Hopes that next month's 26th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow will achieve more than the previous 25 did have to be tempered by its unfortunate timing.
It is not just that the acute problem of a pandemic is distracting from the chronic problem that we seem determined to render the planet increasingly inhospitable to ourselves as a species.
As well, COP26 is unfortunately occurring at a time when China, Europe and India are all in the grip of energy crises which demonstrate that to wean economies off fossil fuels for electricity generation is easier said than done. Meanwhile, oil prices have been climbing and a key plank in President Joe Biden's progressive climate agenda is in trouble on Capitol Hill.
So the "commitment" by the G7 powers at their summit in Cornwall back in June — to halve their emissions from 2010 levels by 2030 — is in some doubt.
The risk from New Zealand's point of view is that the Glasgow COP will go easy on carbon dioxide and come down hard on methane instead.
A diplomatic push spearheaded by the European Union and United States and supported by, among others, Japan and Britain, is calling for a 30 per cent cut in methane emissions by 2030. That would be three times the methane reduction target for 2030 in the Zero Carbon Act.
As of last week, the 33 countries supporting the methane pledge represented 60 per cent of global GDP and 30 per cent of global methane emissions, Reuters reports.
A pivot from carbon dioxide to methane would be uncomfortable for New Zealand.
We have the sixth highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases among Annex 1 (developed) countries as conventionally, if arbitrarily, measured.
That dubious distinction reflects the fact that 48 per cent of our emissions is made up of methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture — four times the average across Annex 1 countries.
It is worth noting that only a third of global methane emissions from anthropogenic sources is from livestock. More arises from the production and transport of fossil fuels, and significant amounts come from the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in landfills and rice paddies, among other sources.
So a response of "let's kill all the cattle and go vegan" hardly harvests the low-hanging fruit here.
The ramparts of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, and its counterparts elsewhere, which subsidise and protect more emissions-intensive models of livestock farming, do not constitute the moral high ground on this issue.
And at home, those inclined to wag an admonishing finger at the nation's farmers should first look around at all the imported stuff they own or use and ask themselves which half of that they would happily do without. Airily dismissing how the country earns its living as a trading nation smacks of hypocrisy.
In a recent op-ed, David Frame, professor of climate change at Victoria University of Wellington, and former Climate Change Ambassador Adrian Macey make the point that New Zealand is unique in having an emissions-reduction target for agricultural methane and a policy work programme under way.
Called He Waka Eke Noa, it is intended to ensure that by 2025 farmers are calculating their net greenhouse gas emissions and are incentivised to reduce them through an appropriate pricing mechanism.
The big picture, however, is that New Zealand is not on track to meet its existing international emissions-reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement six years ago, never mind anything more ambitious we will be expected to commit to in Glasgow. At the time of writing, Cabinet had yet to agree on what that will be.
The Government's projections in its most recent report to the United Nations is that New Zealand's emissions in the 2020s will be 10 per cent higher than we committed to in Paris.
And that is after projected removals from production forestry. Those forestry offsets only buy time, which so far we have squandered.
In principle this is not a problem. The Paris commitment, to cut emissions in the 2020s by 30 per cent from 2005 levels, is a "responsibility" target deliberately struck at a level that exceeds what can be expected to be achieved through domestic mitigation.
The idea is that the shortfall is bridged by paying for emissions reductions which occur in developing countries and which would not happen without this source of international funding. The climate is a global commons and it does not matter where emissions are cut, only that they are, a lot.
The Climate Change Commission estimates that over the decade the implied quantity of offshore mitigation needed to meet our Paris target will be just over 50 million tonnes in CO2 equivalent terms.
A new target which falls in the middle of the range the commission estimates would be consistent with New Zealand doing its fair share towards a global target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels would increase the need for offshore purchases to 80 million tonnes. A more ambitious/creditable target could push it up to 120 million tonnes.
Multiplied by what price per tonne? At this stage that can only be guessed at.
Purely indicative numbers from the commission which assume a carbon price of $140 — which would be little more than twice the current domestic ETS level and which seems optimistic as an average for the rest of the decade — would put the cost of using imported carbon at between $20 billion and $30b, depending on the level of ambition in the new target.
But who knows? Six years after the world agreed at the Paris COP that there should be an international market mechanism for carbon trading, governments have yet to agree on a rulebook to govern it.
Completing that task is one of the objectives of the Glasgow COP, but to the casual observer at this stage it appears to be, as is said of a second marriage, the triumph of hope over experience.
To be fair to the officials involved, it is not an easy task.
It will be essential to prevent a recurrence of the weaknesses which in the end made nonsense of the previous international trading mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol.
Access to environmentally worthless, but cheap, international credits saw carbon prices in the New Zealand emissions trading scheme drop to little more than $1, stultifying the scheme.
The rules for a new international trading mechanism would have to ensure accounting transparency — to avoid double counting — and that the credits traded represent genuine emissions reductions which would not have occurred without the ability to sell the credits internationally.
Climate Change Ambassador Kay Harrison is optimistic, though. At the last COP in Madrid "we were pretty much nearly there", she said.
Some very difficult issues remain. "We have got the makings of compromises but it will be a situation, like in many negotiations, where we are all left a little bit dissatisfied. But I think we may get there. Wish us luck!"