Why is DairyNZ involved in addressing greenhouse gas emissions?
- Greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector have increased over the past 25 years.
- Greenhouse gases have a big impact globally on climate change, and therefore global action is required. This is the basis of the international climate change agreements (Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement). New Zealand has signed up to both agreements as a good global citizen.
- New Zealand’s GHG reduction targets are economy wide and include all the GHGs. This includes agriculture and on-farm nitrous oxide and methane emissions.
- Half on New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture and a quarter come from the dairy industry.
- To meet New Zealand’s GHG targets action is required across New Zealand’s economy, this includes the dairy industry.
- There are currently limited mitigation options available to reduce dairy farm methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
What is DairyNZ doing?
- Partnering with the Government, and the wider agricultural industry via the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG) to collaboratively build a robust and agreed evidence base on the opportunities available now, and in the future, to reduce biological greenhouse gas emissions.
- Partnering with Fonterra, with the support of the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries, via the Dairy Action for Climate Change.
- Building the climate change capability of rural professionals through professional training courses.
- Raising awareness with farmers of the actions they can take now.
- Undertaking dairy farm greenhouse gas pilot case studies to determine the potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which could be possible across different farm systems and to quantify the effect on the farms profitability and productivity.
- Investing and undertaking research and development to identify and commercialise breakthrough technologies and mitigation options to lower emissions.
Why do we need to reduce (methane) emissions?
Dairy biological emissions make up 22.5 percent of New Zealand’s emissions and nearly half of agriculture's emissions. Although methane only remains in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time, it is 25 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.
It's estimated that emissions from livestock are currently responsible for about 20% of the total global warming. This is why the agricultural sector has a role to play in managing our climate change contribution.
Why is New Zealand considering including agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme when the rest of the world is focused on carbon emitting sectors?
Over 100 countries have included agriculture within their emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. They will have to address their agricultural emissions at some point. Right now many of them are preoccupied with reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but as their carbon dioxide emissions decrease the proportion of their emissions coming from agriculture will increase. Over time they will look to New Zealand for leadership on how best to reduce their agricultural emissions.
Is there any real solution to methane production by cows on the horizon or is it an impossible problem to solve?
Both the Government and the agricultural sector, including dairy farmers via the milk solids levy, is investing in technological solutions like methane inhibitors and vaccines to address methane emissions. We are seeing such solutions on the horizon internationally, and we are hopeful that a solution will be found that fits the needs of a New Zealand farmer.
New Zealand’s emissions are so small compared to other countries, any reductions we make won’t prevent climate change. Why bother?
While New Zealand's share of greenhouse gas emissions globally is just 0.16%, small emitters like us make up 24% of the worlds emissions. Together we can make a big difference. It would be a huge reputational and trade risk for New Zealand if we didn’t make an effort to reduce our emissions profile. We need to live up to our brand image and show we are ‘doing our bit’ for the environment.
Does 'net carbon emissions' include the carbon that is captured in the soil?
Soils store significantly more carbon than trees and plants together. However it’s difficult to monitor and measure. It also takes a long time to build up soil carbon but is lost very quickly through poor land management practices, wind erosion and droughts.
While at a national scale New Zealand soils have higher soil carbon levels than the world average, there appears to be little change in overall levels over time. This suggests there is limited potential for significant carbon sequestration from New Zealand’s soils.
For these reasons soil is not accounted for in New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory or the international greenhouse gas reporting framework and is not considered a viable offsetting option at this point in time. New Zealand’s inventory does, however, assume the carbon content of soil changes when the land use changes.
Does ‘net carbon emissions’ include the carbon that is captured in growing grass?
No, carbon dioxide (C02) is absorbed from the atmosphere by grass in the process of photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide leaves the system again through respiration and decaying grass.
Is methane carbon neutral?
Methane is released when animals like cows and sheep burp, and it’s known as a short-lived gas because it remains in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time – just over a decade. However, despite this, it’s 25 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.
To keep the earth’s warming within a 2-degree threshold, science shows both nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide need to reduce to net zero. Methane however can be treated differently. Methane should be reduced as much as possible to limit warming in the short-term, but can then be stabilised at that reduced level.
Is there any chance all planting can be included in mitigation and be recognised by the Government?
Simple changes to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory requirements could significantly increase the uptake of different types of on-farm planting by New Zealand dairy farmers. Many dairy farmers are small forestry block owners, but many more are already plant for shelter, fodder, and to improve water quality or to retire land. We would like to see a wider range of planting recognized.
Should environmental issues of water quality and GHGs be treated as separate issues?
No, the two are very much linked. Much of the work farmers have underway to improve water quality also has the co-benefits of improving their greenhouse gas emissions profile and biodiversity. We know that increased on-farm planting has positive effects for soil, air, and water quality – therefore these environmental issues all need to be treated together.
What is the difference between short and long-lived gases and how are they accounted?
Not all greenhouse gases have the same warming effect or stay in the atmosphere for the same amount of time.
Methane has a short life (around 12 years) in the atmosphere and an initial high level of warming that occurs within 50 years after it is emitted, however some warming lingers beyond 100 years. Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide have less of an immediate impact, but because they are both long lived gases the warming they cause continues for hundreds or thousands of years.
The science shows both nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide must be reduced to net zero if we are to keep global warming within the 2-degree warming threshold. However methane doesn’t need to reduce to net zero, it can be reduced and then stabilised at a certain point. This is because if methane is stabilised at a certain level the concentration in the atmosphere will rapidly level off as new emissions to the atmosphere are balanced by the breakdown in the atmosphere of previous emissions. However this will take some time.
What is DairyNZ’s position on methane accounting?
DairyNZ, just like many other commentators, is interested in other options for accounting (or not accounting) methane emissions. But the decision of whether methane contributes to global warming is not up for debate.
Right now New Zealand must follow the same rules that every other country has to follow when calculating and accounting what our greenhouse gas emissions are – and this includes the way we account for our methane emissions. In New Zealand this means that 48 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture (the responsible gases being biological methane and nitrous oxide).
What the Government is offering us – through the Zero Carbon Bill – is an opportunity to discuss how we treat methane and whether methane should be treated differently to long-lived gases.
DairyNZ, along with Federated Farmers and many other primary sector stakeholders, understand that methane should stabilise. We are supporting a new 2050 target which proposes this option. Rather than putting our heads in the sand, we all need to get engaged in the Zero Carbon Bill and understand the issues at play.
Farmers should be taking the chance to discuss at what level we can stabilise methane while future-proofing our industry. Visit https://www.dairynz.co.nz/zero-carbon to read more about DairyNZ’s position and what topics you can have your say on in the Zero Carbon Bill consultation – which is open until 19 July.
What is DairyNZ's position on climate change?
DairyNZ has long been supportive of the dairy sector playing its part in helping New Zealand meet its international climate change obligations. New Zealand is already one of the lowest emissions producers of dairy nutrition in the world, but is responsible for 22.5 percent of all New Zealand’s emissions. We are well aware of the challenges and opportunities this emissions profile presents.
This is the premise of our 2017 Dairy Action for Climate Change. We are focusing on what mitigation options our farmers can adopt right now to start making a difference, while supporting continued scientific investment to find a long-term solution.
We see climate change mitigation and adaptation as an opportunity to show the world it is possible to produce milk in an emissions-conscious way. This is our chance to set a global standard as a climate resilient agricultural nation.
Many of New Zealand’s dairy farmers across the country are already refining and adapting their farm systems to improve the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of their businesses. In part, this is because some of the work underway to improve water quality also has the co-benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
DairyNZ is supportive of the Zero Carbon Bill, and is committed to engaging with the Government as this legislation is developed. We want to see all sectors aligned and accountable towards a common goal which will see New Zealand transition towards a low emissions economy. We support and welcome the Government’s commitment to planning early and avoiding sudden change. This will allow all sectors to transition over time.
DairyNZ supports a new 2050 target which will see New Zealand reduce long-lived gases (like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) to net zero, and stabilise short-lived gases (like methane) at a reduced level. We believe this is the only option of the three proposed targets which is both achievable and responsible.
DairyNZ believes there is a need to reduce and stabilise methane, in accordance with scientific evidence. Current science shows that methane doesn’t need to be reduced to zero because it is a short-lived gas, and we are committed to working with the Government and the sector to decide just at what level methane should be stabilised.
New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy will also require significant uptake in forestry planting. Many dairy farmers have the ability to plant on farm, but in more spaced out or smaller lot sizes, with a wider variety of species.
We want to see farmers recognized for planting species that currently fall outside of the Greenhouse Gas Inventory definition and yet provides similar benefits to the environment as the planting of traditional trees.
There needs to be continued support from both industry and Government for emerging emissions mitigation technologies if New Zealand is to transition to a low emissions economy. Until long term technological solutions to significant methane reduction are found, DairyNZ will be looking at options to increase on-farm planting as well as continuing to encourage farmers to reduce on-farm emissions where possible.