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EMBARGOED UNTIL 3:30 Methane satellite mission control in New Zealand

Wednesday 6th November 2019

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An international space mission to help tackle climate change will be based in New Zealand as the government works toward a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods announced the government is putting $26 million toward MethaneSAT, a satellite designed to locate and measure methane from human sources worldwide and said the mission control centre would be in New Zealand.

“This is an ambitious science partnership between New Zealand and the Environmental Defense Fund that will see New Zealand at the forefront of developing and applying world-leading technology to the global challenge of managing greenhouse gas emissions,” Woods said.

The New York-based Environmental Defense Fund is a non-profit organisation with more than 2.5 million members. 

The announcement followed yesterday's parliamentary debate on the so-called Zero Carbon Bill, during which National MP and former agriculture minister Nathan Guy questioned what the government was proposing in order to turbocharge climate change-related research and development. The bill passed its second reading with almost unanimous support of 119 votes in favour and just one against. 

As part of the target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the bill proposes a 10 percent cut in methane emissions by 2030, with levels in 2050 to be 24 to 47 percent lower than those in 2017 - a goal that has alarmed farmers in the absence of technology that would assist its achievement.

Methane is a powerful global warming gas emitted by cows, sheep and other cattle and accounts for some 35 percent of all New Zealand’s GHG emissions, although it has a far shorter life compared to the main global warming gas, carbon dioxide. 

The methane targets have been a “big bugbear” for the rural sector said Guy, adding that "hardly anyone in the agriculture community came to the select committee and said ‘bring it on, we can do this'.”

National is lobbying for the independent Climate Change Commission to set the methane target rather than having it enshrined in law.  

“We think that saying that the Paris Agreement action should not threaten food production should be incorporated into the very purpose of this bill. We think that the provisions to keep us in line with the actions of other countries should be strengthened. We think that the commission should be required to consider the economic impacts of action and to advise governments of the day on that, because anything else is negligent,” said National MP Nicola Willis.

One key challenge highlighted by members of the agricultural sector has been exactly how to measure methane emissions.

MethaneSat will initially focus on human sources. However, Woods has the agricultural sector on the radar.

"While the Environmental Defense Fund’s initial priority for the mission is to collect emissions data from the oil and gas industry, we will investigate the possibility of New Zealand using the data to lead an agricultural science component of the mission," Woods said.

MethaneSAT is scheduled for launch in 2022. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the EDF will confirm the location of the New Zealand-based mission control centre as well as New Zealand’s role in the launch and the science components of the mission in the coming months. 


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