Kiwi farmers need science-led methane review

// Climate Change

B+LNZ, along with Federated Farmers and DairyNZ, has been working with leading climate scientists from Oxford University, to inform a submission to the Climate Change Commission on New Zealand’s methane targets.

banner with B+LNZ, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ

The global understanding of climate change science has evolved significantly since New Zealand’s targets were set in 2019.   

With the Climate Change Commission (CCC) set to review New Zealand’s methane reduction targets in 2024 in line with the Zero Carbon Act, Federated Farmers, B+LNZ, and DairyNZ commissioned this research to help inform the conversation and are asking the CCC to take this new research into account and set targets based on a climate warming approach. This research will help work out the most appropriate way agriculture can contribute to New Zealand’s climate goals. 

The study, led by internationally respected climate scientist Professor Myles Allen, measured the warming impact of New Zealand’s current methane targets.   

Allen is a Professor of Geosystem Science at the University of Oxford, Director of the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, and has been described by the BBC as ‘the physicist behind net zero’. 

“The report tells us that the current reduction targets could see methane offset all of the expected additional warming from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from the entire New Zealand economy,” says Jim van der Poel, Chair of DairyNZ. 

“Essentially the current targets would see New Zealand peak its warming in the 2030s and reverse back to 2022-27 levels which is well ahead of most other countries which are currently aiming to achieve peak warming (‘net zero’) from 2050.  

“The research is a critical contribution to the conversation about climate change and raises serious equity concerns for farmers who may be being asked to do more of the heavy lifting, and bear more of the cost, than other parts of the economy.   

“We need to be taking a science-led approach to the targets and its important they reflect the impact each gas will have on warming,” says van der Poel.  

The study also considered what level of reductions would be required for methane from New Zealand to make no further contribution to global warming. 

“The report found that if other countries meet their existing emissions reduction commitments, then a 15% reduction in methane would see New Zealand methane contribute no additional warming from 2020 levels,” says Kate Acland, Chair of Beef + Lamb New Zealand. 

The report notes that if countries significantly increased their current levels of ambition a reduction of up to 27% may be required. 

“This is significantly lower than the current methane reduction range of 24-47% and demonstrates the importance of taking a warming-centred approach to emissions reduction.  

“It is critical we consider the most up to date science to give farmers confidence about what they are being asked to do,” says Acland. 

“The current methane reduction targets have been a real point of contention for most farmers who have felt like they’ve been asked to go further and faster than needed – that’s why this review is so important,” says Federated Farmers President Wayne Langford. 

“For years farmers have been told that we’re responsible for half of New Zealand’s ongoing emissions, but this report clearly shows that we’re not responsible for half of the ongoing warming – and warming is what we’re trying to prevent. 

“Farmers have been making huge progress in reducing our environmental footprint and our methane emissions have been stable or declining for the last decade.   

“If we want to get an accurate picture of how we are progressing as part of global efforts, it’s important that we measure and report our emissions based on their warming impact. Total emissions just don’t give you the full picture,” says Langford. 

B+LNZ, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers will continue to inform farmers and New Zealand communities about warming impacts ahead of the Climate Change Commission’s public consultation in 2024.  Farmers will then have the opportunity to have their say on the Commission’s advice on targets in 2024.   


Download the reports 

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Notes for editors:  

Why is it important to take a warming approach?   

  • The Paris Agreement’s goal is to limit warming to well below 2 degrees.  It therefore makes sense that a country’s climate change objectives take account of how much they are contributing to warming.   
  • Most countries globally are aiming to be ‘net zero’ by 2050. For countries that have emissions profiles dominated by CO2, this means that they will cease contributing to further warming (achieving peak warming) by approximately 2050.   
  • For CO2 emissions to cause no additional warming, they need to be reduced to net-zero.    
  • Methane emissions do not need to be reduced to zero to stop causing additional warming.    
  • Under the current methane targets New Zealand would achieve peak warming in the 2030s and reverse warming back to 2022-2027 levels by 2050. This is because the “cooling” impact of the ambitious reductions in agriculture (and waste) offset the ongoing additional warming caused by energy and transport over this period.   
  • Methane, a short-lived gas, does not accumulate in the atmosphere in the same way as long-lived gases like CO2 and N2O. While more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, methane persists in the atmosphere for around 12 years as opposed to the millennial timescale of CO2. 

 Why did the Government set targets of 24-47%    

  The Government recognised that methane is different and does not need to go to zero by taking a split gas approach in the Zero Carbon Bill.   

  • It took the 24-47% reduction targets from an IPCC ‘special report on pathways to 1.5 degrees’ that came out in 2018, but the authors of that report specifically said that the ranges in their report should not be used as national targets and countries should determine their own relevant ones.    
  • Professor Myles Allen was a coordinating lead author of the IPCC report.