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.

Tom Belford

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  1. I am curious to understand how it is PC to grow agricultural crops to make ethanol via an artificial process and that the emissions are then considered green yet when the same crops are processed through an animal then the methane has to be taxed. There seems to be a disconnect in logic here.

  2. Why would NZ want to lead the world in greenhouse emission reduction? China, India & USA are not reducing theirs. a reduction of 2/5 of 5/8 of 0.2% is really going to have an effect worldwide, yeah right.

    How many hectares of forestry has been converted to pasture in the last 10 years? and by whom? Landcorp to name just one.

    So is the answer halve the stock numbers, trucks, cars? don't think so. Get the big players to do their bit then maybe NZ can try and lead the world.


  3. The Burping cow problem,

    Great going Tom, getting the postive information from the meeting, "the morning after"

    I was impressed with the enthusiams of Alan Dick in the chair, to share the conservation work of the HBRC.

    Was there an apology from the Napier City Council,Were the NCC aware of the meeting.?

    HDC Lawrence Yules positive contribution to the meeting;made me again a bit envious of the HDC,(however i will not leave Westshore as need to get any eye on the Ahururi Estuary.) A few boaties would still love to lift the bridge.regardless of our Estuary as a flounder nursery and bird sanctuary of international status,.

  4. Of course this issue is going to be controversial when these terms are used interchangeably and loosely;

    Greenhouse gas – viz. water vapour plus all other involved gases

    Greenhouse gas emissions – viz. volcanoes, decaying vegetation and animal methane and the ocean sink

    Man made Greenhouse gas – viz. by-product of burning fuels etc

    Of course the above is exacerbated by removing the green forest canopy.

    There is little dispute that there had been a warming of 0.7℃ in the last few years, just as there was a cooling in the 1960s – 1970s.

    Where the argument gets murky is that there is no demonstrably proven mechanism that shows that Man Made Emissions are the root cause of that change.

    If the ocean is the largest store of CO2 and warming the oceans means more CO2 is released to the atmosphere – we have had a temp increase of 0.7℃ so more atmospheric CO2 – Hello!!

    Water vapour makes up 95% of greenhouse gasses – should we in NZ, the 4 million of the 6670 million world population be farting around with the made man or cow made, part of the issue, that minute part of the 5%, when we have no idea of the result if we do manage to reduce those emissions by half, if in fact it is possible.

    Yes it will probably be good for the planet, based on our limited understanding.

    So put another way NZ is a 0.0006 part of less than 5% of the shaky linkage between Man made CO2 and the Temp increase. But don't worry the Government can fix it.

  5. And if u don't want to wade thru all that, here is a summation from the end of that site that seems to cover all bases – Quote;

    Now, as we begin the 21st century the terminology is morphing toward"climate change," whereby no matter the direction of temperature trends– up or down– the headlines can universally blame humans while avoiding the necessity of switching buzz-words with the periodicity of solar cycles. Such tactics may, however, backfire as peoples' common sensibilities are at last pushed over the brink.

  6. The simple answer to why we should take action, other than to help reduce the impacts of climate change, is that people will stop buying NZ products and services if we don't take action. It's no good trying to subsidise New Zealand agricultural production by exempting it from emissions pricing if no-one will buy the stuff we produce.

  7. Tom, you are on the right track in encouraging the Minister to look at pastoral carbon farming. In Australia, carbon farmers have increased soil carbon by around 0.2% per year over 10 years. That may not sound like much, but if all NZ's pastures were managed according to the principles of carbon farming – and it isn't hard – and they sequestered 0.2% per year then that would offset the emissions of all the other sectors in NZ. Amongst other things, carbon farming involves avoiding the use of soluble phosphate and urea. Putting urea on pasture results in high nitrogen grass that the rumen can't cope with other than by producing more methane. Avoiding urea reduces methane production and also the emission of N gases from soil. Farming need not be the problem that some people make it out to be. In fact, the right management of pastures could just save our bacon.

  8. Tom,

    I do not understand your argument that New Zealand should "create enormously valuable intellectual capital that it could offer to contribute free to the rest of the world." Are you intent on reducing NZ to an impoverished society while global business profits from our intellectual capital? Please explain your reasoning, I am truly puzzled.

    Ian McIntosh

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