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Livestock methane emissions easy target for governments; should not be compared with emissions from coal-fired power stations

Posted by gmarkets on 11 October, 2007

Mick Keogh of the Australian Farm Institute said while many media stories automatically align methane emissions from livestock with methane emissions from coal-fired power stations, in reality the two were very different, wrote James Nason in Queensland Country Life (4/10/2007, p. 7).

Livestock emissions from recycled carbon: Comparisons were unfair because emissions from farmed livestock involved recycled carbon. “A tonne of methane liberated from a 10-million-year-old-coal seam is counted exactly the same as methane produced by cattle, which was in fact carbon dioxide fixed from the atmosphere less than 12 months previously,” Keogh said.

Agriculture unfairly treated: Aberrations in the way methane emissions were measured also meant agriculture was being unfairly treated in the public domain. In assessing livestock activities, the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) counted methane emissions from livestock, but did not take into account the large volumes of carbon and nitrogen that livestock operations also captured in pasture and soil.

Outdated model: When the AGO developed its system of assessing methane emissions from livestock, the only model available was based on research carried out in Europe in the 1960s and 70s – data that were outdated and based on dramatically different production systems from those used in Australia. The danger was that if agriculture did not do something, it faced a very real risk of being regulated or taxed by governments desperate to appease public pressure to meet reduced-emission targets.

Governments need coal to generate revenue: Compared to the coal industry, agriculture represented a soft target for governments. The biggest owners of coal-fired power stations in Australia were the Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australian Governments. Their coal plants supplied most of their electricity and generated significant revenue for their State treasuries. Given their reliance on coal, governments were more likely to view agriculture, particularly with its comparatively small population and lack of voting clout, as an obvious target in their bid to get Australian emissions down. “We have already seen that in the land clearing debate, which reduced Australian emissions by about 80 million tonnes per year, and we will see increasing pressure on things like livestock emissions and nitrogen fertilisers and those sorts of things,” Keogh said.

Queensland Country Life, 4/10/2007, p. 7

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