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Dept CEOs warned ministers to be cautious over methane

Dept CEOs warned ministers to be cautious over methane

First published in Energy and Environment on June 6, 2019.

Ministers went against the advice of their Climate Change Chief Executives Board and inserted a higher target for biological methane reductions than they recommended. They also rejected advice that in order to build consensus the Climate Change Commission should first consider the best option.

The Board is made up of the CEO’s of the departments with an interest in climate change policy and is headed by Environment Secretary Vicky Robertson.

In a paper on the targets to be included in the Zero Carbon Bill they recommended ministers take decisions now on matters where there is “a strong degree of consensus across agencies on many of the key issues under the Bill”,

These included:

• NZ should adopt two separate targets – one for biogenic methane, and one for all other greenhouse gases;

• the target for all other greenhouse gases should be to reach net zero emissions by 2050, including offsets through forestry and international emissions reductions; and

• the target for biogenic methane should be to stabilise these emissions within the range 22 to 35% below 2016 levels by 2050.

In the end, ministers decided to legislate to reduce gross emissions of biogenic methane within the range of 24% to 47% below 2017 levels by 2050, with an interim requirement to reduce emissions to 10% below 2017 levels by 2030

The Chief Executives Board warned a range of views remains on some critical matters, such as whether and when NZ should achieve overall emissions neutrality and express its ambition as an overall domestic target. An overall domestic target would align with expectations under the Paris Agreement to periodically communicate economy-wide international targets for emissions reductions and demonstrate progression on previous emission reduction efforts.

In respect of the range presented for the biogenic methane target, 22% represents the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s assessment of the reduction in livestock methane emissions required by 2050 below 2016 levels to prevent additional warming from these emissions. 35% represents the midpoint of the range for agricultural methane set out in the IPCC special report. “Analysis suggests that this range of emissions reductions is feasible,” the CEOs said.

The Board said considering this range of views and given the importance of credibility and certainty, early action and durability, they recommend Ministers to consider not expressing a target methane level in the Bill and instead establish a process for these to be “agreed in a timely, credible and enduring way”.

They recommended either selecting a biogenic methane target from within the range they recommended and including it in the Bill; or requesting the Climate Change Commission advise on the most appropriate target level for methane and the approach to emissions neutrality when it is established.

The Board said the “need for durability reinforces the need for some degree of political consensus on the aims and architecture of the Bill... Businesses and the farm sector are telling a range of departments that they need certainty on the direction of policy to help inform these decisions.”

National has said it does not support the methane target as expressed in the Bill.

The Cabinet Committee minute on the methane decision notes the Climate Change Commission will review all aspects of the 2050 target in conjunction with its advice on the fourth emissions budget in 2024, including the reduction of biogenic methane emissions required by 2030 and future governments will have the opportunity to revise the targets. The briefing ministers received from the Board are summarised on page seven.

First published in Energy and Environment on June 6, 2019.

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