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A misunderstanding over methane in NZ

Letter

An open letter to Drew Shindell, chair, Global Methane Assessment

Re: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions report (United Nations Environment Programme, 2021).

Dear Professor,

Recently several high-profile New Zealanders have called on our Government to speed up the reduction of agricultural methane emissions in our country. We are asking you to make explicit that only approximately 5 of the 45 percentage points reduction that you are calling for from a projected 2030 world methane emissions are to come from measures directly targeted at ruminant agriculture (once rice production is de-coupled from agricultural totals). The balance, as you enumerate in figure ES1 of the report, is to come from fossil fuels, landfills, and behavioural changes.

We are asking for this clarification as it has been interpreted in New Zealand that your report means we should cut our methane by 45 percent, despite the fact that 85 percent of New Zealand methane emissions come from livestock.

In New Zealand there has been very little analysis of your report beyond the headline call for a 45 percent reduction in methane. We believe that is because the headline appears to neatly confirm current policy settings. Placing more emphasis on livestock reduces the urgency to cut carbon dioxide emissions in New Zealand, of which almost half comes from transport. It also makes our policy of not reducing transport, but rather planting farmland into forests, much more acceptable as this also results in a reduction in livestock numbers.

It should be noted that New Zealand agriculture is very efficient at producing protein with a low carbon footprint, an important part of the strategy as pointed out in section 4.4.2 of the report: “. . . if the livestock production chain worldwide were to match the practices of the most efficient producers . . . In such an instance, methane emissions from ruminants could be reduced by ~31 Mt/yr.”

Furthermore, the forests being planted are on hills that are unable to be cultivated and therefore would be difficult to convert to plant-based protein production. We believe New Zealand’s current policy is in contravention of article 2.1(b) of the Paris Accord.

We look forward to your clarification of this current misunderstanding in New Zealand of the UN report, so our country can make a better contribution to reducing warming and yet maintain global food security.

Dave Read, Rangiahua; James Brownlie, Ruakituri