Farmer meeting breaks down climate science

// Climate Change

Internationally-renowned expert Professor Dave Frame recently appeared at a Southland farmer meeting to explain the science behind climate change, the use of metrics such as GWP*, the interaction with policy – and what it all means for farmers.

David Frame

The session was organised following a series of meetings about the Government’s proposals for pricing agricultural emissions. B+LNZ Chair Andrew Morrison said it was clear farmers wanted to discuss and understand the science behind the proposals, and with local B+LNZ staff organised for Professor Frame to travel to Invercargill to talk to farmers in person.

In the session, which is now available on B+LNZ’s Knowledge Hub, Professor Frame explained the science in technical detail but also in terms farmers can relate to. 

He noted that the He Waka Eke Noa recommendations are consistent with a split gas approach (where long- and short-lived gases are treated separately in recognition of their relative warming impacts) and that we need to ensure the price is kept low and sequestration is included. 

Professor Frame is a leading expert on GWP* and argues it should be used for setting appropriate emissions reduction targets. In the presentation, he talks about how small annual variations in methane can lead to volatility in annual GWP* estimates. 

He clearly sets out things he believes farmers should fight for in discussions about emissions pricing – and what he thinks they shouldn’t fight about. 

On the ‘fight for’ side, he included the price set for methane especially, saying rural New Zealand should not be impoverished at the expense of urban New Zealand. 

He noted that no other country is pricing agricultural emissions and that it doesn’t make sense to use ‘live ammo’ – that is, to set the price too high when there are so many uncertainties caused by this uniqueness. Rather, he argued the price can be increased later – and he said it will be important to review whether other countries are following or not, and assess pricing accordingly. B+LNZ agrees and has been pushing hard for a cautious approach to pricing. 

Professor Frame also noted the importance of sequestration, and said it makes sense to link biogenic methane to carbon sequestration by trees, as articulated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s latest report. Sequestration remains a cornerstone in B+LNZ’s work to achieve a fair agricultural emissions pricing system. 

He argued the 2030 and 2050 targets for methane emissions reduction aren’t well justified and are not fit for purpose or fair. B+LNZ is pushing the Government to revise the targets downwards and is working on a strategy towards this. 

On the ‘don’t fight about’ side, he said he sometimes hears farmers say they shouldn’t have to pay for their emissions because they’re not adding additional warming (as methane levels have been stable in New Zealand). He argues that it’s reasonable to ask people to pollute less, and that some reduction is still appropriate. The focus should be on how much farmers are asked to do, not whether they should do anything.

He also said the split gas approach should never be up for discussion because it represents “environmental integrity” (reflecting that each gas does have a different effect). He said going into the ETS would be bad for multiple reasons including price and social licence, and would fundamentally work against this integrity. 

There were also questions from farmers, and feedback from the meeting has been positive. 

Dave Frame is Professor of Physics at the University of Canterbury and has twice been a Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He is a world leader in the science of climate change and its application in policy, with significant knowledge of New Zealand’s agricultural sector.

Watch the video here.