Our MfE’s farm methane policy no longer aims to reduce future global temperatures. The new aim is to defend their own unreal scenarios, at any cost. That is classic greenwashing.
After 30 long years, the NZ Ministry for the Environment has stopped arguing that the science is on their side. They have had to accept that modern research has exploded their mantra that “agricultural methane causes 28 times as much warming as CO2”.
As I pointed out in “Mammoth Methane Mistake”, there is not the slightest ambiguity in the finding of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change –
“…expressing methane emissions as CO2 equivalent of 28, overstates the effect on global surface temperature by a factor of 3-4”.
Let us not forget that the IPCC works on a consensus basis. They cannot take a scientific position that has not been approved by every one of its 194 member countries. Representatives of every government in the world have signed off the AR6, thereby signing on to its dogmatic finding regarding the traditional metric for the global warming potential (GWP) of methane.
As Al Gore likes to say: the science is now settled.
But, as we’ve all long known, climate science is never the only consideration. In fact, it doesn’t appear to be a factor at all. The discipline that attracts the Ministry is political science.
It’s very inconvenient
In a briefing note to Minister James Shaw (obtained under the OIA) the Ministry makes four arguments for continuing to pretend that methane has a real GWP of 28. Note that none of these arguments have anything to do with science:
1. To the extent that we don’t blame methane, we would have to put greater blame on carbon dioxide. If it were agreed that agricultural CH4 causes only 10% of NZ-sourced warming then we must say that CO2 is now responsible for 80%.
2. The same problem occurs globally “Not reducing methane levels at the same rate as in the scenarios that limit warming to 1.5 and 2°C would mean global net CO2 emissions have to reduce even faster and reach net zero even faster than in those scenarios”.
It is not politically possible for the world to reduce CO2 any faster. So, if we drop deep cuts in methane from our models, it would immediately become obvious that the 1.5°C target is already out of reach.
3. We have already adopted a statutory split-gas target in New Zealand. That phase is over, so we don’t need metrics for methane any more.
4. “Other likeminded countries also agree on GWP100 and there is no appetite to reopen the discussion”. If we insist, there could be reputational risk.
Just let that sink in.
The Ministry no longer believes that deep cuts in methane will actually change future global temperatures very much at all – in the real world. That whole theory has been blown out of the water..
BUT the Ministry needs those highly-inflated methane figures in order to make their modelled scenarios work. If the methane science is wrong, then all their CO2 models and targets and budgets and net-zero calculations are all going to be wrong as well.
If the hard yards previously allocated to farm methane are now re-allocated to carbon budgets for motorists and businesses, that is not going to be politically popular.
What to do? It is now evident that the global bureaucrats have hit upon a common strategy. It amounts to this –
We could all agree to shut our eyes tight and put our fingers in our ears … and then we can hang on to our important scenarios, at least in the short term. It could be years before people find out the truth.
So this is a conspiracy theory. Well… not just a theory actually, but a true conspiracy. A cover-up. An unprincipled deception. A giant lie.
The Ministry are claiming to produce positive future environmental impacts which will never exist in reality. That is the very definition of greenwashing.
Before COP26 in Glasgow, Minister Shaw reported to HWEN that he would check the extent of “international reputational damage” that was being generated by the split-gas approach adopted in our Zero Carbon Act of 2020. He noted that EU campaigners took every opportunity to harp on about New Zealand farmers ‘getting a free ride'.
The Minister has since reported back that he is very worried about the reputational risk of correcting our methane metrics to conform with IPCC science. No surprise.
So, we could earn a bad reputation for telling the truth …. or for upholding climate science? No. Shaw is talking about fact-free spin that we are trying to cheat. He is concerned that propagandists will tell lies about us and they might be believed.
Methinks Minister Shaw protests too much. He knows that farm methane is such a trivial portion of the EU’s warming potential that they could slash it 75% without destroying their modelled scenarios.
The Ministry is right that e-calibrating climate models will be troublesome. Casting even more doubt on the feasibility of the 1.5°C target may dampen enthusiasm. The credibility of the modellers will take a hit. Giving a political win to the hated farm sector will upset Greenpeace and most other environmental campaigners.
However, they seem to forget that their whole reason for existing is to promote and execute policies that are genuinely expected to reduce the threat of future global warming. New Zealand taxpayers invest billions of scarce dollars in policies that are meant to work.
Our most distinguished climate diplomat, Adrian Macey, writing jointly with our top climate scientist, David Frame, put it clearly:
“It is hard to understand why there is reluctance here to listen to sound science which enables accurate measurement of emissions, especially when the less accurate alternative severely penalises the New Zealand economy.
I would have thought the duty of both politicians and government officials would be to obtain the best and fairest deal for the country and its wealth-producing farming sector; not to buy in to ill-informed pressure from local and international lobby groups.”
A Ministry that greenwashes its publications and gaslights the voting public is unconscionable. It deserves to have no future at all.
Barry Brill OBE JP LL.M(Hons) M.ComLaw is a former MP and Minister of Energy, Petrocorp director, and chair of the Gas Council, Power NZ, ESANZ, and EMCO. He is presently the Chairman of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.