Thursday, 09 May 2024 12:55

Market-led solution for emissions

Written by  Steven Cranston
Steven Cranston Steven Cranston

OPINION: Thanks to the much-needed review of the methane science being announced, the topic of agricultural emissions is back in the discussion along with all the associated misinformation.

Groundswell NZ is taking a keen interest in this review and believes it has the potential to completely re-shape how we view agricultural emissions.

The latest science has discovered that both methane and N2O may be irrelevant as GHG’s due to water vapour’s role in climate change being grossly underestimated. Both emissions are trace gases that have an atmospheric concentration of 1.8ppm (parts per million) and 0.3ppm respectively.

There is a growing body of research which indicates that water vapour, which has a much greater concentration of around 15,000ppm, saturate these agricultural GHGs rendering them effectively irrelevant. Suggestions by some government agencies that the ‘science is settled’ could not be further from the truth, this review promises to be robust and enlightening.

Pre-empting the review of the science is the Climate Change Commission who released their draft report on emissions reductions for the 2036 to 2040 period.

The overriding theme of their advice is that the ambition of the current targets should be maintained regardless of the developing science on methane’s warming effect. The Commission has taken the arbitrary position that any reduction in the methane target to reflect this new science would therefore require greater reductions from CO2 emitters to compensate. Commission members are attempting to ring-fence the current excessive targets by default to ensure the Commission still delivers a cooling trend by 2050.

The Commission is pushing for a 24% reduction of methane emissions by 2040; this is well above the 6% reduction needed to achieve no additional warming. Their pathway is based on the dubious assertion that dairy cow numbers can plummet 23% while not affecting total production and profitability. The Commission uses a Biological Emissions Reference Group report to support their plan but if they had read the report properly, they would know there are ‘important barriers’ limiting any significant shift towards higher per cow production.

Continuing with their typical fast and loose approach, the Commission’s draft report went on to say that they have seen ‘evidence’ that a methane inhibiting vaccine will be available by 2036. This was some revelation as the vaccine program has been floundering without any major breakthroughs for over 20 years.

The Commission had in fact misinterpreted another report which said a vaccine could take ten years after a successful prototype is developed, but gave no predictions when this successful prototype will arrive.

Not to be outdone by the increasingly irrelevant Climate Change Commission, Fonterra continued to push its unsubstantiated threat that customers such as Nestle could reject our produce if further action is not taken to reduce emissions. New Zealand’s highly efficient dairy production means that Nestle would also have to reject almost the entirety of the EU’s dairy production first or risk increasing their scope 3 emissions. Contrary to Fonterra’s concerns, any customer who is seeking further emissions reductions would do well to increase their purchases of NZ dairy products.

It’s a shame that Fonterra distracts itself with baseless fear mongering as they are quietly laying the foundation of what could be a sustainable solution to emissions management. Fonterra has negotiated with Mars to deliver to them our most emissions efficient milk for a small premium. In true co-operative style the suppliers providing this premium milk don’t receive any credit for it, but this could soon change.

Unlike with the organic market where consumers expect their organic milk to be produced on an organic farm, this doesn’t matter for low-emissions milk. Fonterra can simply select their most emissions efficient farmers from anywhere in the country and accredit their numbers to the Mars deal. This means that farmers who have systems suitable for chasing a low-emissions premium can do so, and farmers who don’t have the right infrastructure or maybe disagree with a proposed mitigation technology can simply forgo the premium.

There is no need for a heavy-handed approach from processors, both the dairy and red meats sectors have the financial tools available to incentivise low emissions production and meet their market demands.

Instead of putting pressure on farmers to reduce emissions, processors should focus their efforts on generating a genuine price premium, the free-market will take care of the rest.

Steven Cranston is the emissions spokesperson for Groundswell NZ

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