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NZ agriculture has already reached “net zero”: leading climate scientist contends in climate bombshell

In brief

  • Newsroom suggests a political agenda in methane emission targets undermines New Zealand’s Net Zero goals.
  • Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth challenges the methane emissions narrative, arguing that New Zealand’s stable livestock numbers since 2010 have effectively achieved net-zero.
  • Climate researcher David Frame suggests that drastic reductions in meat and dairy consumption would have a negligible effect on global warming.

Is Newsroom’s reaction over methane emission targets warranted?

The Newsroom website has unintentionally blown a massive hole in the credibility of efforts to blame farmers for NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions, with one of the world’s top climate scientists rebuking a Newsroom methane story as “hokey”.

According to Marc Daalder of Newsroom, the government’s decision to conduct an independent review of methane emission targets from agriculture, apart from the Climate Change Commission’s recommendations, suggests a political manoeuvre to undermine NZ’s Net Zero goals. 

Daalder argues that the government’s approach risks prioritising short-term political goals over long-term climate action. By potentially watering down methane targets without substantial new scientific evidence, Daalder is concerned that New Zealand’s commitments to combating climate change may be compromised.

Enter Kevin Trenberth

However, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth questions the scientific basis for stringent methane reduction goals and has challenged the widely held belief that these emissions significantly contribute to global warming. He says, in a comment posted to the Newsroom story, that the moral panic surrounding New Zealand’s emissions, particularly related to methane, is scientifically unfounded.

NZ agriculture has already reached “net zero”: leading climate scientist contends in climate bombshell - Centrist
No. These fellas aren’t destroying the Earth.

In Trenberth’s response to Daalder’s analysis, he contends that New Zealand’s agricultural methane emissions have already reached a state of net-zero impact on climate change.

Trenberth’s argument centres on the notion that methane emissions from livestock are part of a natural cycle. He explains that the methane emitted by cattle and land use basically represents a re-release of carbon dioxide that was temporarily stored in short-term grasses. 

This cyclical process, according to Trenberth, does not result in a net harm to New Zealand’s carbon dioxide targets.

“The issue is that methane is so short lived that, in fact, NZ is already at “net zero” (with regards to) methane. The numbers of livestock have been stable enough since 2010 so the amounts emitted are completely compensated by the amounts oxidised to carbon dioxide. 

“Since the methane started out as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before being taken up in grass, and then eaten by livestock, the process is circular. The main issues with methane are fossil methane from mining operations,” he says. 

Trenberth describes the Newsroom analysis as “hokey” and that New Zealand’s stable livestock numbers since 2010 have led to a balance where the methane emitted is offset by the amount oxidised to carbon dioxide.  Trenberth correctly points out that there are  fewer livestock today than there was back then, further strengthening the argument that New Zealand methane emissions are already at net zero. 

Will a drastic reduction in meat and dairy consumption have an effect on global warming? 

Trenberth is not alone in thinking that methane’s effects have been overstated. According to climate researcher David Frame, the effect would be negligible if there was a drastic reduction in meat and dairy consumption of the sort envisioned by the government’s net zero policies.

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