A separate plan for methane in New Zealand’s historic zero-carbon legislation, is seen as an unprecedented step forward, by experts worldwide seeking fair treatment for agriculture in the climate mitigation debate.
New Zealand is the first country to acknowledge the scientific theory that the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement overestimates the global warming potential of methane, the gas emitted by ruminant livestock which many blame as a major climate change culprit.
In passing its law to reduce its emissions and become mostly carbon neutral by 2050, New Zealand has set lower targets for methane reduction, to reflect that methane stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
The lower targets make allowance for methane emissions causing global warming only when they occur first, with constant unchanging methane emissions causing little additional warming — because the gas leaves the atmosphere after about 10 years.
The New Zealand decision is an important precedent for Ireland, because the two countries uniquely have such a high share of emissions from agriculture, due to their high livestock numbers, relatively low populations, and low industrialisation.
The bill which makes carbon neutral deadlines binding in law has a less severe approach to methane emissions than other greenhouse gases, but still targets a cut of 10% in biological methane by 2030, and up to 47% by 2050.
Predictably, it was welcomed by the country’s dairy industry.
But DairyNZ Chief Executive Dr Tim Mackle maintained firm opposition to the required methane reduction of 47%, saying it is more than what is scientifically justified, and more than New Zealand’s rural economy can sustain.
However, the targets reflect that methane is a more damaging global warming gas while it remains in the atmosphere, and that reducing methane emissions has a strong cooling effect,
The New Zealand government has also promised to plant a billion trees over 10 years and ensure the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy by 2035.
Climate change minister James Shaw said the new law makes New Zealand a world leader again, having previously been first to legislate for nuclear disarmament and votes for women.
But the main relevance for EU countries is the different treatment for methane, at a time when more and more countries are copper fastening their climate plans.
Nearer home, the Norwegian government has signed a “letter of intent” with the Norwegian Farmers’ Association and the Norwegian Farmers’ and Small Farmers’ Association to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon capture from agriculture.