Climate change

What does the sheep and beef sector's greenhouse gas emissions profile look like? How are we tracking on reducing emissions? Keep reading to find out.

What does the Sheep and Beef sector’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions profile look like?

The sheep and beef sector has a very unusual GHG emissions profile. Its GHG emissions have been reducing each year so that by 2015 its GHG emissions were 19% below the 1990 baseline used internationally.

This has been achieved through a combination of decreasing sheep numbers, from a high of 70 million in the 1980s to around 29 million in 2015, and steady improvements in productivity and performance that resulted in almost the same amount of sheep meat being produced.

Productivity improvements include higher lambing percentages, faster finishing, and higher carcase weights because of improved genetics, better forage species and feed management.

Not only have total emissions reduced but the amount of GHG produced per kilogram of meat has continued to reduce at the rate of about 1% per year.

Beef cattle have had a similar reduction in GHGs produced per kilogram of meat, around 1%, but total emissions have reduced by less as animal numbers have reduced only a small amount compared to 1990 and fluctuate according to market demand. Cattle performance has also benefited from better genetics, improved forage species and better pasture management.

How does the sheep and beef sector compare with New Zealand’s emissions reduction goal?

New Zealand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the Paris Climate Change conference in 2015 is a 30% reduction from 2005 emissions by 2030. This equates to a reduction of 11% from 1990 levels.

While the sheep and beef sector has already exceeded the 11% below 1990 goal with its 19% below 1990 emissions, it will need to maintain emissions reductions if the Government’s wider goal of reducing New Zealand’s emissions to 50% of 1990 levels by 2050 is to be achieved. Emissions reductions for sheep and beef will need to continue at about the same rate as currently to meet the 2050 target.

Our current work

In 2016 the Minister for Climate Change established the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG) whose function is to establish an agreed evidence base on biological emissions from agriculture. The BERG is currently looking at what the evidence is, identifying any gaps and commissioning research to fill those gaps. An interim report is due out in the middle of the year, and a final report at the end of 2017.

BERG is made up of representatives from the major primary industry groups – B+LNZ, DairyNZ, Deer Industry NZ, HortNZ, PorkNZ, Federated Farmers, Iwi, Dairy Companies of NZ, Meat Industry Association, Fertiliser Association NZ and a range of Government departments.

Once the evidence base is assembled, the intention is to then to use it to help develop policy recommendations on how biological emissions from agriculture might be managed in order to meet New Zealand’s international greenhouse gas reduction obligations.

Find out more

For background information on climate change, please visit the links below: