Oram – the crucial methane decision

Rod Oram at Newsroom: The crucial but contentious methane decision

We’ll know by Christmas the salient features of the most important new legislative framework this country will adopt in generations, the Government promises.

Meanwhile, intense lobbying is underway to shape one of the most critical components of it which will significantly determine the legislation’s effectiveness.

The framework is the Zero Carbon Bill, which will set our long-term climate goals – the Government is likely to propose net zero emissions of human-induced greenhouse gases by 2050 – and the mechanisms to guide our policy, technical, economic, political and social responses to achieve that formidable challenge.

The crucial component is how to handle methane. Globally, the gas contributes 28 percent of human-induced climate warming. But it’s a far more intense issue for us.

When, how and by how much we reduce methane will have far ranging impacts on climate and the economy. Simplistically, if we make good decisions, we’ll meet our climate goals, and our agricultural scientists and farmers will contribute to the global challenge of making meat and dairy foods more climate compatible. If we do it badly, we’ll damage our climate and farming reputations, and thus our economy.

At the heart of the methane issue are some still evolving scientific answers to questions about methane’s warming potential and how countries should best handle its reduction.

The debate intensified here in June with the publication of a paper in Climate and Atmospheric Science, a new addition to Nature’s stable of science journals.

Two of the authors were Prof. David Frame, a climate scientist at Victoria University and director of its New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, and Adrian Macey, a retired diplomat who was NZ’s first Climate Change Ambassador 2006-10, then chair of the UN’s Kyoto climate protocol until 2011. His current roles include an adjunct professorship at the Institute.

Frame, Macey and their colleagues argued that the conventional way of measuring methane’s climate impact was flawed, and that they had devised a better way. Using this new metric, they argued that because methane was short-lived, so was its impact on climate change. Therefore if we stabilised our methane emissions at or slightly below current levels they would contribute no additional warming.

Thus, any policy pressure to reduce methane emissions more steeply should wait until there were proven, cost-effective technologies for farmers to do so. Delaying reductions would not change the methane’s climate impact.

This has encouraged some organisations in the primary sector to renew their calls for agriculture to be excluded from our over-arching climate framework to guide our transition to a low emissions economy, or at least to give agriculture an easy ride in it.

See previous post from Pastoral Farming Climate Research: The issues with methane emissions

Above all, the most important step the Government and all other parties must take is simple: define our 2050 climate target in the Bill and the mechanisms to drive it such as an independent Climate Change Commission.

Then leave the Commission to set five-year, sinking carbon budgets, which will adapt over time to the changing science, technology and economics driving emissions reductions; and to evaluate the success of successive governments’ policies in doing so.

Earlier columns from Oram were on:


Leave a comment


  1. Zedd

     /  29th October 2018

    Frankly, I think the focus does need to be on reducing CO2 emissions.. perhaps if folks, walked to the corner shop or took public transport more often.. it would be a good start; but alas the C-C deniers still seem to have very loud voices & the fossil fuel industry have deep pockets (political donations & research funding to ‘prove’ their point-of-view) 😦

  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  29th October 2018

    Many people do walk and use buses.

  3. PartisanZ

     /  29th October 2018

    Methane might be easier to tackle than CO2? Halve world Climate Change emissions and solve world hunger in one fell swoop … a matter of years, a decade or two at most …

  4. Gerrit

     /  30th October 2018

    Who will tell Ngai Tahu this is a bad idea?


    Will if Robert Guyton call around and tell them?
    Will the Greens be up in arms?
    Will protestors block access to the farm gate?


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