3 Nov 2021

Environment groups criticise govt's decision to avoid methane cuts

9:29 pm on 3 November 2021

Environmental groups say it is pointless and cynical for the government to sign up to a global pact to drastically slash methane emissions when it has no plans to match the goal itself.

James Shaw

File photo: Climate Change Minister James Shaw Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

More than 100 countries have agreed to cut global methane emissions by a third by 2030.

Countries are not bound to each make 30 percent cuts domestically.

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, responsible for a third of human influence on global warming.

But farmers in New Zealand will be breathing a sigh of relief.

Because while the government has joined the pledge, it has no plans to match the 30 percent global reduction target.

It is sticking to the current goal to reduce domestic agricultural methane emissions - about half our total greenhouse gas output - by 10 percent by the end of the decade.

Christine Rose from Greenpeace said that renders the pledge meaningless.

"Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

"And this is a similar case where we all want to sign on to these global feel-good agreements .... but actually even taking the easy steps in addressing industrial dairy's contribution to climate change is a step too far ... [for] this government."

Rose said it undermines the efforts at cuts other countries will have to make on our behalf.

"It's especially cynical because as a developed nation we should be and are expected to do more but this pledge makes it clear that we are doing less than everybody else."

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said "this is a naked example of the government's failing to follow through on climate change [action].

"It's making a gesture only and that's completely inadequate".

But as Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre director Dr Harry Clark points out, there is simply no way New Zealand could match the pledge without requiring farmers to drastically reduce herd sizes.

"Given the profile of our methane emissions - our emissions are dominated by emissions from ruminant animals - it would be very difficult for us to meet that without major disruption to the agricultural sector."

Massey University Climate Emeritus Professor Ralph Sims said the government is caught between a rock and a hard place.

"If we didn't sign up, we'd be looked on as a pariah and politically criticized."

Climate Change Minister James Shaw put it this way.

"What if I had said, 'actually, I tell you what, we already have a work programme to deal with methane so we're not going to sign this pledge.'

"What would you be saying then?"

He said the government was working on plans - due in 2025 - that would make New Zealand one of the first countries to put a price on agricultural emissions.

"We've been saying for some time that actually countries do need to focus on methane in a way that we have actually started working on it.

"And so this declaration actually says that there's over 100 countries in the world now who are going to sign up to actually doing something about the methane problem that they have."

Shaw said the emphasis in the global pledge was mainly is on plugging fossil methane leaks in oil and gas infrastructure, and the government has pledged to complete phase out these gases.

World leaders are now leaving the COP26 meeting leaving their negotiators to hammer out the details to try and keep warming below catastrophic levels.

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