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Government review could recommend easing emission reduction targets for farmers and freezing current methane levels in the atmosphere

Public Policy / news
Government review could recommend easing emission reduction targets for farmers and freezing current methane levels in the atmosphere
grazing dairy cows

The Coalition Government plans to commission a review of methane emission reduction targets, that could change which sectors are asked to take the most climate action.

Ministers Todd McClay, Simon Watts, Andrew Hoggard, and Mark Patterson made the joint announcement in a press release on Saturday

A panel of experts will be asked to “review agricultural biogenic methane science and targets for consistency with no additional warming”.

McClay, the Minister for Agriculture, said the coalition wanted to create more separation between methane and carbon emissions in domestic climate targets. 

There are not yet any details on who will be appointed to the panel and what its terms of reference will be. Those will be decided and announced at a later date. 

Complement or contradict? 

Watts, the Minister for Climate change, said the panel would consist of “reputable experts” who would review the latest science and report back to the Government. 

This would “complement” a review of the targets by the Climate Change Commission, an entity which was established to give independent advice, that were released on Monday. 

Act Party MP and Associate Agriculture Minister, Andrew Hoggard said agricultural targets needed to be “fair and appropriate compared to other parts of the economy”.

Hoggard was chief executive of Federated Farmers when it helped to commission some academic research that promoted the idea of changing how methane was measured.

Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said it was a “substanceless” announcement.

“Best case, this newly announced review is a shining example of the wasteful duplication the Government says it rails against. Worst case, it’s a smokescreen to delay climate action”.

“It sounds like the coalition might be worried that the expert, independent Climate Change Commission will deliver give them advice they don’t like when the Commission reviews emissions targets this year and so is setting up an alternative review. Unfortunately, climate science is a non-negotiable, inconvenient truth," Swarbrick said.

Much of the debate over methane relates to the fact that it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide emissions do. However, it causes more warming while it is there. 

Methane sits in the atmosphere for about 12 years, while carbon dioxide can hang around for hundreds or even thousands of years.  

This means a reduction in methane output today would result in observable declines in the rate of warming within a couple of decades, as previous emissions evaporated.

Carbon dioxide reductions are the key to long-term maintenance of the climate as we know it, but methane reductions could help avoid ‘tipping points’ and warming feedback loops

But advocates for the agricultural sector argue it is unfair to force farmers to cut their methane emissions to the equivalent of net zero, or even less, sooner than other greenhouse gas emitting sectors.

Because methane emissions dissipate on a 12-year basis, the agricultural sector only has to hold its output steady to stop adding warming to the atmosphere. 

Lock it in, Eddie

However, there has already been a build up of methane in the atmosphere in the previous decades which is currently contributing to the greenhouse effect and warming the planet.

The question being asked is whether farmers should be asked to reduce output and warming, or be allowed to ‘lock in’ the current amount of methane in the atmosphere.

Federated Farmers and the other agricultural groups have advocated for a different measure that accounts for methane’s short lifespan and could encourage smaller reductions.   

This may be what McClay means when he says the panel should review whether the current targets are consistent with “no additional warming”. 

Simon Upton, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and a former National Party minister, criticized that approach in a letter last year

He said the agricultural sector’s research was not new science and only reaffirmed that reducing agricultural methane was the “greatest opportunity” to reduce warming. 

Policymakers could choose to take this opportunity and its costs, or allow methane emitting sectors to continue their contribution to warming and push other sectors harder.  

“The sustained contribution to atmospheric warming that New Zealand makes through the emission of agricultural methane is a matter of choice, and choosing to maintain this warming at the current level is to claim a ‘right’ to a certain level of warming from agriculture indefinitely,” he wrote.  

Federated Farmers welcomed the review in a press release. It said other parts of the economy were only being asked to stop adding to global warming by 2050, with the net zero target.  

Farmers were being asked to go “much further and faster” with targets that would come at a “huge cost” to rural communities and the wider economy.

If the agricultural sector were given softer emissions targets, other parts of the economy may have to transition faster or the Government may have to spend more on overseas carbon offsets.

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Sounds like a working group or "committee".  I thought those were bad?  


As long as it's outsourced to a consultancy group or other organisation at a much higher rate, it's fine. Then the spending isn't going toward useless government agencies, but instead a super efficient company!!!11!


"However, there has already been a build up of methane in the atmosphere in the previous decades which is currently contributing to the greenhouse effect and warming the planet."

Dan was that before, or after, farmers drained 500,000ha of evil methane belching swamps?



I think Swarbrick nailed it here “Best case, this newly announced review is a shining example of the wasteful duplication the Government says it rails against. Worst case, it’s a smokescreen to delay climate action”.  FF don’t like advice already received from independent experts so their man is arranging an “alternative” panel to question the science provided by scientists.

While there are obviously significant challenges and costs associated with methane emission reduction, NZ farmers should also be mindful of risk of being shut out or having methane border taxes applied in international markets if they are not seen to be taking sufficient action


This is uninformed. NZ dairy farmers are already considerably lower than other nations. Even with methane reduction technologies offshore in TMR systems, their methane accounts for much less in their system so the benefits to those reductions are also lower. Think 30% being methane vs closer to 75% in NZ. Methane borders may come about but that will just be the shiny new dress the EU is wearing to block NZ dairy. No different to what they do today or in the past. 

The limitations of GWP100 are well recognised and should be factored in - this makes good sense. the IPCC even acknowledges this and leading NZ climate scientists such as Luke Harrington at the University of Waikato acknowledge this. To treat totally different gases the same to make regulations simple is nonsensical.

That said, farmers do need to make absolute reductions (not just intensity improvements) as we are uniquely placed to help the rest of NZ (and world) to give them time to address the real issue, which is carbon. We have increased Methane considerably in the past and we need to lower back down through improved animal fertility, reduced feed, some farms going out of milk on more marginal land. 


Farmers have made absolute reductions - how much more do we want to sacrifice on the alter of runaway global warming theory?

"The total land area of farms in New Zealand decreased from 15,589,885 to 13,561,175 hectares (13.0 percent) Between 2002 and 2019"

Would it be a bad thing if we got our old kumara growing range back?

"Raeside's14 comparative studies of Canterbury soils and vegetation indicate that the climate prior to 1200 A.D. was warmer than present day. Summarizing his findings on soil investigations, and other evidence of moa remains in swamps, forestry and pollen studies, and high moraines in the Antarctic, Raeside15 suggests that a fall in temperature of at least 2 C. occurred.

...When the kumara was first introduced into New Zealand, it is probable that its growing would have been attempted after the same manner as in the tropics. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that in the present climate the plants would be unlikely to survive more than their first growing season, after which frosts would destroy them entirely. Because of the more favourable climate in that early period, however, it is suggested that introduction into the warmer northern parts of the country might need to undergo little modification of the island cultivation methods to survive, particularly if the growing season were of longer duration than at present."




The science is settled about methane being incorrectly considered in CO2e calculations.

This needs to be fixed - whether Chloe likes it or not. 


Sir ex nat m.p on the panel , you can bet your boots.