Thursday, August 30, 2018

Climate change: No free ride for methane

Back in June, the government released a discussion document on its proposed Zero Carbon Bill, where they attempted to back away from actually reducing emissions to zero by giving farmers (and their methane-spewing cows) a free ride. It was a concession which made no sense economically - the cost of ambition is basicly zero. And now, a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment shows that simply letting farmers maintain their current level of warming will require them to cut methane emissions by 10 - 22% by 2050:

New Zealand would need to reduce livestock methane emissions by up to 22 per cent by 2050 to stop any additional global warming, official research shows.


The release from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment throws a wrench into an emerging consensus across the country that "stabilising" NZ's short-lived methane emissions at current levels could be a viable option to stop warming.

It suggests that actual "stabilisation" would still require a reduction in livestock or the success of new methods to lower emissions, such as special feeds, vaccines or tweaking livestock breeding.

Of course, none of those new methods exist, largely because farmers refused point blank to pay for the research to develop them (they infamously drove a tractor up Parliament steps rather than pay their own way). And thanks chiefly to denier foot-dragging, we cannot wait any longer to develop them before reducing emissions. Which will mean we will have to reduce cow numbers. This will have significant benefits to nitrous oxide emissions and water quality, but its their least-preferred solution.

Its also worth noting that this assumes that farmers are entitled to continue to destroy the atmosphere exactly as much as they were doing in 2016 - a proposition I think many kiwis would disagree with. We have already emitted too much, and we need to reduce warming, not just hold it stable. And that will require an even further reduction in cow numbers. Given the lag-times involved and the significant environmental damage cows do to other parts of the environment, the quicker we do it, the better.