National Party leader Christopher Luxon has been accused of fantastic ideas for suggesting that New Zealand’s increasingly warm and acidic oceans could be included in carbon accounting to offset rising emissions.
The government set a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, announcing a world first scheme last month that will mean farmers will pay for their emissions by 2025.
The plans angered some representative rural bodies, and Luxon suggested that New Zealand’s vast oceans could be used to offset carbon by “using the ocean as a huge carbon sink … if we change the way we count it.” to Tararua residents on Wednesday.
But National’s climate spokesperson Scott Simpson said its leader meant all options should be on the table to remove carbon from the environment, including setting up seaweed farms in the ocean.
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“The problem for Chris Luxon and my colleagues from the National Party is that currently the only methodology for the kidnapping [removing carbon] it’s the trees, “he said.
He said there was an ever-growing range of options for offsetting carbon in the ocean there, but there were “much broader conversations to be had” about the legitimacy of offsetting in general.
However, the AUT’s senior lecturer, Dr David Hall, said New Zealand would be a “laugh to laugh” if it took Luxon’s argument to the UN global climate summit, COP27, where the minister of change James Shaw is now leading negotiations to curb global warming.
“The difference between clearing forests and clearing the oceans is that humans can deliberately plant trees to sequester carbon, but we can’t” plant “the ocean.”
Overall, he said it was “worrying” that Luxon had been so ill-advised and warned against delaying decarbonisation “on the basis of fantasy”. Delaying the switch to renewables will only cost New Zealanders more in the long run.
The ocean already absorbs carbon dioxide and, if it were to be included in the calculations, New Zealand would be “waiting for emissions from fires, volcanoes, thawing permafrost and other natural sources.”
“A tree we choose to plant is an addition to natural processes, while the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide naturally – in the network 2 to 3 billion tons per year.”
Global oceans are becoming more acidic due to rising carbon levels, a phenomenon that is dissolving the shells of sea creatures.
As emissions rise every year, the ocean is also getting warmer. This means melting glaciers and rising sea levels, as well as changing rainfall, leading to more flooding in some areas and more droughts and fires in others. It is also a huge threat to marine life.
Hall said there were opportunities for “blue coal” where people took on extra activities, such as creating kelp forests or restoring mangroves or marine phanerogams, but there was still a lot of work to be done to integrate it into the international accounting system.
“There are various measurement uncertainties to overcome. We also need a better understanding of ocean carbon cycles and the permanence of blue carbon over time. After all, as the world warms, so do the oceans, which means their ability to absorb carbon dioxide will actually decrease. “
Shaw, speaking from Egypt, said the only way to limit global warming was to stop adding climate pollution to the atmosphere.
“There is no doubt that a healthy ocean can help stabilize the climate. Removal of carbon will also always be needed to balance hard-to-reduce emissions. However, action to tackle climate change happens in our communities, in our cities, in our businesses and in our governments, not on a spreadsheet, “she said.