Dairy's world-leading climate story must continue at COP26
DairyNZ is calling on Climate Change Minister James Shaw to go into bat for Kiwi dairy farmers and the world-leading split gas approach at the UN climate change conference, COP26.
Farmers want to see the Minister proudly sharing New Zealand dairy’s story as the world’s lowest emissions dairy milk producer, at the 13-day conference in Glasgow.
“Although we are disappointed Government didn’t announce a split gas target for our new Nationally Determined Contribution* [NDC], we hope government will still strongly advocate for split gas and advanced metrics like GWP* at COP26,” says DairyNZ chief executive, Dr Tim Mackle.
“We want to see New Zealand show real leadership on the world stage by strongly advocating for the scientifically-robust approach we have taken to methane.”
A split gas approach highlights the difference between short and long-lived gases and their individual impact on warming.
“We’d like to see the COP26 settings include an international agreement on split gas, because although methane does have an impact on short-term warming – and certainly shouldn’t increase – keeping global warming under 1.5C is dependent on reducing long-lived gases,” says Dr Mackle.
“Reducing CO2 determines the overall level of warming and the speed.”
Dr Mackle says all sectors including agriculture, transport, energy, industry, households, towns and cities need to pull their weight.
“Kiwi dairy farmers are up for continuing to manage emissions and improve our efficiency, and on-farm work is underway nationwide. But farmers can’t be singled out as the only sector that needs to take action. New Zealanders shouldn’t feel our agriculture sector is not pulling its weight on the world stage.
“We want to see other nations also legislating specific methane targets, and follow New Zealand’s lead.”
New Zealand’s dairy sector is leading the world on climate change mitigations, while running successful businesses. “Being the lowest emissions producer of milk is no accident – it’s the result of a lot of hard work by dairy farmers.”
New Zealand’s split gas approach is backed up by a world-first climate action partnership - He Waka Eke Noa - to reduce agricultural emissions, comprising the primary sector, Government and Māori.
DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Federated Farmers also want Minister Shaw to strongly advocate for advanced metrics to measure and report on emissions, such as GWP* which better reflects the warming impact of methane over time. This metric is grounded in the most recent science.
The current metric used internationally, GWP100, over-states the warming impact of methane emissions by three to four times, when emissions are stable.
Agriculture’s methane emissions have stabilised in New Zealand, so they are not causing additional global warming, but reductions will contribute to less warming. On the other hand, CO2 emissions continue to add to warming until emissions reach net-zero.
COP26 includes an agreement to reduce methane by 30 percent by 2030. “Although supportive of reducing global methane, a distinction needs to be drawn between biogenic and non-biogenic methane,” says Dr Mackle.
Not all methane is created equal – biogenic methane is expelled from ruminant animals and fossil fuel methane is from oil and gas exploration. The latter must receive significant focus as a low-hanging opportunity.
The dairy sector, partners and Government are investing significantly and working together on a long-term R&D plan to address biogenic methane.
“We want the Minister to highlight on the world stage that New Zealand agriculture is taking a leading role in climate change research,” said Dr Mackle. “It makes more sense to invest in reducing New Zealand’s gross emissions than to send that money offshore to pay for a more ambitious NDC target.
“New Zealand’s best contribution to addressing climate change, particularly in agriculture, is to find solutions all agricultural nations can adopt to address biogenic methane emissions.”
Options being researched include a methane vaccine and inhibitors, selective breeding of low methane animals, and forages and technology uptake.
* NDC is the contribution countries agree to make to the global response on climate change. NZ’s first NDC is our pledge in the Paris agreement to reduce GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. That has been updated to a new goal to reduce 50% below 2005 leves by 2030.
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