In a briefing paper the two Ministries prepared for the Finance and Expenditure Committee they say when referring to the threat of methane release from permafrost.
“Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 but has a much shorter residence lifetime in the atmosphere. For this reason, a gradual release of large amounts of methane would not have a significant effect on climate change (compared to other sources) “
For Government Ministries to be saying that the release of large amounts of methane will not have a significant effect on climate change as compared to other gases as long as it is gradual is a big change in attitude from them.
In the briefing paper the Ministries forgot that methane from permafrost will increase CO2 because the CH4 will oxidise to CO2 over time. The increase in CO2 from the permafrost could affect climate if you believe in that. Notwithstanding their error their statement supports our stance on enteric methane because the CO2 that forms from enteric methane was sourced from the atmosphere, so is neutral.
The important point to be taken from this paper is that the two Ministries acknowledge there is a difference between methane and other gases in terms of its impact on any climate change that might be happening. This especially applies to enteric methane.
Yet the same Ministries endorse the system of standardising emissions of different gases by quantifying them in terms of Carbon dioxide equivalents. Global Warming Potentials are used as the metric to calculate how many CO2 equivalents an emission of a non CO2 gas such as methane is. Methane has a GWP of 25, so they assign methane a value of 25 CO2 equivalents because they say 1 tonne of methane has the same effect as 25 tonnes of CO2. Yet in this briefing paper they now acknowledge what we have been saying all along that methane can not be assigned an equivalence value to CO2 because a gradual release of large amounts of methane does not have a significant impact on climate change yet a gradual release of large amounts of CO2 will. The gasses are not comparable and can not be standardised with one quantity measure.
It is contradictory for the Ministries to support the use of GWP’s and CO2 equivalents to standardise different greenhouse gas emissions and then say in their briefing paper that some greenhouse gas emissions can affect climate and others don’t. It was only a matter of time before our Government Ministries got tangled up in the mess of falsehoods, dodgy science and political convenience.
The IPCC, which according to our Government is the font of all knowledge, acknowledges that using GWP’s to quantify CO2 equivalents are problematic and formed an expert working group in 2009 to address the widely known problems of GWP’s. The working group reported back saying.
“Shortcomings have been identified; however the scientific basis has not been fully established to address these shortcomings comprehensively in any currently discussed metric.”
They say ‘shortcomings’ but they really mean that GWP’s don’t work and they give as the reason for continuing to use them the fact that nothing else will work either.
This is classic, the politicians want a standardised measure which is scientifically impossible. The last thing our politicians want is for the science to get in the way of their politics. So they persist with the folly.
Standardising these greenhouse gases using the metric GWP or any other metric not only does not work but distorts reality. One third of NZ’s reported greenhouse gas emissions in the NZ Inventory are not of any real greenhouse gas at all. They are paper emissions which are only created when they use GWP’s to try to quantify methane in terms of CO2 equivalents.
It was Jim Bolger’s and Jenny Shipley’s Governments which started all this nonsense and signed us up to the flawed science of the GWP metric without giving it due diligence. They made a mistake and whilst a mistake could be forgiven if they did something about fixing it, they didn’t. The present Government, which despite all the doubts and uncertainties of the GWP metric acknowledged by the IPCC, has just made it worse by changing the values of the GWP metric to reflect current IPCC values with methane increasing to 25 from 21. This increases the cost threat the use of these nonsensical GWP’s has created for farmers.
Continuing to expose NZers to these cost threats because they are too gutless to challenge the use of flawed science in international agreements is irresponsible on the part of the NZ Government. We will continue to put pressure on them to do the right thing by the people of NZ. The Ministries for Environment and Primary Industries have just given us more hope and more ammunition.