Review finds New Zealand a world leader in climate change research

A government research programme has positioned New Zealand as a world-leader in research into mitigating greenhouse gases from agriculture and adapting to climate change, a recent independent review has found.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI’s) Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change (SLMACC) research programme supports the generation of new climate change knowledge across New Zealand’s agriculture and forestry sectors.

The independent review found SLMACC has triggered new research, and boosted New Zealand’s understanding of the potential impacts and implications of climate change for a range of primary industries, particularly pastoral farming systems and responding to drought.

“Climate change affects every one of New Zealand’s land-based producers, from farmers, growers and foresters, to the communities that support them,” says Steve Penno, Director Investment Programmes at MPI.

“New Zealand relies heavily on its natural environment and the primary production it supports. A warming planet poses challenges and unknowns, so it’s vital to invest in research to better understand the land-based sector’s future operating environment and, importantly, how a country like ours must adapt.

“SLMACC has contributed heavily towards growing this understanding and enhancing the science capability needed.”

The review found the programme is creating high-quality research, engaging stakeholders and end-users, growing climate change science capability in New Zealand, enabling international collaborations and supporting researchers early in their careers to build their capability and experience.

Several other SLMACC benefits were supported by the review, such as building more accurate knowledge about long-term carbon storage in our forests and providing resources to increase awareness of climate change and practical options for use on-farm.

The SLMACC research programme recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, marking an investment of around $50 million in more than 150 targeted basic, applied and policy research projects. A number of its projects are showcased in Investing in tomorrow, a booklet released in September 2018.

Investing in tomorrow and copies of the review reports (including a summary of findings) are available on the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change web page at mpi.govt.nz/funding.

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries

 

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Fellowship is awarded for research into the impact of climate change on NZ

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research scientist Dr Kendon Bell has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue his research into measuring the impact of climate change on New Zealand land.

The research, Empirical measurement of the impact of climate change: correcting for measurement error in precipitation and understanding the incidence of impacts, looks at how rainfall impacts agriculture and land.

Climate econometrics is an emerging field that combines the history of connections between weather, and economic and social outcomes with climate forecasts to estimate future damages from climate change.

Dr Bell said this work gives him the chance to combine economics and big data to tackle a key question for society.

“I’m really excited to be doing rigorous, data-driven research that will help us learn about how climate change will affect people.”

Current models suggest New Zealand has exposure to more frequent and intense weather episodes, particularly droughts and extreme rain events.

It is therefore crucial to understand the true impact of these changes. Current literature that uses modern econometric techniques indicates that rainfall has a small impact on agriculture.

Dr Bell believes this counter-intuitive result may be due to a lack of accurate precipitation measurements. The Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will enable him to test this theory.

He will investigate two areas of uncertainty: error in precipitation rates, and understanding how producers and consumers share the burden of climate change.

Working with Patrick Walsh, also of Landcare Research, Dr Bell will use two methods from econometrics – instrumental variables (IV) and the mean group estimator (MGE) – to investigate the measurement uncertainty.

This programme will be the first application of these methods in the climate econometrics field, and the first to carefully investigate the empirical impact of precipitation on agricultural productivity.

Understanding the relative exposure of producers, retail consumers, and intermediaries to climate change is also a key consideration for New Zealand.

Dr Bell’s study will extend existing work to follow weather-induced milk price shocks through the different groups. These past price changes will allow better simulation of how climate change would impact New Zealand primary producers, processors, and final consumers, given the complex structure of the market.

Source: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

International global warming report lays out the critical challenge

A special report on global warming, released today, has laid out a strong case for countries to make every effort to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, says the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw.

The special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that a host of climate-related risks – from sea level rise, to food and water supplies, security and health issues – will be worse if global temperatures rise to 2 degrees rather than 1.5 degrees.

The report also warns that the next two decades are crucial in limiting global warming to 1.5deg as opposed to 2deg.

The IPCC says it is likely that global warming will reach 1.5deg between 2030 and 2052, if warming continues at the current rate.

“The good news is that the IPCC’s report is broadly in line with this Government’s direction on climate change and it’s highly relevant to the work we are doing with the Zero Carbon Bill,” Mr Shaw said.

“The report shows the clear global benefits of maintaining efforts to limit global warming to 1.5oC.

“It says the goal is challenging but achievable but it also says that the pace of transition to low-emissions needs to step-up and be far reaching.”

Bronwyn Hayward, Associate Professor in Political Science at Canterbury University, was a Lead Author for the report.

Andy Reisinger, Deputy Director of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre is a member of the IPCC Bureau.

New Zealand Government departments have reviewed drafts of the report.

A New Zealand delegation was present at IPCC talks on the report in South Korea last week.

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

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