Too much hot air over cows and greenhouse gas

07 Jun, 2018 11:15 AM
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Australian agriculture created about 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016, of which around 50mt was methane emissions from livestock digestion.
We don’t actually need to give up eating meat or dairy to stabilise global temperatures.
Australian agriculture created about 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016, of which around 50mt was methane emissions from livestock digestion.

There’s no need for the moo-haha over livestock greenhouse emissions.

That’s according to a group of international scientists, who are arguing for a new approach to manage greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which is fast becoming one of the most controversial aspects of the sector’s contribution to climate change.

A new study argues that the predominantly methane emissions from agriculture last only a few years in the atmosphere and should be regulated by different policies than long-lived carbon dioxide pollution from other industries such as cars and power generation.

The study is a collaboration between researchers at Victoria University in Wellington, the Universities of Oxford and Reading in the UK and Norway’s Centre for International Climate Research.

“Current climate change policy suggests a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with emissions,” said Victoria University’s Professor Dave Frame.

“But there are two distinct types of emissions, and to properly address climate change and create fair and accurate climate change policy we must treat these two groups differently.”

Mr Frame said while current policies manage methane-emitting industries as though methane has a permanently worsening effect on the climate.

“This is not the case. Implementing a policy that better reflects the actual impact of different pollutants on global temperatures would give agriculture a fair and reasonable way to manage their emissions and reduce their impact on the environment,” he said.

Australian agriculture created about 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016, of which around 50mt was methane emissions from livestock digestion. That’s 10 per cent of Australia’s 530mt annual load of greenhouse gas emissions.

Oxford University’s Professor Myles Allen said we need climate change policies to put an end to carbon dioxide emissions.

“We don’t actually need to give up eating meat or dairy to stabilise global temperatures. We just need to stop increasing emissions from these sources.

“But we do need to give up dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate policies could be designed to reflect this.”

Livestock industries are addressing what has become a controversial issue. Meat and Livestock Australia has committed to be emissions-neutral by 2030 and has already curbed its emissions by 20pc since 2005.

“The red meat industry has already reduced its share of Australia’s total emissions from 20 per cent of Australia’s 600 million tonnes total emissions in 2005 to just 13pc in 2015,” said MLA managing director Richard Norton when announcing plans to remove the industry’s emissions footprint.

Oxford University's Dr Michelle Cain said carbon dioxide was a long-lived pollutant that built up and hung around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

“The carbon dioxide created by burning coal in the 18th century is still affecting the climate today,” Ms Cain said.

“Short-lived pollutants, like methane, disappear within a few years. Their effect on the climate is important, but very different from that of carbon dioxide, yet current policies treat them all as equivalent.”

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