AgResearch chief reviews reports on the science addressing livestock emissions

AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson has posted an article which highlights two important pieces of work released in the past two weeks, saying they bring into stark focus the challenge New Zealand faces around its greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

The first of these was modelling released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) on the impact of methane emissions from livestock, which sets out the kind of reductions New Zealand needs to achieve to contribute to the global challenge of climate change, Dr Richardson says.

The second, a comprehensive report by the Productivity Commission on transition to a low emissions economy, calls for changes to the structure and methods of agricultural production, including greater diversification of land use and greater adoption of low emissions practices on farms. The commission at the same time pointed to the need for “significantly more resources” from government for innovation in this area to support this transition.

Dr Richardson says:

While much of the recent public debate around methane (the single biggest contributor to NZ’s agricultural greenhouse gases) has been about the degree to which it contributes to climate change, the science is now clear its impact is significant. The modelling from the PCE provides some potential starting points for planning – including an estimated 10-22 per cent reduction in methane emissions that would be required by 2050 to avoid any further warming contributed by NZ above current levels (the number within that range to depend on the action of other countries).

The PCE’s full report is still to be released, but the numbers in front of us now have already ignited a fresh debate about how we address them. One approach being put forward is a simple reduction in livestock numbers, with the resulting economic impacts, while others are promoting the potential of science and technology to significantly reduce the emissions per unit of production.

With AgResearch being a key player in the science to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly methane from livestock – I see plenty of reason for optimism that the latter approach will continue to yield benefits.

Working with partners such as the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) and Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc), our scientists are looking at promising methods to reduce methane emissions through changes in farming systems, animal feed, breeding, and potential inhibitors and vaccines to name a few.

Some of the exciting prospects currently in development include the following:

High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass
With the support of Government and industry partners including DairyNZ and Grasslanz Technology Ltd, we are currently field testing a genetically modified ryegrass in the United States that has been shown in glasshouses to reduce methane emissions from livestock by up to 23 per cent. Not only has the HME ryegrass shown potential for methane reduction, it also has features of reduced nitrate leaching, and its increased photosynthesis allows for faster growth and increased energy for the animal, as well as improved resistance to drought. So less methane, and greater productivity.

Breeding lower emission animals
Our scientists have shown that livestock can be bred to produce less methane emissions. With investment from the PGgRc and NZAGRC, we have bred sheep with a 10 per cent difference in methane emissions between the average animal in the high and low methane breeding lines. Other benefits appear to be leaner meat and increased wool growth. This breeding approach can also be applied to cattle.

Vaccines and inhibitors
Again with the investment of the NZAGRC and PGgRc, our scientists are working towards the development of a vaccine and inhibitors that can be applied directly to the livestock to reduce the amount of methane they produce.

Some are seeking a silver bullet where it comes to technologies to reduce emissions from livestock. Whilst there are exciting developments, more likely a combination of strategies such as those above, and more diversified land uses that reduce emissions, will be required to get us to where we need to be as a country.

Whatever we do, we will need to achieve consistent reductions in our environmental footprint while maintaining our regional and national prosperity. I’m confident that continued investment in our world-class science will enable us to get there.

Source: AgResearch

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LGNZ symposium to explore the challenges of climate change

Hard on the heels of the Productivity Commission publishing its report on the transitioning of New Zealand to a low-emissions economy,  Local Government New Zealand’s Climate Change Symposium in Wellington on Friday will discuss the challenges and opportunities of climate change facing New Zealand communities.

Supported by Deep South National Science Challenge, over 130 local government delegates, industry experts and central government officials will hear speakers discuss community engagement, options for adapting, adaptation funding, legal developments, and the importance of taking a linked approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation action.

“Local government has a critical role to play in ensuring that its communities are resilient to the impacts of climate change,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“This symposium is an opportunity to explore the challenges of climate change adaptation and mitigation, solutions to those challenges and the work that councils across the country are doing to address climate change.”

The Climate Change Symposium’s 24 speakers go beyond science to include people such as Dr Huhana Smith, Head of School of Art, Massey University.

A full agenda can be found  here.

Mr Cull says:

“Discussions will feed into LGNZ’s Climate Change Project, which seeks to provides councils with an evidence base to support a comprehensive framework for risk reduction and/or retreat; a comprehensive adaptation plan for New Zealand; and a local government view on emission reduction targets and how to achieve these.”

The Productivity Commission report, released yesterday, recommended a suite of policy reforms to help drive the transition, including a ‘feebate’ scheme to increase the uptake of electric vehicles and introducing emissions standards for newly-registered vehicles.

The New Zealand Herald’s report highlighted the commission’s call for New Zealand to quickly stop burning fossil fuels, plant vast amounts of forest – and switch to greener agriculture.

The Productivity Commission’s final report on how the country can shift to a low-emissions economy also called for emissions standards for newly registered vehicles, a “feebate” scheme to boost the uptake of EVs, and putting a price on gases from farms.

The commission’s findings were largely in line with those laid out in its draft report in April – but with some stronger calls in areas such as emissions, energy, land use and transport.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw was quoted as saying the report highlighted many areas the Government was already working on, such as establishing an independent Climate Commission.

The Government would respond to the report’s 173 findings and 78 recommendations “over the coming months”, he said.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert commentary when the draft report was released.

Simon Bridges and climate change – two perspectives on National’s position

The Science Media Centre features observations by climate change scientist James Renwick on National’s newly announced position on climate change policy. Commentators at Point of Order have expressed an opinion, too.

Climate change is not a partisan issue and the need to take big steps to reduce emissions is urgent, climate scientist James Renwick writes on The Spinoff.  So the opposition’s support for a Climate Change Commission is very welcome.

The SMC gives us an excerpt (but you can read in full ):

In climate policy-land, things are all go here in New Zealand. The coalition government has got its Zero Carbon Bill out for public consultation, no new offshore oil exploration permits will be issued, and the Climate Change Commission is being set up. And now the leader of the opposition National Party, Simon Bridges, has come out in support of the Climate Change Commission and is looking for cross-party agreement on climate policy.

Wow. What a difference a year (and an election) makes. Not too long ago, the National government was unsupportive of the idea of a commission, was disinclined to shift climate change policy much, and then prime minister Bill English seemed pretty lukewarm about the whole climate change thing in general. Wherever Simon Bridges’ new passion for climate change action has come from, it is very welcome. Climate change is not a partisan issue, and the need to take significant action to reduce emissions is urgent. If all parties in parliament can agree on a way forward, there is a lot of hope that we’ll see meaningful and long-lasting policies implemented that genuinely reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

So, this is a big deal.

You can keep reading here… 

Point of Order quotes Bridges as saying climate change is the most significant environmental issue  for NZ.  “We need to deal with  it as an important long-term issue and provide certainty on it”. 

The blog goes on to say:

On the  face of it  Bridges seems  to be  departing  from National’s previous line  on climate change. But he’s   quick  to  point out  it  was the National   govt which signed NZ up to the Paris Climate Accord.

I did, actually, as Associate Climate Minister, with Tim Groser… What we’re saying is we are stepping up on the framework that’s enduring. We need to be practical, have sensible environmental solutions. We don’t want to see the disruptive damage to the economy quickly.We don’t want to see real costs imposed on hard-working Kiwi households overnight.

“But what we will do, just like I think this government will as well, is we’ll take the advice from that climate commission, we’ll be accountable in terms of how we decide on the advice”.

To a question on  Q&A  from Corin Dann, whether  under National there would  be a return to the formula of more intensive dairy farming, big irrigation, driving more production, Bridges responded:

I think certainly we wouldn’t want to see significantly more cows. I think the reality is what we have got to do… we’ve got to invest a lot more in science and innovation and technology to get those solutions. And then you might start to be able to do some of the things that we were talking about, which is have an ETS that begins to bite”.

So what should we make of this?

Point of Order considers things through a political prism:

Bridges’  call for an  all-party  approach  to   climate  change  has  a political  subtlety about it which may have escaped those  whose  focus  has largely been confined to his  appearance, his   diction or  his hair-do.

How can his  call for  bipartisanship on climate  change be  refused?  If either  Labour  or the Greens turn  it  down,  it makes  each look  politically inept, even  cheapskate   (as if  we haven’t  seen already how  politically  inept  some ministers are)?

And what about the acting  PM?  How statesmanlike would it be if he refused to join the party  on climate change?.

The  danger  in an all-party  approach  to  climate  change  is  pointed in the direction of the Green  Party.  It’s  the  issue  which  attracts   votes to them from  middle-of-the-roaders, and even some  who might otherwise  tick National.

But if National is as  active on climate change  as everyone  else, then  why  vote for the  Greens (many of whose other policies   are  so far left that even Labour won’t accept them) ?

It could  pull back crucial support from the  centre.  In that  case Bridges  may prove to be a  lot smarter, politically, than  so far has been recognised.

Minister says the momentum is building for action on climate change

The Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, has welcomed an open letter from WWF-New Zealand which offers its congratulations on the Government’s goal of getting the country to net zero emissions by 2050.

Their support comes the day before public consultation on the proposed Zero Carbon Bill begins.

The letter has been signed by more than 200 people including business leaders from Z Energy, Les Mills gyms, DB Breweries, the Body Shop and Meridian Energy, as well as the mayors of Wellington, Whanganui, Christchurch, Gisborne and Auckland.

“Momentum is building for the Zero Carbon Bill and tomorrow the Government will begin a nationwide series of public meetings to hear peoples’ views, backed up with an interactive online engagement tool and some hefty policy analysis in a discussion document,” said James Shaw.

“The support we’re seeing for action on climate change shows that Kiwis don’t shy away from tackling the hard problems.

“We all know that making a plan for climate action now will pay off in the long term.

“Communities, businesses, farmers, iwi and ordinary New Zealanders up and down the country are already doing what they can to reduce emissions or are ready to get on board and help draw up our plan to reduce New Zealand’s impact on the climate.

“This is about doing our bit to ensure a stable climate for future generations and acting together with other countries to get climate change under control.”

The official process of consultation will begin tomorrow for everyone to have their say on the key components of the Government’s net zero emissions plan.

It would be cheering to know someone brings the attention of policy-makers to the nature of the research highlighted on the AgScience blog earlier today.

Source: Minister for Climate Change

Flat Earthers vs climate change sceptics: conspiracy theorists and contradictions

Flat Earthism and the idea that human activity is not responsible for climate change are two of the most prevalent conspiracy theories today, two academics from Nottingham Trent University contend in an article republished (HERE) on Sciblogs.

Both ideas have been increasing in popularity since the late 20th century, Gareth Dorrian and Ian Whittaker write in an article first published in The Conversation (the original article can be read HERE).

They write:

Currently, 16% of the US population say they doubt the scientifically established shape of the Earth, while 40% think that human-induced climate change is a hoax. But proponents of one of these theories are not necessarily proponents of the other, even though both are often motivated by a common mistrust of authority. In fact, they regularly contradict one another.

Flat Earthers, for example, tend to disbelieve organisations such as NASA on the shape of Antarctica – or indeed, that there is a southern hemisphere at all. Yet the president of the Flat Earth Society, Daniel Shenton, is quite convinced – presumably at least in part thanks to information from NASA – that climate change is happening and espouses a fairly conventional view on the subject.

Former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci (dismissed by president Trump after ten days in office), meanwhile, believes that the Earth is in fact round, but does not believe in anthropogenic climate change, as he made clear in an interview with CNN.

Such selective reasoning is common among conspiracy theorists who often lack consistency with one other. Despite this, the media, celebrities and even politicians regularly make broad comparisons between climate change scepticism, Flat Earthism and other conspiracy theories.

Fabricated data?

In the field of global climate change, scientific bodies often are accused, even by those in power, of fabricating data. But such criticism is often deeply flawed.

Take those sceptics, for example, who believe that climate change is occurring, but because of natural – rather than man-made – causes.

If one argues that data has been fabricated to show warming where there is none, one cannot then also imply that warming is occurring after all, but naturally. Either there is warming or there is not.

Similarly, Flat Earthers who state that images showing Earth’s curvature are due to the shape of a camera lens, themselves believe in a disc which by definition has a curved edge.

Indeed, one of the few commonalities which exist between all major conspiracy theories is that somehow scientists and governments are involved in a grand conspiracy for reasons unknown.

A major part of the scientific anthropogenic climate change argument is that there is an increase in temperature extremes in both summer and winter.

Evidently, a Flat Earth model cannot support this; in fact, the most accepted Flat Earth model, which maintains that the sun rotates in a non-variable circular orbit over the flat disk, implies that there should be no seasons at all, let alone multi-decadal seasonal extremes due to climate change. Nevertheless, to quote Shenton:

Climate change is a process which has been ongoing since (the) beginning of detectable history, but there seems to be a definite correlation between the recent increase in worldwide temperatures and man’s entry into the industrial age.

In this instance, the president of the Flat Earth Society is correct. Anthropogenic climate change sceptics, on the other hand, are often willing to accept the science behind the Earth’s natural cycles, which they blame – instead of human activity – for the world’s weather woes. Clearly, we again find an implicit difference of opinion between a Flat Earth model, and a non-anthropogenic climate change one.

It is also clear that many climate change sceptics believe in the (approximately) spherical Earth, even if only subconsciously, by their use of scientifically accepted global maps when discussing data – not to mention when calling it “global” warming.

And what about aliens?

If governments and scientists are so untrustworthy and steeped in corruption, then why would one believe them on any issue? Where does the line of trust actually fall? Why would a person who mistrusts governments and scientists on the shape of the Earth, not hold the same politicians and scientific organisations similarly bogus on the issue of climate change? Or alien abductions, chem trails, or anything else?

But the problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The US has the highest number of believers in both flat-Earthism and anthropogenic climate change scepticism, and the UK is not far behind.

The US also has a high number (more than 50%) of senior political figures who deny man-made climate change, not to mention a democratically elected leader vocally believing the same. There are also numerous well-known celebrities who question the established shape of our planet.

While of course scientists can play the blame game, it could be that the scientific method itself is a major limiting factor in communicating results with the public. Science is not just a body of knowledge, but a method of critical thinking.

Scientists, by necessity, have to communicate their findings in a certain rigid way focusing on probabilities, certainty values and confidence intervals. These can appear dry or baffling to the public. But by providing more easily understandable narratives we can make scientific discussions with the public more productive.

The ConversationIn today’s complex world of social media narratives, the engagement of scientists with the public is more crucial than ever. Thankfully, current funding for public engagement training and activities is accessible to scientists with a passion for communication and conversation, enabling them to communicate facts rather than “fake news”.

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Gareth Dorrian is  Post Doctoral Research Associate in Space Science at Nottingham Trent UniversityIan Whittaker is a Lecturer.

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 This article has been restored after being accidentally removed from AgScience earlier today during the repair of a glitch in the blog’s formatting. 

Climate change and health report launched

A new report shows how climate change will impact on New Zealander’s health over the next 50-100 years and makes the case for better preparation.

You can read the Climate Change and Environmental Health report HERE. 

How a changing climate impacts on people’s health will also change, says Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.

The health system must be better prepared to deal with increased temperatures and more extreme weather events, she says.

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and published by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

“The risks outlined in this report show why we need to act to reduce climate pollution now, as well as prepare for the level of climate change that is already set to happen,” Ms Genter says.

“The flooding and evacuation of Edgecumbe caused serious disruption to people’s lives. Already this year we have seen how a storm like cyclone Fehi caused a state of emergency in Buller and Dunedin.

“Today’s report maps out where the problems will be. Allergens and irritants in air, extreme weather events, ultra-violet solar radiation, and vector-borne, water-borne and infectious diseases might all increase in the coming decades and they have the potential to impact on our health and the health of our loved ones.

“The spread of infectious disease, particularly in our water sources, is of concern and needs greater attention.”

The Ministry of Health will be working with district health boards – many of which are already doing a lot of work on this – to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprints.

The Ministry has asked ESR to provide scientific advice on how the health sector can adapt to climate change.

Source: Associate Minister of Health

 

Drought will bring more crop disease, scientists warn

New Zealand’s land-based primary industries need to get ready for increasingly serious crop disease as climate change causes more and longer droughts, according to new research.

In the journal Australasian Plant Pathology, the authors of the study say climate change is expected to bring more droughts in many parts of New Zealand, and more droughts are “likely to increase the severity of a wide range of diseases affecting the plant-based productive sectors”.

Scientists from the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Scion, Lincoln University, AUT University, Landcare Research and the University of Auckland analysed the potential impact of climate-change-induced drought on several commercial plants and their diseases.

They found that in most instances “increased drought is expected to increase disease expression”.

The probable negative effects of drought include

“…a predisposition of hosts to infection through general weakening and/or suppressed disease resistance”. More frequent and more severe droughts could also lead to “emergence of enhanced or new diseases of plants that can reduce primary production”.

New plant disease pressures are expected to occur

“… with potentially devastating impacts for New Zealand’s productive sectors.”

But the news is not all bad.

“Drought may reduce the severity of some diseases, such as Sclerotina rot of kiwifruit and red needle cast (RNC) of radiata pine,” the scientists said.

And in some cases it could “activate systemic defence mechanisms resulting in increased resistance to infection”.

In an extended case study the authors said that the effects of increased drought on New Zealand’s Pinus radiata industry would depend on many factors, including whether drought happened early or late in the season.

“There is urgent need to study the impacts of the different levels of drought and different levels of RNC severity to understand the thresholds at which radiata pine plantations would still accomplish their economic and ecological roles.”

Lead author Dr Steve Wakelin, of the Bio-Protection Research Centre and Scion, said it was essential that more research was carried out so each industry could prepare for the effects of drought.

“Many industries, such as agriculture and horticulture, may have time to gradually change over the next 20 or 30 years, to avoid the worst effects of drought or even take advantage of any opportunities the changing climate may bring.

“However, plantation forestry does not have the luxury of flexibility. What is planted now will need to not just survive but thrive in whatever climate and disease conditions are prevailing in the next 20, 30, or 40 years.

“It’s essential that primary industries with a long production cycle start assessing and addressing the risks and opportunities a much drier climate will bring.”

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Wakelin, S.A., Gomez-Gallego, M., Jones, E. et al. Climate change induced drought impacts on plant diseases in New Zealand Australasian Plant Pathol. (2018) 47: 101.

Source: Bioprotection Research Centre