Farmers are calling for a review of methane targets, citing a new report that shows current goals unfairly burden the livestock industry and do not reflect methane’s warming impact.
The report, from the universities of Oxford and Cranfield, also calculates that current methane targets could offset all of New Zealand’s expected additional warming from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide up to 2050.
They would also mean NZ hit peak warming in the 2030s before reversing back down to 2022-27 levels.
Commissioned by Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ), DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, the report is an opening shot to ensure the Climate Change Commission includes emission targets as part of its overall review in 2024.
“The logic behind that is that science is evolving all the time and this report says if you look at methane and its contribution to warming and if you look at our existing targets, farmers are being asked to do more than what is equitable,” DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel said.
Farming leaders said the report reflects advances in climate science.
Current methane targets were established in 2019 and set a 24-47% reduction range target relative to 2017 levels, to be reached by 2050.
This latest study says that the effects on global warming from meeting those targets mean farmers are being asked to do more than their fair share.
Depending on whether other countries meet their existing methane reduction commitments, it says, NZ may only require a 15% reduction in methane, which would not contribute to additional warming above 2020 levels.
But if other countries significantly increase their methane reduction goals, NZ may have reduce its emissions by up to 27%.
“This is significantly lower than the current methane reduction range of 24-47% and demonstrates the importance of taking a warming-centred approach to emissions reduction”, BLNZ chair Kate Acland said.
Said Van der Poel: “The report tells us that the current reduction targets could see methane offset all of the expected additional warming from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from the entire NZ economy.”
He said that both major political parties have committed to meet the goals of the Paris Accord on climate change, so the issue is not going away, but NZ’s targets should reflect methane’s warming impact.
The report contributes to a new approach to emissions management being advanced by the sector, Van der Poel said, in which farmers calculate their emissions and compare them to national targets before concluding whether there needs to be a price to lower emissions.
Acland said the calibre of the report’s authors gives the study enormous credibility.
“It reinforces the message that we have been giving, that we need to talk about warming effect,” she said.
NZ farmers should not be asked to do more than what other industries and other countries are doing, Acland said.
Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford said the report underpins the position advocated by farmers and farm lobby groups that emission targets should be reviewed based on science and warming potential.
He agreed that the calibre of scientists who authored the report gives it credibility.
“We can talk all we like as farmers in terms of targets, but what we really want is information based on science and this is what this report provides.”
It has even more significance after an impasse was reached in June on He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN), the joint industry-government plan to reduce agricultural greenhouse gases.
It also follows the government’s sudden release last month of an agricultural emissions policy, which caught the farming sector unaware.
The policy made some concessions to the original HWEN document, such as delaying the reporting and pricing of emissions.
But farming groups were critical of the lack of notice about its release, the lack of detail and what they saw as prioritising an emission’s price rather than getting measuring and reporting systems in place.