The government of New Zealand on Wednesday introduced an “aspirational” climate change bill that aims to make the country mostly carbon neutral by 2050.
The proposed measures include two different targets for biological methane and all other greenhouse gas emissions.
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Methane emissions stem mainly from ruminant cows and sheep, while carbon dioxide is generated by transport, industry and the generation of electricity.
Currently almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, with methane from livestock digestive systems producing about 35 percent, followed by nitrous oxide from nitrogen added to soils as fertiliser.
The proposed Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill sets a target for a 10-percent reduction in biological methane emissions by 2030 and aims for a provisional reduction ranging from 24 percent to 47 percent by 2050.
But the legislation only sets the targets, without explicitly outlining how the economy will become carbon neutral by 2050, sparking criticism from environmental campaigners who also say the bill does not go far enough because there are no penalties for noncompliance.
The legislation sets up an independent Climate Change Commission, which is charged with helping New Zealand reach the goal by setting five-yearly “emissions budgets”.
The measures, which represent a campaign promise from the liberal government that was elected 18 months ago, would need to be passed by a majority in the Parliament to come into effect. A final vote is expected later this year.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the proposed measures would help New Zealand contribute to a goal of limiting average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
“The government is today delivering landmark action on climate change – the biggest challenge facing the international community and New Zealand,” she said.
While the government described its legislation as “binding”, Greenpeace New Zealand said it did not include any way to enforce the targets, rendering it “toothless”.
“What we’ve got here is a reasonably ambitious piece of legislation that’s then had the teeth ripped out of it,” executive director Russel Norman said. “There’s bark, but there’s no bite.”
The agricultural sector is a key source of overseas revenue for New Zealand, which is home to just under five million people but more than 10 million cows and some 28 million sheep.
“Agriculture is incredibly important to New Zealand, but it also needs to be part of the solution,” Minister for Climate Change James Shaw said.
“That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane.”
But the Federated Farmers said even that target meant the government had “given up on pastoral farming”.
“Let’s be clear, the only way to achieve reductions of that level is to cut production – there are no magic technologies out there waiting for us to implement,” Vice President Andrew Hoggard said.
“At this point in time, we have no idea how to achieve reductions of this level, without culling significant stock numbers.”
The county’s sheep and beef industry expressed deep concerns about the proposed bill, saying the targets significantly exceed “both New Zealand and global scientific advice” and the government was asking more of agriculture than fossil fuel emitters elsewhere in the economy.
“Sheep and beef emissions have already reduced by 30 percent since 1990, helping meet New Zealand’s climate change challenge and we accept we still have work to do,” said Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Chairman and Southland sheep and beef farmer Andrew Morrison in a statement.
“It’s unreasonable to ask farmers to be cooling the climate, as the government’s proposed targets would do, without expecting the rest of the economy to also do the same,” he added.
New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector is the country’s largest manufacturing sector and is worth approximately 10.4 billion New Zealand dollars ($6.8bn).