Parliamentary commissioner Jan Wright has released a report on biological greenhouse gases. The report is good news for farmers because in it Wright acknowledges the concerns we were set up to voice, and that is that methane and CO2 are vastly different and this is not recognized in the current carbon accounting process. She joins the growing list of people who are now finally realizing that there is a difference between methane and CO2 and it is fundamental.
Wright’s reports are usually quite light weight and resemble 6th form science projects and this report is no different. The advantage of that to us is that she explains it in a way everyone can understand. She says it this way.
“Long lived gases (like CO2) accumulate in the atmosphere, they keep driving temperature upwards. Methane is different. If the flow of methane into the atmosphere became constant, and there were no other greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature of the atmosphere would stabilize over a few decades”.
Wright then goes on to explain the problem with metrics like GWP (global warming potential) which are used to calculate how many CO2 equivalents methane produces. She offers a couple of alternative metrics but concludes of the metrics, “there will never be a right one, because constructing a metric involves more than science”
What Wright does not propose is the obvious really and that is if no metric is the right one then don’t use one. Treat each gas individually and measure its effect on how each emission affects the atmospheric concentration of the gas that is emitted. That is the essence of the global warming theory after all, the increased concentration of greenhouse gas by man, and so the effect of each activity should be quantified in these terms. There is no scientific reason gases have to be compared with each other to manage the problem.
The other thing that Wright overlooks is that having just said that methane is fundamentally different to CO2 and there is no right metric that can be used to quantify these two gases in terms of one carbon unit, then that can only mean the carbon unit itself is flawed and should not be used. Yet the Government has signed us up to the Paris agreement at a potential cost of $36 billion to us New Zealanders based on the need to reduce our relatively high emissions of the discredited carbon unit. If we concentrated on CO2 only, our per capita emissions are only half those of Australia. Let them catch us up before wrecking the economy with a $36 billion folly
Wright offers no hope that biological emissions will be able to be reduced anytime soon. The Government meanwhile continues to waste millions of dollars each year trying to solve the methane problem that they never got around to establishing needs solving. Instead of a solution to biological emissions Wright promotes planting trees and even quantifies how many hectares of forest are needed to offset the biological emissions, but she uses the discredited carbon unit in her calculations. She also forgets that forests have an albedo effect that discounts the carbon they sequester by 20% (which is ignored by govt) and massive soil carbon losses on first rotation forests( also ignored). She does acknowledge though that using forestry to mitigate our emissions is akin to passing the buck to our children and grandchildren.
I have never been impressed with Wright’s work, it is usually one eyed and more political than environmental and this report is no exception. She overlooks or downplays negatives that are inconvenient to her position and overplays the positives. For our cause this report is good though, because while she downplays the negative of the dodgy metrics and still concludes methane is a problem, having acknowledged the metrics are dodgy in the first place and that methane is fundamentally different to CO2 she unwittingly discredits the carbon unit and that is a big victory for us.