Environmental watchdog's methane emissions research welcomed

The Government welcomes the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s research into the impact on global warming from New Zealand’s livestock methane emissions which has been released today.

“This is a timely and useful contribution to the ongoing process of developing New Zealand’s response to climate change,” Acting Minister for Climate Change Eugenie Sage said.

“The research addresses two important questions:

  1. Firstly, what further global warming would take place if methane emissions from livestock were to be stabilised at today’s level rather than a reduction to zero?
  2. Secondly, what level would methane emissions need to reduce to in order to contribute no additional global warming?

“These questions have been the subject of debate during recent consultation on the Zero Carbon Bill and we are working through views and feedback expressed in the consultations at the moment.

“This report shows New Zealand’s methane emissions would need to reduce by about 10 to 22 per cent below 2016 levels (ie the latest year for which emissions data is available) by 2050, with further reductions between 20 to 27 per cent by 2100, if we want to ensure methane emissions from livestock don’t contribute to additional global warming.

“That is seen as achievable by some in the agricultural sector, given that methane output per unit of production has been in decline by about 1 per cent per year for the last few decades, and given some leaders in the sector believe they can reduce methane output by as much as 30 per cent using existing technology and best practice,” Eugenie Sage said.

The report also states that “holding livestock methane steady at 2016 levels would cause additional warming of 10-20 per cent above current levels.”

“The report shows that we are going to have to keep working throughout this century to reduce methane emissions,” Ms Sage said.

“The research doesn’t show what would need to happen to methane flows if New Zealand wanted to hold global warming to 1.5o Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is the aim of the Paris Agreement.”

The Commissioner’s report released today forms part of a growing evidence base for how New Zealand will set and achieve its emissions targets.

The Commissioner will issue a full report on livestock methane emissions later this year.

The Productivity Commission will soon release its final report into the opportunities and challenges of the transition to a low emissions economy soon, and the Biological Emissions Reference Group is completing its research into reducing agricultural emissions.

That information will be considered alongside more than 15,000 submissions received during consultation on the Zero Carbon Bill.

“All this work will help guide New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy over the next 30 years.

“This Government remains committed to ensuring that the transition takes into account economic, social and environmental considerations to ensure support is there for communities and sectors that need it,” said Ms Sage.

Background information: 

  • Livestock methane accounts for 85 per cent of New Zealand’s methane emissions.  The remainder come from waste landfills and wastewater treatment (11 per cent), and extraction and use of fossil fuels for energy generation and industrial processes (3 per cent).
     
  • Global methane emissions have contributed more than 40 per cent of total global warming effect since 1750.
     
  • Global warming impact of a single pulse of methane continues for many centuries (9 per cent of methane’s peak warming impact remains after 100 years; 4 per cent remains after 200 years)
     
  • Total warming up to 2016 (the latest year for which greenhouse gas data is available) that is attributable to New Zealand’s historical livestock methane emissions is about twice as large as the warming from our historical fossil carbon dioxide emissions. But the warming from carbon dioxide is currently increasing about twice as fast as the warming from livestock methane emissions.