Mackenzie - Importance of methane needs to be renegotiated in zero carbon campaign

Former Federated Farmers Arable Sector Chairman, Ian Mackenzie, says bureaucratic inaccuracies cloud the current emissions issue.

In reference to the term ‘zero-carbon’, Mackenzie says it holds little meaning, and doesn’t hold up when scientific fact is applied:

“The issue with this whole carbon debate is that you’ve got the actualities of science and nature, then you’ve got bureaucratic interpretations of nature, which set the rules of what they think we can accept is happening. Carbon zero is simply a bureaucratic term, really, it doesn’t hold up in nature.”

The government has several strategies to help the country work towards their low emissions goal over the next 30 years, one of which is the planting of billions of trees. Agriview spoke with John Loughlin earlier this week, who felt it was important they planted the right trees on the right land, a view shared by Mackenzie:

“After that flooding in Wanganui last year, there were aerial photographs which showed the pine plantations land was badly eroded, so I’m not sure pine plantations are actually that good at stabilising slopes.

"Where you see vast forestry plantations overseas, especially in the northern hemisphere, it’s usually in parts of the country that aren’t great for grazing because the winters are so cold, and the contour is nowhere near as challenging as we have in NZ. 

"What I’m saying is: I’m not so convinced that pines are actually that good for our environment. The science actually says that when you compare it to other plants and tree types, it isn’t even particularly good for Carbon Dioxide. However, it’s acceptable to foreign bureaucrats who set the rules for carbon-zero.

"I think Manuka would be a lot better in a lot of that steep North Island hill country. You also have the advantage of being able to harvest honey off it, and it’s a permanent crop (well it’s not a permanent crop, it goes through a rotation, but it dies back, you burn it, and then it grows back) – you don’t actually plant it, it grows naturally.”

Mackenzie identifies this as one of several bureaucratically-influenced issues with the current approach to emissions reduction, another being the failure to properly distinguish between long and short-term gases:

“The real issues with climate change, with the accelerated warming of the planet, is the burning of long-term, locked up carbon deposits stored in oil, coal, gas, the stuff that wouldn’t normally be used in the natural system. Things like algae have created these carbon deposits over hundreds of millions of years, and we are now burning them all up in about 100 years. Those are the gases that you should really be worried about if you are serious about climate change.

“The second order are the natural gases such, as methane, which are all part of the carbon cycle. So, for instance, animals produce methane which is broken down into C02. It goes through plants, plants are using it to feed the animals, and it’s a cyclical process. Methane has almost no long-term effect on climate change. Again, however, the bureaucrats have decided that it does.  If you’re serious about climate change though, you focus on the long-term stuff - the coals and oils and gases.”

Mackenzie says a tax on animal emissions defies logic and is based on flawed thinking:

“Firstly, there is no credit for carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by the pastures on which those animals are fed, and second, there is no incentive for farmers to look for ways of mitigating their gas emissions because they’ll be taxed at point of sale – so they’ll be taxed on milk or taxed on meat – and there’ll be no differentiation between a farmer who has C02 efficient sheep or a farmer who has C02 inefficient sheep, so there’s no individual incentive for farmers to plant pine trees to improve their carbon emission profile.”

Climate change spokesman at Federated Farmers, Andrew Hoggard, has estimated the cost of being included in the ETS to total around 830 million dollars per year for agriculture. Like Mackenzie, Hoggard feels the move would be illogical and unnecessary, putting the sector at a competitive disadvantage against export competitors.

Looking to the future, Mackenzie says it is vital we re-negotiate the importance of methane in order to begin working in the right direction:

“A cow emits 11 kilos of methane, but it eats a huge amount of grass, which is taking a huge amount of C02 out of the atmosphere. The net result of that whole process is that only a small proportion of C02 (from what is taken out) is put back into the atmosphere. The issue, however, is that they have deemed methane to have a greater effect than carbon dioxide because methane has a greater greenhouse gas effect in the short run.”

He hopes Labour will eventually see sense on the issue and says if we continue to advance in our use of renewable energy and make intelligent, long-term decisions about land use change, we can drastically reduce emissions without having to impact the economic efficiency of our primary industries.