Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Climate Change: We need more than excuses on methane

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. While its lifetime in the atmosphere is limited - its half-life is 9.1 years, so any given amount is almost entirely gone after a hundred years - it is far better at trapping heat. Averaged over a century it has a global warming potential of 28, meaning it is 28 times worse than carbon dioxide. But averaged over 20 years, its GWP is 84. Cutting methane therefore has an immediate and disproportionate impact on heating, and therefore on the storms, droughts, and fires which are killing us.

The US and EU have recognised this, and are planning to push an agreement to cut methane emissions by 30% (from 2020 levels) by 2030 at the next climate change meeting in Glasgow. This is exactly what we need to do to get us through the next few decades and buy time for more general decarbonisation, and it will literally save lives. New Zealand - a disproportionate methane emitter - is one of the countries they want to sign up for this pledge. So what does Jacinda "my generation's nuclear free moment" Ardern say to this? Yeah, nah:

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday in response to New Zealand being included in the list, the Prime Minister said her Government is working hard to address the climate crisis.

She said the Government's targets are based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

"We've tried to really lean into the international science in this space because it's important to us and it's important that we do our bit," Ardern said.

"The second point I'd make is of course, we do that in the context of those emissions derived from food production being the most significant proportion of our overall emissions profile.

"My view is that actually, by developing initiatives that substantially reduce those emissions, we will have something that the rest of the world will be very grateful for.

"We are working very hard to actually reduce those emissions in real terms. We are the only country in the world that I know of that has made a commitment to how we will price emissions that are produced through our food production. You're just not seeing that in other countries."

If this sounds like hot air, its because it is. Talk of "food production" - bulk milk powder for luxury foods like confectionery - is simply more special pleading. As for "developing initiatives", thirty years of doing that has seen our methane emissions increase by 1.8 million tons. But then, they were never meant to actually reduce emissions. Like so much of climate change policy, they are simply there to give the illusion of action - "look, we're doing research" - while changing nothing. Meanwhile, the thing we can do right now to cut emissions - cut cow numbers - is ignored, because it is incompatible with the dairy industry's plans for infinite growth (which is itself incompatible with a safe climate or clean water).

We deserve better than this. The crisis is now so bad and so immediate that the government has to step up and act. The US-EU initiative is an appropriate way of doing that, of playing our part. We should join it, and implement its targets. And if we don't, the US and EU should treat us as a climate criminal, and apply sanctions to our methane-producing, climate-destroying dairy exports.