Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sheep guts

Exciting new developments over in the Ag Sciences area: new compounds to cut livestock methane emissions.
This week researchers at the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference announced that they had identified several promising compounds which could cut livestock emissions. The compounds inhibit the activity of methane-producing bacteria that live in the gut of sheep and cows.
Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Agresearch Principal Scientist Dr Peter Janssen said the results so far show impressive reductions in two-day trials in sheep.
“These initial steps are relatively short-term trials in sheep and they show that you get a reduction of methane between 30 to 90 per cent,” he said. “It’s a very exciting result but there’s still a lot of checking to be done before you actually get something that a farmer can use safely.”
Now if this pans out, the New Zealand government should consider releasing the technology for everybody in the world to use, as New Zealand's substantive contribution to the fight against greenhouse gasses.

If high-end methane reductions maintain, New Zealand on net very likely will have done far more good in reducing agricultural methane than it could have done with a $30/tonne carbon charge.

I'd written:
If everyone in the world were doing carbon trading or carbon taxes, we'd want to as well. But, realistically, if New Zealand were to disappear into outer space tomorrow, it's pretty unclear that the entire abolition of New Zealand's net greenhouse gas emissions would do much on aggregate warming outcomes. Maybe we'd delay the onset of any particular level of GHG accumulation by a half day over a century. In that case, New Zealand could perhaps do better by picking high variance plays despite their lower expected mean. Pour money into biotech research for low GHG pastoral systems and give the resulting technology away to anybody who wants to use it. Lower expected returns, but if it pans out, it could reduce GHG emissions by a heck of a lot more than NZ could achieve on its own via domestic incremental reductions in carbon or methane emissions.
Some lotto investments are worthwhile.


  1. This was always my argument (and likewise the first and last chapter of Superfreakonomics): it won't be the steady price induced decline of carbon intensive industries over two generations which may prevent global warming, it's the development of carbon neutral or negative technologies which continue to permit economic growth. Just like it was the invention of the motor car which freed our cities from mountains of horse manure.

    Richard Branson actually ran a prize for carbon negative technologies a few years ago. I believe it didn't really go anywhere useful. But, as a concept, still very much worthwhile. One could imagine a standing prize for cost effective carbon negative technologies, just like the Ansari X price for repeated space flight a few years ago.

  2. What (apart from carbon pricing) would motivate anyone to increase their costs of production by purchasing the treatment?

  3. I'd thought that the delayed accession of agriculture into the ETS was to give time for this kind of tech development.

  4. That was one reason, but not the main reason (at least in Australia's now defunct CPRS, with which I am familiar). The main reason was that agricultural emissions are so diffuse and hard to measure that the measurement and compliance costs would have swamped any benefits generated from including them.

    The CPRS had a proposed 25 kilotonne per year minimum limit for inclusion in the scheme, and the best guess from ABARE at the time was that there might be 50 farms in the whole country that hit that threshold.