Use new native forests to offset dairy emissions: Environment Commissioner

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright

Allowing marginal hill country to revert to permanent native bush and the fast-tracked development of a vaccine to massively reduce methane emissions created by the digestive systems of cows and sheep emerge as two key recommendations from a new report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

"The biological emissions of 100 sheep could be offset indefinitely by about 6ha of marginal land left to regenerate into native forest," said the commissioner, Jan Wright, whose 100-page report concludes that impact of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from farm animals on climate change needs to be dealt with, even though agricultural emissions are excluded from the emissions trading scheme.

"For 100 beef cattle, about 28 hectares would be required and for 100 dairy cows, about 42ha," her report concludes, in addition to greater use of standing pads to collect cows' urine, especially during the wettest times of the year, to prevent nitrous oxide gas emissions and nitrate leaching into fresh water bodies.

"Allowing a million hectares of marginal hill country to revert to scrub could capture the equivalent of about 17% of all the biological methane and nitrous oxide currently emitted each year for 50 years," the report says. "This carbon store would continue to grow for hundreds of years."

About 1.6 million hectares of New Zealand is covered in plantation forestry, mainly pine, and "a further million hectares in pines could capture the equivalent of about 81% of all the biological methane and nitrous oxide currently emitted each year." Pine plantations would capture much more carbon because pine grows far faster than native forests.

Dr Wright also recommends that investment in scientific efforts to find a methane vaccine "would be so valuable that the research aimed at developing it should be ramped up as much as possible," even though she gives no timeframe within which such a discovery might be available.

A faster potential fix, albeit with less potential impact, would be to develop 'bolus' pills to be fed to cows and sheep that would inhibit their production of methane.

Their effectiveness would depend greatly on how often they had to be administered and whether animals' guts would become resistant to the compounds reducing methane production.

While a vaccine capable of reducing methane emissions by 25% of more would be a highly effective method of reducing methane emissions, "there are no successful trials of a methane vaccine as yet.

"Even a very optimistic scenario would not see inhibitors tailored for New Zealand becoming available before the 2020s. The development of a vaccine would take longer, if it can be done at all."

The report reveals that the Ministry of Primary Industries has, however, made "some progress" in pursuing a fast-tracked authorisation of DCD, the nitrogen inhibitor that was found in samples of Fonterra's milk powder in 2012, sparking a food safety scare despite its absence of impact on human health. DCD and melamine – a compound added illegally to milk by Chinese milk producers in 2008 leading to kidney damage in thousands of babies – share a basic chemical building block, meaning DCD was effectively lost to the New Zealand dairy industry as a nitrogen-inhibiting technology because there were no global standards for its presence in food.

Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have been left out of the ETS partly because technologies to reduce emissions are too scarce and New Zealand is unusual among developed countries for having around half its emissions come from animals rather than carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

However, both methane and nitrous oxide remained damaging greenhouse gases, despite methane's short life compared to CO2.

"The ETS is not the only mechanism that can be used" to control them, Wright said.


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Yet another proposed taxpayers' moneywasting scheme predicated on the catastrophic man-made global warming/climate change scam.

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Even accepting the argument (which is an arguable one) that animal emissions add a net gain to atmospheric carbon over time, the program being advocated by the Commissioner was given a massive head start by Roger Douglas when he pulled cost subsidies and price supports out of our agricultural production.

This single handedly led to massive reversion of marginal lands to native forest regeneration now that farmers had to respond to market signals for their production choices rather than farming to the price and cost supports regularly indulged in by past National and Labour governments because gubmint support was seen as 'essential'

There has hardly been a more graphic and inarguable case for letting markets and rational economic decision making prevail and leading to better environmental outcomes.

Along with some nice serendipity - a farmer I know allowed very large blocks of manuka to regenerate as it was marginally economic in a subsidy free industry - and he is now in the manuka honey industry as a producer and investor

I'm glad the Commissioner recognized the role of technology to mitigate emissions - although water quality issues posed by increased dairy farming need to be kept in perspective, there is much upside to science based technology innovations to reduce impacts

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Jan Wright should be put in charge of Landcorp if she knows how to farmer and wants to play with taxpayer money to indulge her follies. Or she should just butt out of tampering with other people's livelihoods.

Also I've yet to see one scientist explain why carbon sequestration into the soil by pastoral farm animals, in form of dung adding carbon back to the soil isn't used in a whole cycle accounting? It seems like they just want to clip the ticket whichever way they can from primary producers in a typically parasitic, centralised alt-taxation model of the worst economies.

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The big problem – which the Commissioner obviously does not see – is that reducing in-house gases has become an end in itself.

The real objective is to reduce the rate of rise of world temperatures due, it is claimed, to man-made greenhouse gases. (And why cows come into the sphere of "man-made" is an interesting question. Why didn't the huge herds of bison and other animals that have existed for millions of years cause dangerous global warming?)

But when you get back to reality and look at the actual data, it becomes obvious that – as the IPCC now accepts – the world has not warmed as predicted for the last 18 years. The IPCC admits it doesn't know why.

The reason is, of course, quite obvious. The climate changes naturally and the computer programs used to predict future temperatures are worthless. If they were any good, they would have predicted the pause in temperatures and they would also predict El Niño events. They fail on both counts and nobody should put any credibility on them.

What is desperately needed is an objective look at what was predicted and what has happened and research to find out exactly why the predictions are so far off the mark. These flawed predictions have cost the world trillions of dollars, further impoverished the poor and increased costs for everyone.

For instance, in many Western countries electricity is much more expensive than it needs to be because of the huge subsidies poured into wind and solar power. Food prices have gone up because land that should be devoted to food production is being used to produce biofuels from maize, palm oil and other agricultural products instead of being used for food. How many people have starved to death as a result?

When will we see a return to reason?

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