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Owen Jennings

Creating Public Policy on an Absence of Facts

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Political parties that build policy on uncertain facts or on an absence of facts seem to get into trouble.  They get hounded unmercifully.  Except, that doesn’t apply, apparently, to policies on ruminant gas emissions.  And there is no sign of the hounding. Just silence.

Right now, the Government, National and most of the larger parties state that New Zealand agriculture is responsible for “nearly half of all our greenhouse gas emissions”.  The Green party would want us to think its somehow even worse than that. These parties have created their emissions’ policies on this basis. 

All of them are wrong.  Badly wrong.  So dangerously wrong that they are willing to sacrifice some 25% of our sheep and beef sector and 5% of our dairy industry.  That’s Government modelling numbers.  They are willing to close their eyes to the purchase of more and more good farmland for subsidised pine trees planted by offshore investors.  Some 200,000 hectares have gone just lately and more following.  More rural communities devastated.  Lower export receipts. Everyone suffers.

Dangerously wrong on other counts. Methane’s warming ability is heavily overstated. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest AR6 report that the way we measure methane emissions in New Zealand overstates their warming ability by a massive 300% to 400%.  Secondly, New Zealand’s ruminant methane emissions are falling. New Zealand Statistics say ruminant emissions are down 6.5% since 2005. That is an important achievement when all our other emissions are rising. The “nearly 50%” is just not factual.

Any methane contribution made by our sheep and cattle continues to diminish.  It means that, if your position is that methane can warm the atmosphere, then our farmers are helping to cool it. It angers them that their contribution is maligned, and they continue to be demonised.  This ignorance of their true situation is leading to unjust and unnecessary severe, damaging party policies.  

It is also dangerously wrong because New Zealand farmers feed 40 million people and the IPCC was crystal clear in the Paris Agreement – do not take any climate mitigation action that “threatens food production”. A case of cherry-picking IPCC policy.

Dangerously wrong, too, because every container of our farm produce we take an axe to will be supplanted by another country, heavily subsidised and with a ‘carbon footprint’ miles in excess of ours.  Our methane reduction becomes someone else’s excessive increase.  That is because New Zealand farmers produce food more efficiently, both environmentally and economically than any other country.  It is hypocritical, unjust and makes a mockery of penalising our farmers.

Like all science, the research on methane has evolved.  In the early days of the IPCC methane was declared “potent” and needing urgent attention.  Oxford University scientists then found that when methane levels are stable or falling their warming ability is affected by the methane’s short life span and had been seriously overstated.  The Government, its departments and agencies ignored these findings despite the logic.  Now there is even more recent science that investigated methane’s warming ability in real air, not dry air in a laboratory.  This research showed conclusively that methane is dominated by water vapour and can only absorb heat in two small, weak areas on the electromagnetic spectrum.  Their findings closely match actual data from satellites lending credibility to their work.  They stated all methane’s warming is 0.001⁰C per year, insignificant and not capable of being measured for taxing purposes. Ruminant methane is just 14% of all methane emissions making its contribution to warming utterly miniscule.

The Co-Chairperson of the Methane Science Accord, Helen Mandeno, a South Waikato farmer and holder of a science degree is asking why the most recent science is so obviously ignored.  “We need our political parties to focus on up-to-date science findings and scientific facts for creating their policies or rural New Zealand is going to suffer massive, but unnecessary disruption”.

“This is why we formed the Methane Science Accord – to show the public and particularly aspiring politicians that their current policies are seriously wrong because they are basing them on out-dated and misleading science.

“New Zealand is in a unique position being the only country in the world heavily reliant on grass-fed ruminants as the mainstay of its economy.   We need a government that stands up for us, for truth and scientific reality and does not buckle to political shenanigans fostered by misguided green groups.”

“Farmers are confused, hurt and deeply resentful of the attitude of the present Government over the callous manner they have forced regulatory change.   The time burden and particularly the stress burden of compliance is just too much.  But now they find the major political parties have not dug out the truth on methane science.”

“Now our industry levy groups, Beef and Lamb, DairyNZ, and Federated Farmers are walking back everything they have been saying through HWEN and have had some strange ‘born again’ enlightenment wanting us to focus on the science.   The problem is they do not want to focus on the only science that counts – the most current, unrefuted science.  When they do, they will find just like the Methane Science Accord team – our ruminant methane emissions are too trivial, too weak to measure and tax.”

“Internationally recognised expert on water vapour and greenhouse gases, New Zealand’s Professor Geoff Duffy DEng, PhD, BSc, ASTC Dip., FRSNZ, FIChemE, said recently that our ruminant methane emissions would contribute approximately 0.0004⁰C per 100 years.  We are not climate deniers – we understand methane can cause warming, but we just want commonsense to rule that minute and insignificant levels of warming are of no concern and that scientific facts and truth ought to be the basis of public policy in the next government.”