Asking the interim climate change committee to look at ‘the full range of feasibility options for including agriculture in the NZ ETS’ is the wrong approach to dealing with livestock methane emissions. The Minister for Climate Change James Shaw’s brief to the interim climate change committee should have been to explore all policy options that will achieve a reduction in harmful agricultural non CO2 emissions, rather than focus on an ETS which has shown little promise of achieving anything. His pre-emptive approach is putting the cart before the horse.
Methane is different to CO2 and report after report is confirming that the way methane emissions are accounted for in government policy does not reflect or account for this difference. The two gasses require different policy responses and putting methane emissions in to the ETS will not allow for this. The ETS deals in carbon and not individual gases so does not allow for different treatments which will produce optimal responses for each gas.
The Minister is pre-empting policy options to the detriment of the environment as optimal policy responses are more likely to be found outside the ETS. Reducing carbon emissions to meet the Paris agreement commitment or to reach net zero by 2050 will not necessarily provide a positive environmental outcome if the carbon emissions we reduce do not need to be reduced, which is the case with carbon sourced from methane.
Reports by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Motu confirm that to stabilize the climate carbon emissions sourced from CO2 need to reduce to net zero but carbon emissions sourced from methane do not and in fact they only have to stop increasing. This means that carbon emissions are not all the same and if we want genuine environmental benefits the carbon emissions we reduce have to be the right ones.
It is not good enough to just commit to reduce carbon emissions, as which carbon emissions we are reducing makes a difference. There is no scientific case for reducing methane emissions and so to do so, just to meet a poorly thought out target, is a pointless exercise as well as an injustice if any costs are imposed on farmers.
Carbon emissions sourced from livestock methane have increased by only 4.4% since 1990 despite large animal production increases, which shows farmers are already achieving real environmental benefits by improving emissions intensity. In contrast transport emissions have increased 82.1% over the same time. The Minister’s focus on livestock emissions which are barely increasing, do not cumulate in the atmosphere and for the most part do not cause global warming because they are cyclical, is misplaced.
There are policy options that could help achieve the best environmental outcome in regards to methane which is ‘to stop emissions increasing’ and the ETS is not one of them. The Minister is missing the boat and selling out the environment with a brief to the committee which is pre-emptive and restrictive and precludes a worthwhile outcome.