New research indicates NZ’s sheep and beef greenhouse gas emissions have been overstated

// Climate Change

AgResearch has developed a more accurate calculation of the nitrous oxide emissions from sheep, beef and dairy production, which shows that nitrous oxide emissions are two thirds and one third respectively lower than previously thought.

Image of a sheep, lamb and cow on farm.

The new nitrous oxide measurement will reduce each sector’s total greenhouse gas emission by the following:

  • Total sheep emissions (including methane and nitrous oxide emissions) will be around 10.6 percent lower than previously reported. 
  • Total beef cattle emissions (including methane and nitrous oxide emissions) will be 5.0 percent lower than previously reported.
  • Total dairy cattle emissions (including methane and nitrous oxide emissions) will be 1.4 percent lower than previously reported.
  • It’s important to note that these specific reductions are due to the improved accuracy in measuring nitrous oxide emissions from livestock on hill country. they are important because they have significantly improved the accuracy of our emissions estimates.

The improvement in the calculation of emissions results in a 4.4 percent reduction in the agriculture sector’s overall reported emissions for 2017, and a 2.1 percent decrease in New Zealand’s overall reported emissions. 

This new research will mean livestock’s overall contribution to New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions is lower than previously calculated.  

It will also lead to a reduction in the carbon footprints for livestock production in New Zealand, as a percentage of total emissions, particularly sheep, which is already very low compared to the carbon footprint of sheep and beef in other countries.  

“The agricultural sector is committed to playing its part in tackling the challenge of climate change, and the New Zealand sheep and beef sector has already reduced its overall greenhouse gas emissions by more than 32 percent since 1990, whilst maintaining similar levels of production,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) Chief Insight Officer Jeremy Baker.

“This research highlights how understanding about livestock’s contribution to warming is continuing to evolve, and the importance of continuing to invest in science in these areas.”

There are also 1.4 million hectares of native trees on New Zealand sheep and beef farms. B+LNZ is currently undertaking research to understand how much carbon these trees are sequestering from the atmosphere, but it is expected to be significant and take the sector a long way towards its goal of being net carbon neutral by 2050.

B+LNZ also supports the recommendation of the independent panel of agricultural emissions experts who recommended the new emissions factors be applied to the national greenhouse gas inventory. 


For more information please contact B+LNZ’s Senior Communications Advisor Gwynn Compton on 027 838 6353

Notes for editors: More details on AgResearch’s study can be found on the AgResearch website: