By Pattrick Smellie
New Zealand is leveraging its understanding of methane emissions from farm animals to lead global research on reducing the powerful, but short-lived gas's production.
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser says the project is a workstream in a project being taken on by the newly formed Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which New Zealand is joining.
Some 34 percent of total GHG emissions in New Zealand are from methane, a shorter-lived but far more powerful gas than what Groser called "the real climate change problem", carbon dioxide.
As a result of this unusually methane-rich emissions profile, scientific effort has concentrated on the area and was a key reason for New Zealand being a prime mover in establishing the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural GHG's, at the otherwise failed global talks in Copenhagen, in 2009.
Groser has returned from the global climate change talks, held this year in Doha, Qatar, where nations representing around 85 percent of global emissions, including New Zealand's tiny contribution, made sluggish progress on a post-Kyoto climate treaty to take effect in 2020 and be negotiated by 2015.
He has taken political flak from environmental advocates over the government's decision to take New Zealand drop out of the Kyoto Protocol just before the Doha talks began.
The Doha meeting did agree to two streams of work - one focusing on the 2020 agreement and beyond, and a second on "raising ambitions" for emissions reductions before 2020.
Groser said the new clean air coalition, which is a US initiative, "is focussed on reducing methane emissions from industry which complements work that New Zealand is leading in reducing methane emissions from agriculture."
New Zealand's methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture make up 48 percent of the country's total GHG emissions, making it unusual for a developed country.
Despite farmer opposition, agriculture was to have been included in the emissions trading scheme from 2015. The country's odd emissions profile has also driven research into reducing methane emissions from cows and sheep.
Before Doha, and with collapsing carbon prices globally, the government stripped all target dates for the ETS indefinitely, while the world sorts out a climate agreement to replace Kyoto, whose First Commitment Period ends in 18 days, on Dec. 31.
Only European countries and Australia, representing about 15 percent of global emissions, have taken up a so-called Second Commitment, which will extend through to 2020.
“This new group is not a substitute for action on the real climate change problem, carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for around a hundred years,” said Groser in a statement. “But moving quickly to reduce emissions from short lived climate pollutants is part of a coherent strategy to tackle the challenge of climate change.
CCAC will focus on emissions mitigation research on a range of "potent but short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, and greenhouse gases including HFCs and methane".
The CCAC will meet next in March 2013.