Thursday, April 25, 2024

Pulpit: Farmers are NZ’s true climate heroes

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The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently delivered the first part of its 6th assessment report. Established by the governments of the world way back in 1988, the IPCC’s purpose is to look across all of the literature on climate change and provide a balanced, expert and global view.
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The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently delivered the first part of its 6th assessment report. 

Established by the governments of the world way back in 1988, the IPCC’s purpose is to look across all of the literature on climate change and provide a balanced, expert and global view.

One of the scientific debates that has raged in New Zealand and elsewhere over the past decade is the question of methane. 

When we emit greenhouse gases, many people may not realise that we actually put significantly different gases with significantly different properties into the atmosphere.

The current method of calculating the carbon footprints of gases such as carbon and methane – GWP100 – has received a large amount of criticism over the past decade. The basic issue is a lack of recognition that methane decays over 12 years. In New Zealand, we have reached near equilibrium, where the amount of methane decay is almost equal to our methane emissions. 

Our ultimate goal is to stop global warming. When it comes to short-lived methane, we can do this by stabilising emissions. If we emit the same amount every year, and because methane is short-lived, the atmospheric level will, over time, stabilise. 

Carbon dioxide, however, persists for thousands of years. As a result, in order to stabilise atmospheric concentrations and stop global warming, we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to net zero. The IPCC has recommended using GWP100 as a tool to calculate different warming behaviours of short-lived gases.

This is a highly significant conclusion for a country like New Zealand, right at a time when we are considering reviewing our Paris target. I will be doing everything I can to make sure Climate Minister James Shaw takes this conclusion seriously. 

The IPCC also says that reducing methane emissions by about 0.3% per annum, or about 10% by 2050, would mean New Zealand’s methane emissions are creating no further warming. 

This implies that the current 24-47% target in the Zero Carbon Act will require our farmers to go way further than what is required for methane. While we are asking long-lived carbon dioxide to only contribute no further warming by 2050, we are potentially asking farmers to reduce methane much faster and much sooner than what is required.

The IPCC’s finding is great news for all of New Zealand. It would be a shame for the Government to take a defensive approach and continue to apply a target to agriculture that goes beyond what is required by the science. 

We also have a very different economic situation, with agriculture carrying the economy and having got us through the lockdown era. It is incredibly important to all Kiwis’ financial wellbeing. 

Reaching a 10% biogenic methane reduction by 2050 will likely be achieved by business-as-usual efficiency gains and it seems logical that should reductions go further they will in effect be an offset for other emissions such as industrial heat and transport. If this is the case then our farmers should be credited for their efforts, as they are with forestry sinks. 

Our farmers would not only be the heroes of our economy, but also our climate heroes. 

Who am I? Stuart Smith is the National Party’s climate change spokesperson.

  

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