruminants - mostly cows, sheep, goats and deer - by then.

Such an outcome would be "catastrophic for the livestock production sector, rural New Zealand and the New Zealand economy as a whole."

It says an appropriate biogenic methane reduction target for 2050 should be up to 24 percent less than 2017 levels.

The target should also be based on net emissions. It said a gross target could distort the carbon market and could lead to perverse outcome where the livestock sector is required to reduce absolute emissions rather than use economically viable offsets which might be available in 2050.

The council also called on the government to commit the resources necessary to ensure the country's scientists remain at the forefront of research into methods to reduce biological emissions from farmed ruminants.

New Zealand stands to make an enormous contribution on the research and development front whereas “even if we totally dismantle our livestock farming sector, the effect on global climate change would be negligible,” it said.

“Our livestock numbers form only a tiny fraction of the 1.6 billion cattle, 1.4 billion sheep and 1.2 billion goats farmed globally. However, we have a scientifically advanced agricultural economy. The world will be watching for our response to the issue.”

Separately, Fonterra Cooperative Group said that while it supports the 2030 target for a 10 percent biogenic methane reduction, the 2050 target would be "extremely challenging."

It also supports a 2050 methane target that is provisionally set at up to a 24 percent net reduction from 2017 levels. Regular reviews of this target must be based on scientific and economic analysis, it said.

Submissions on the bill closed yesterday.


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