Does New Zealand have 60 million sheep, each producing 30 litres of methane daily?

By Tiffanie Turnbull, Peter Trute and James Lane

The Statement

“New Zealand has over 60 million sheep. Sheep produce about 30 litres of methane a day. If (New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda) Ardern was serious about addressing "climate change" shouldn't she start by culling the entire sheep population of NZ?”

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts. August 14, 2019.

The Analysis

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts says New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern should consider culling all of her country’s methane-producing sheep before criticising the Australian government on emissions and climate change. [1]

Ms Ardern has drawn the ire of conservative figures, including broadcaster Alan Jones, after saying Australia "has to answer to the Pacific" on its emissions reductions at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu which ran from August 13 to 16. [2] [3]

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Roberts’ claim that New Zealand has 60 million sheep, each producing 30 litres of methane each day.

According to New Zealand's official data agency, Stats NZ, the most recent farm census was conducted in 2017 and recorded 27.5 million sheep in the country. [4]

A provisional update in June 2018 recorded a 200,000 drop in the number of sheep, to 27.3 million. [5]

According to CSIRO senior technician Andrew Toovey, sheep produce between 25 and 30 litres of methane - a greenhouse gas - each day. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Australia also claims sheep produce 30 litres of methane per day. [6][7]

New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas inventory for 2017, released in April 2019, showed sheep produced 12.7 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cattle accounted for 22.5 per cent, while electricity generation created 4.4 per cent. [8]

In 2019 New Zealand introduced a bill to reduce emissions of methane by animals to 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030, and between 24 and 47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050. [9]

In 2017, New Zealand emitted the equivalent of about 80.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Australia emitted 534.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. [10][11]

Based on the above evidence, AAP FactCheck found Mr Roberts’ claim to be ambiguous. New Zealand has less than half the number of sheep Mr Roberts claimed it did, but sheep do produce between 25 and 30 litres of methane each day.

The Verdict

  • Ambiguous - It is not possible to determine the veracity of the statement, or it has an equal weighting of true and false elements.

The References

1. ‘Strewth Column - Bridget McKenzie’s staffer delivering results’, by Alice Workman. The Australian. August 16, 2019: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/strewth/bridget-mckenzies-staffer-delivering-results/news-story/493562d7872360d9ae9c6623e9fe46a8

2. ‘Alan Jones continues criticism of Jacinda Ardern over climate change comments, despite rebuke from Scott Morrison’. ABC. August 16, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-16/alan-jones-doubles-down-on-criticism-of-jacinda-ardern/11420102

3. ‘50th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum’. Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat: https://www.forumsec.org/pacific-islands-forum-leaders-meeting-2019-media-and-information-accreditation/

4. ‘Livestock numbers’. Stats NZ. April 18, 2019: https://www.stats.govt.nz/indicators/livestock-numbers

5. ‘Agricultural production statistics: June 2018 (final)’. Stats NZ. May 7, 2019: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/agricultural-production-statistics-june-2018-final

6. ‘Sheep gas levels monitored in giant inflatable tunnel to measure methane output’, by Brooke Neindorf. ABC. December 22, 2015: https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2015-12-22/collecting-sheep-gas-emissions-in-inflatable-tunnel/7047808

7. ‘Sheep Farming and the Wool Industry’s Damaging Environmental Impact’. PETA: https://www.peta.org.au/issues/clothing/cruelty-wool/environmental-hazards-wool-production/

8. ‘NZ introduces groundbreaking zero carbon bill, including targets for agricultural methane’, by Robert McLachlan. The Conversation. May 9, 2019: https://theconversation.com/nz-introduces-groundbreaking-zero-carbon-bill-including-targets-for-agricultural-methane-116724

9. ‘Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill’. Ministry for the Environment: https://www.mfe.govt.nz/climate-change/zero-carbon-amendment-bill

10. ‘New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2017’. New Zealand Ministry for the Environment. April, 2019. (page 2): https://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/Climate%20Change/nz-greenhouse-gas-inventory-2019.pdf

11. ‘National Inventory Report 2017 - Volume 1’. Australian Department of Environment and Energy. May 2019. (page 2): https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/29eca947-af49-4ed1-8369-e68d74730cf9/files/national-inventory-report-2017-volume-1.pdf

  • First published August 16, 2019 17:21 AEST