New Zealand is already one of the lowest emissions producers of dairy nutrition in the world but, right now, the dairy sector is responsible for 22.5 percent of all New Zealand’s emissions. As a sector, it is in our interests to think about what actions and changes we can make to the way we farm in order for dairy to play its part in transitioning New Zealand to a low emissions economy.
Many of New Zealand’s dairy farmers across the country are already improving 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.
Public consultation was carried out over June and July 2018. You can read DairyNZ's submission here.
The Zero Carbon Bill proposes to:
- set a new 2050 target to reduce our emissions
- set five yearly emissions budgets to help us reach our 2050 target
- set up the Independent Climate Change Commission to provide long term independent, expert advice and hold governments to account
- plan for how we adapt to climate change.
DairyNZ is supportive of this legislation. Having rolling emission budgets and setting a 2050 target will provide certainty for the dairy sector, and all sectors of New Zealand, about what is expected of us all on this journey towards a low emissions future.
The 2050 target
The consultation document asks for public feedback on three target options that could replace our current target of 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050:
- Net zero carbon dioxide by 2050: this target would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in New Zealand to net zero by 2050 (but not other gases like methane or nitrous oxide, which predominantly come from agriculture).
- Net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases by 2050: this target would reduce emissions of long-lived gases (including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) in New Zealand to net zero by 2050, while stabilising emissions of short-lived gases (including methane) either at current or reduced levels.
- Net zero emissions by 2050: this target would reduce emissions across all greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.
DairyNZ is supporting the second proposal - that 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 know that dairy farmers have a significant role to play in helping New Zealand lower its biological emissions. However the science shows that methane doesn’t need to be reduced to zero because it is a short-lived gas. We are committed to working with Government to decide just how much methane needs to reduce.
Climate Change Commission
It is proposed that an independent Climate Change Commission is set up to advise the Government on emissions budgets, priority industries, and other climate change related issues.
DairyNZ supports this proposal and would like to see the Commission maintain an advisory capacity in its advice to the Government (rather than holding any decision-making powers).
Set emission budgets
Emission budgets will set out how much greenhouse gas New Zealand can emit over a shorter period of time, for example the consultation proposes budgets are set for five year periods. These stepping stones are designed to ensure we are on track to meet our larger 2050 target.
The consultation asks for feedback on the duration of each budget, how far in advance they are set, whether they can be revised, and what happens if they are not met.
DairyNZ supports the concept of emission budgets over five yearly periods.
Climate change adaptation
Regardless of the target chosen, New Zealand needs to be planning for a different climate. The consultation proposes a national adaptation plan be prepared to ensure New Zealand has a comprehensive approach to climate change risks.
DairyNZ supports and welcomes the Government’s commitment to planning early and avoiding sudden change. This will allow all sectors to transition over time.
See DairyNZ's position on climate change here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we need to address climate change?
Naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, and nitrous oxide help sustain life on earth. Human activities have led to an increase in certain greenhouse gases, which is significantly increasing the average global temperature.
This is already causing severe impacts on our weather patterns, ecosystems, and species. Global leaders, through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, have agreed to take action to prevent catastrophic impacts to our planet.
Why do we need to reduce (methane) emissions?
Dairy biological emissions make up 22.5 percent of New Zealand’s total emissions and nearly half of agriculture’s emissions. Methane is the main biological gas, and is released when ruminant animals burp. 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 over 20 percent of the total global warming. This is why the agricultural sector has a role to play in managing our climate change contribution.
What is the difference between short and long-lived gases?
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 does net zero mean?
Net zero means any gases emitted into the atmosphere are offset with trees.
Why aren't pre-1990 forests included in our Greenhouse Gas Inventory?
All 197 members countries of the UNFCCC agreed to choose 1990 as the base-year to compare all emissions and climate action against. For forests, this means that only new forests (planted after 1990) can earn carbon credits and count as offsets against our emissions reduction targets.
This was done for several important reasons including fairness, not pre-dating international negotiations, aerial photography difficulties, and administrative burden. If the base-year was set earlier we could be earning units from our current pre-1990 forests, however we would also be liable for all deforestation that occurred before 1990 as well.
This issue isn’t available for negotiation at an international level.