6 Apr 2024

Independent panel to review 2050 methane target, government announces

3:08 pm on 6 April 2024
Simon Watts

Climate change minister Simon Watts. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

An independent panel is to review the country's methane target, the government has announced.

Climate change minister Simon Watts and agriculture minister Todd McClay announced the review on Saturday.

They said a panel of experts would review the available agricultural biogenic methane science before reporting back to the government by the end of 2024.

They would "provide evidence-based advice on what our domestic 2050 methane target should be, consistent with the principle of no additional warming", McClay said.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Livestock, including cattle, is the main source of the country's biogenic methane emissions. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In New Zealand, farm animals, including cattle and sheep, are the source of most biogenic methane emissions - those brought about by living organisms.

Food scraps in landfills are also a source of methane.

Watts said the review would complement a review by the Climate Change Commission of the 2050 targets, also due this year.

"[It] will provide an input into the government's response to the commission's advice in 2025."

Greens, farmers react

The Green Party criticised the announcement.

"Delay is the new denial when it comes to climate change," said Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick.

"There is already a legally required, independent review of emissions reduction targets this year - which two of the three governing parties voted for. Best case, this newly announced review is a shining example of the wasteful duplication the government says it rails against. Worst case, it's a smokescreen to delay climate action.

"This substanceless review announcement gives us no terms of reference, no idea who the 'expert' reviewers are or where they would come from, and a vague timeline."

On the other hand, Federated Farmers praised the review.

"This is a really positive step forward and will be welcomed by farmers and rural communities," says Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford.

"Methane targets have been a point of contention since they were first introduced because the government of the day chose to set targets that were highly political instead of scientifically robust.

"They go much further and faster than what is needed to achieve 'no further warming' and will come at a huge cost to farmers, rural communities, and the New Zealand economy.

"That's why Federated Farmers have opposed the current targets from day one and have been calling for this independent review for some time now."

NZ's 2050 pledge

The Climate Change Response Act sets out New Zealand's existing domestic biogenic methane emissions reductions targets.

The country has pledged to lower biogenic methane emissions from 2017 levels by 10 percent by 2030 and by 24 to 47 percent by 2050.

Associate agriculture minister Andrew Hoggard said agriculture was the backbone of New Zealand's economy and contributed over 80 percent of our goods exports.

"We need to ensure its contribution to the 2050 Climate Change targets are fair and appropriate compared to other parts of the economy," he said.

"It's important that domestic efforts to cut emissions do not drive a drop in our agricultural production. New Zealand farmers are the world's most carbon-efficient producers of high-quality food and fibre, and it is in no one's interest to see this production filled by other countries with higher emissions profiles."

Associate agriculture minister Mark Patterson said the government was investing in research and development to give farmers practical tools and solutions to reduce methane.

"We want to ensure that our farmers remain the best in the world and at the forefront of global methane mitigation efforts."

McClay said the government remained "steadfast in our commitment to meet our international climate change obligations".

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