The climate crisis is like a global rugby game in which all the players (emitters) must contribute. The critical role of Government in this existential zero-carbon game is not as players (they are not carbon emitters) but as coaches and officials, providing leadership, legislation, regulation, funding and monitoring. The actual players (emitters) are the companies, the communities and especially the consumers – in other words, all of us! Like rugby, climate remediation is a team game in which every player must show creativity and leadership. There is no reserve bench for those sector-players that are uncomfortable with change and that hope the crisis will simply pass by.
A large number of corporations are now pursuing zero-carbon strategies, presumably because of intense consumer pressure. This demonstrates that consumers can leverage their considerable power of choice to influence the future climate policies of companies. Future generations of consumers in New Zealand and overseas are likely to avoid agricultural or other products that are perceived as being damaging to the global climate.
Agricultural methane reduction is an important commercial opportunity for New Zealand. Federated Farmers have indicated their general support for the Government’s climate policies but with one exception: the agricultural methane reduction target. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It persists in the atmosphere for 12 years before degrading into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The challenge is that ruminant animals are responsible for 71 per cent of New Zealand’s total agricultural emissions and reducing methane is therefore essential if New Zealand is to meet its national and international targets. The company CH4 Global is farming methane-busting seaweed in New Zealand and has recently attracted $20 million in investor funding to reduce methane from cows by 90 per cent.
This agri-methane problem is not ours alone – it is shared with all the larger dairy producing countries. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting the reduction of enteric methane to improve food security and livelihoods in South America, Asia and Africa. Meanwhile, Australia, Canada and many other developed countries have new research institutes which are seeking to reduce agri-methane. The good news is that New Zealand researchers are also involved is seeking innovative solutions. The NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Program builds on nearly a decade of jointly funded work aimed at reducing enteric methane and methane produced by manure management. Furthermore, AgResearch has successfully developed low-methane emitting sheep, a discovery that won the Supreme Award at the 2021 NZ Science Awards. If New Zealand develops new methane reduction technologies, which can be commercialised and exported to dairy-producing countries around the world, then we can create a new economic growth sector in methane reduction.
In the great climate rugby game, it is time for all of New Zealand’s players to show our natural innovation and make an impact for the national good.