There are three general views about climate change.
The first, advocated by such intellectual giants as Donald Trump and Cameron Slater is that we have nothing to worry about and recent climate disruptions are totally normal, or a consequence of moonbeams or sun spots, or something else. But there is no need to stop the party. Everything will be fine. It is just a UN created conspiracy to take away our rights under the pretence that there is something wrong.
The second is that we are already stuffed. The release of methane from the Siberian tundra will mean that no matter what we do there will be accelerating climate change and either we work out how to get on a spaceship to Mars or we get ready to repel the hordes that will inevitably descend on our little piece of paradise.
The third view is that we still have a chance. But dang we need to stop mucking around and do something.
Me? I am a believer in option 3. I really hope and intend that my kids have a world to live in. But we need to get a move on.
Which leads to the submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill which is a proposal to set a carbon budget for New Zealand that over time will have to reach zero.
It is something that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment suggested. The recommendation is that we set up a process where there would be mandated greenhouse gas emission levels and a goal of becoming carbon neutral.
What was of interest is that the PCE had an ambivalent view about methane, which accounts for half of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Current PCE Simon Upton recently said this:
But that leaves methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which account for 43% and 11% of gross emissions respectively. Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas (around 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide) and one that accumulates in the atmosphere (having a residence time of around 114 years). Because it accumulates, reducing the flow of emissions will not be good enough. To halt its contribution to warming, either emissions have to be eliminated or negative emissions technologies have to be deployed to negate its impact. Nitrous oxide is not just a problem as a warming agent. It is also destructive of the ozone layer, which is where it is ultimately broken down. Given that nitrous oxide makes up a significant and increasing part of New Zealand’s emissions, New Zealand will have to consider how it deals with this gas.
By contrast, methane, while a still more potent warming agent than carbon dioxide, has a shorter residence time in the atmosphere before breaking down into carbon dioxide and water. If the source of the methane is agricultural, there is no net injection of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Given its shorter lifetime, emitting methane will not have the same irreversible inter-generational warming consequences that carbon dioxide or the release of nitrous oxide have.
The different characteristics of methane do not mean that its warming impact can be ignored. For one, the additional warming caused by methane emissions in the short term can lead to further warming in the longer term from positive climate feedbacks. In addition, it is the combined impact of all greenhouse gases, including methane, that contributes to the dangerous and currently increasing amount of warming that is occurring.
Upton’s proposal was that we establish an acceptable level of Methane emission, rather than decide on having no emission at all.
His view has been reflected in the discussion document for the Zero Emissions Bill released by the Ministry for the Environment. The discussion document offers three scenarios:
- Net zero carbon dioxide by 2050: this target would reduce net carbon dioxide emissions in New Zealand to zero by 2050 (but not other gases like methane or nitrous oxide).
- Net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases by 2050: this target would reduce emissions of long-lived gases (including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) in New Zealand to net zero by 2050, while stabilising emissions of short-lived gases (including methane).
- Net zero emissions by 2050: this target would reduce net emissions across all greenhouse gases to zero by 2050.
Targets to reduce greenhouse gases must include the methane generated by agriculture, Forest and Bird says.
The government has committed to cutting New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, in line with global targets to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Though methane from farm animals makes up 43 percent of the damaging gases farmers argue it’s short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, and it’s sustainable at current levels.
But Forest and Bird’s climate advocate Adelia Hallett said methane was 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“So it’s there in the atmosphere for that shortish time but it’s doing a lot of damage while it’s there. Why that worries us is that we have very little time left to keep the world at a temperature which is 1.5 degrees which will be reasonable survivable and comfortable for humans and for nature.”
Adelia Hallet said world governments had about eight years left to act, if they wanted to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
The Greens have set up a page on how to make a submission. Although puzzlingly it is password protected.
There is a lot at stake. If Methane is exempted it will not be a zero carbon bill but the equivalent of a 50% carbon bill. As a western nation with resources we need to get to zero.
And if agriculture is exempted we will create a perverse market reaction where agriculture will not be paying its way for damaging the environment but everyone else will.
If you wish to make submissions then they close on July 19. Submissions can be made here.