Separating cars from cows in climate policy

Long-lived atmospheric pollutants that build up over centuries, like CO2, should be treated differently from short-lived pollutants which disappear within a few years, like methane, an international team of researchers is arguing.

The collaboration involved Victoria University of Wellington researchers.

The Government should pay heed to the team’s recommendation before further regulating New Zealand’s biggest industries in the agricultural sector.

Current policies tend to treat all pollutants as equivalent, the researchers say. But methane should be treated differently and a separate climate change policy is needed to regulate methane emissions.

Scimex reports a press statement from Victoria University of Wellington HERE.

A new collaboration between researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, the Universities of Oxford and Reading in the United Kingdom and the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway shows a better way to think about how methane might fit into carbon budgets, the statement says.

“Current climate change policy suggests a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with emissions,” says Professor Dave Frame, head of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute.

“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.”

The two types of emissions that contribute to climate change can be divided into ‘long-lived’ and ‘short-lived’ pollutants.

“Long-lived pollutants, like carbon dioxide, persist in the atmosphere, building up over centuries,” says Dr Michelle Cain, from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford.

“The carbon dioxide created by burning coal in the 18th century is still affecting the climate today.

“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.”

The research collaboration proposes a new approach to climate change policy that would address the effects of these different emissions.

This would be particularly relevant to New Zealand agriculture.

“We don’t actually need to give up eating meat or dairy to stabilise global temperatures,” says Professor Myles Allen from the University of Oxford, who led the study.

“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.”

Under current policies, industries that produce methane are managed as though that methane has a permanently worsening effect on the climate, says Professor Frame.

“But 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.

“Implementing a policy like this would show New Zealand to be leaders and innovators in climate change policy. It would also help New Zealand efficiently manage their emissions, and could even get us to the point where we manage them so well we stop contributing to global climate change at all.”

The research can be seen in npj/Climate and Atmospheric Science HERE.

Source: Scimex