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  • Andrew von Dadelszen


IPCC report stokes methane debate

This latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) special report warns that “large, immediate, and unprecedented global efforts to mitigate greenhouse gases” are needed to avoid catastrophic warming. It says to keep below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, compared to pre-industrial levels, global methane has to be reduced by 35% by 2050.

“If New Zealand is serious about being a leader in climate change, that matters,” University of Canterbury political scientist Bronwyn Hayward (the lead author) says. Hayward says the report will be “a wake-up call and a bit of a shock” for New Zealand because a 35% reduction, compared to 2010 levels, is far higher than recent reports suggesting the country could farm cows and have a clean climate conscience by roughly stabilising methane or cutting it by 10-22%. Plus, “It really ups the standards for what’s expected globally.” New Zealand has the largest per-capita emission rate of the gas in the world – six times the global average.

Federated Farmers’ climate change spokesman Andrew Hoggard says: “You’ve got a bunch of PhDs saying one thing and a bunch of PhDs saying the other thing. Which PhD’s correct?”

In Jacinda Ardern’s UN General Assembly address about climate change, she said the effects were “not academic, or even arguable” – that undermining climate-related targets and agreements will be catastrophic. Call me a cynic, but this latest IPPC report just diverts attention away from this Labour-led Coalition’s failure to take any decisive actions (expect taxing us more).

An alternate view on methane

Victoria University of Wellington professor of climate change Dave Frame disagrees with Hayward. While the IPCC report’s valuable for pointing out the scale of decarbonisation needed to limit warming to 1.5C, he says the problem is mainly about carbon dioxide. Frame’s view – which he’s sticking to in the face of the IPCC report – is that cuts to methane can be made later, before global warming peaks. Carbon dioxide’s a “stock” pollutant while methane’s a “flow” pollutant – one builds up and the other dissipates. “I would wait on doing more on methane until you see that you’ve really got the CO2 under control.” Frame also knocks Hayward’s view – and that of environmental groups – of New Zealand becoming a world leader in climate change. Big players, like the United States and China, will determine the outcome, he says. If either country continued on a business as usual trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions, he says that would effectively make it impossible for all other countries to limit warming to 1.5C. “You could spend a huge amount of money turning off all the carbon tomorrow and the rest of the world wouldn’t really notice,” noted Dave Frame.

New Zealand’s best to tackle climate change as part of a cluster of countries, Frame says – like a cycling peloton. “We want to be one of the countries who are working quite hard on this problem, but we don’t have to go charging off on our own.” He adds: “You could spend a huge amount of money turning off all the carbon tomorrow and the rest of the world wouldn’t really notice.

Is it time to act?

The current Government is reviewing the ETS and considering setting a net zero emissions target by 2050 under a proposed Zero Carbon Act. This latest IPCC report highlights the need for the act – but has it really added anything new? New Zealand doesn’t need to get way ahead of other countries but it needs to react to the science, giving certainty to businesses, so they can confidently make investment decisions. Given New Zealand’s two biggest industries are tourism (including long-haul, international flights) and agriculture, any move to make deep greenhouse gas cuts poses real headaches for the Government. It may have to re-think its decision to extend existing oil and gas exploration permits.

The real test for Ardern’s coalition Government is certainty for agriculture. At her election campaign launch in August last year, Ardern said of climate change: “There will always be those who say it’s too difficult. There will be those who say we are too small, and that pollution and climate change are the price of progress. They are wrong.”

Farmers – don’t expect too many “breaks” from this government – they love to tax for “envy”.

Fortunately, the 3-headed coalition monster should keep a hand-brake on too many ridiculous decisions. That said – ask the Taranaki Oil & Gas industry!

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