Last night Environment Minister Nick Smith and Ambassador Adrian Macey, NZ’s chief international negotiator on the climate issue, made a splendid presentation to a public meeting in Napier on Government’s emerging global warming policy.
Specifically, they described the policy challenges Government faces in setting emission reduction goals for the nation, as well as the daunting obstacles to reaching an effective international accord later this year in Copenhagen.
If you believe global warming is for real, and that serious national and international commitments to curb it are urgently required, you would have been gratified by the evidence these presenters provided that: a) the National Government is “for real” on the issue; and b) sophisticated, knowledgeable officials are calling the shots.
Of course not everyone is a believer, and that was true of some in last night’s crowd who represented the farming sector.
The most ridiculous of these still reject the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence … and in so doing, render themselves irrelevant and do a disservice to their sector. Farming leaders should focus on securing equitable, informed treatment for their sector under any emissions regulatory regime, and on using science to find solutions for the methane emissions their cows produce, rather than on denying the facts that accumulate daily about the global warming impacts that are already upon us.
But despite some strong contrarian views expressed by farmers at the meeting, Minister Smith held his ground, leaving no doubt that the farming sector would need to shoulder its share of the emissions reduction burden, but also making clear that the Government was not foolish enough to strangle NZ’s most dominant industry.
As most know, in NZ our methane-burping cows are the chief contributors to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 32% of all NZ emissions. Methane has a twenty times greater impact on the “greenhouse effect” than carbon dioxide. Transportation is the next largest sector in terms of emissions, at 20%. Followed by nitrous oxide from agriculture at 16%.
So, solving the problem of the burping cow is an extremely significant challenge to New Zealand.
Indeed, a challenge to the entire planet, since about 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are attributable to livestock, according to the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization. India has the worst cow problem, with 283 million cows (and 485 million livestock of all types … read more about India’s predicament here).
So important is the burping cow that one could make an argument that New Zealand, if it wishes to be recognised for global leadership on climate change, should spare no effort to become the nation that solves the methane problem. NZ should pour resources into a scientific quest to solve this problem — NZ’s scientific equivalent of putting the first man on the moon — as its main contribution to the cause.
What this small nation cannot do in quantity (representing only 0.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the first place), it could do in quality … in this case creating enormously valuable intellectual capital that it could offer to contribute free to the rest of the world.
That would be a bold undertaking. It would show New Zealand punching beyond its weight. It would contribute significantly to solving a global challenge. It would help protect the access of NZ’s agricultural sector to international markets, which will begin inevitably to penalise nations that do not pull their weight in the fight to curb global warming.
Minister Smith … turn up the heat on your new Centre for Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research! And while you’re at it, add “farming” soil carbon to your research priorities as well.