Curtin professor is appointed Chief Scientist for EPA

The Environmental Protection Authority has appointed Kiwi expat Professor Michael Bunce to the role of Chief Scientist.

Professor Bunce has sequenced ancient DNA from the fossil bones of moa and giant eagles but more recently has developed methods to survey biodiversity in water by recovering the DNA that animals leave behind.

He has built a distinguished career and reputation applying his genetics expertise to a range of taxonomic, ecological, medical, and environmental issues.

Professor Bunce is presently serving as Professor of Environmental Genomics at Curtin University, Western Australia, and heads the University’s Trace and Environmental DNA laboratory. Continue reading

Report shows NZ waterways polluted – Science Media Centre posts expert reaction

The Environment Aotearoa 2019 report released today (here) shows why the Government’s plan to clean up our waterways and make New Zealand carbon-neutral is so crucial, Environment Minister David Parker said.

Released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, the report shows the country’s waterways are polluted in both farming and urban areas and many rivers in both are unsuitable for swimming.

There were no big surprises, Mr Parker said.

“We’ve known for years about the pollution and damage we’ve been causing to our oceans and freshwater, climate and biodiversity.” Continue reading

Survey finds greater farmer focus on sustainability and climate change

New survey research, released today, shows farmers are focused on sustainability and the impacts of climate change more than ever.

The survey, by Nielsen Research, was commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Research programme.

“These latest results show that 92 percent of farmers are focused on making their farm more environmentally sustainable, up from 78 percent in the last survey of 2009. That’s really heartening”, says Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

“Some of the specific actions farmers mentioned were riparian/shelter planting, waterway control, improved fertiliser management and more efficient irrigation systems. This gives us a really valuable understanding of what is front of mind for farmers.

“Slightly disheartening is that only 23 percent of farmers anticipate an increased focus on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the next five years, so that’s something for us all to work on.’’

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw says the results of the survey are consistent with expectations.

“The survey shows that farmers have a better understanding of what they are able to do on-farm to be more environmentally sustainable, with the exception of greenhouse gas emissions reduction – an area where we know farmers feel they need more information and advice.

“The Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG) report told us that there are lots of solutions emerging, but that the situation varies from farm-to-farm and so solutions need to be tailored.

“That’s why we are now investing in developing that advice and integrated farm planning tools. We need to support farmers and growers to transition to sustainable land-use through planning and informed decision-making.

“Last year the government consulted on the Zero Carbon Bill, which showed the need to give certainty and direction on the pathway to a low-emissions economy. We will also soon receive the recommendations of the Interim Climate Change Committee on addressing agricultural emissions. This will help us move forward and provide the certainty that will enable rural communities to make long-term decisions,” Minister Shaw says.

Minister O’Connor says farmers face a changing climate.

“They need to prepare to cope with the intensifying weather effects of climate change and at the same time reduce their environmental footprint – that takes investment in infrastructure, and means you need to be financially viable.

“The Coalition Government is scoping the development of resources and information for farmers to fill the knowledge gap in ways to reduce emissions, working with the sector to develop practical on-farm knowledge.”

The full report is available on the MPI website.

Key statistics

92% focus on making their farms more environmentally sustainable. Specific actions mentioned show an increase, notably riparian/shelter planting, waterway control, improved fertiliser management and more efficient irrigation systems (up from 78% in 2009).

63% of farmers express interest in further information or advice about improving resilience to climate change. Managing severe weather events such as droughts, floods, and harsh winters is most commonly mentioned.

Half of farmers think their farm and business is moderately or majorly impacted by current climate or severe weather patterns – this has not changed since 2009 (52% vs 51%). But the proportion of farmers reporting no impact at all has halved, from 19% to 10%.

59% anticipate a moderate or major impact over the next 20 years.

46% saying that clear government policy guidelines will help them take action.

27% of farmers have placed a moderate or major focus on reducing their GHG emissions in the past 5 years (compared with 31% doing so in 2009).   

46% of farmers have actively sought information about land management practices or climate change issues in the last 12 months than in 2009 (down from 62%).  

58% said financial assistance, incentives or subsidies are most likely to encourage action to make their farms more environmentally sustainable. Seeing initiatives work on other farms/businesses similar to theirs increases farmer confidence that actions will be effective.

Source:  Minister of Agriculture;  Minister for Climate Change

Scientists urge countries to protect their peatlands

Research on the world’s largest peatlands urges countries to protect these vulnerable wetland ecosystems as part of their climate strategies, and to learn from each other’s experiences to sustainably manage them.

Tropical peatlands – one of the main carbon sinks in the planet – are under threat from activities such as agriculture, infrastructures and mining.

A special issue of the Springer journal ‘Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change’ presents nine papers from Indonesia, the Congo basin and the Peruvian Amazon, offering new insights to help policy-makers balance development, climate and conservation goals. Continue reading

CEMARS certification affirms EPA commitment to reducing its carbon footprint

The Environmental Protection Authority’s commitment to reducing its own carbon footprint has been affirmed by its being certified as a CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction Scheme) organisation.

Protecting the environment is at the heart of everything the EPA does, says chief executive Dr Allan Freeth.

“It’s only right that we strive for this in every way, including the way we manage our own organisation, and that we’re open and transparent about doing that,” he says.

“And in our case, committing to reducing our carbon emissions is entirely in keeping with our responsibility for administering New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

“Getting CEMARS certification is the start of a journey for us, to identify, measure and reduce our own carbon emissions.”

The EPA and the public could have confidence in the fact its progress was audited and verified by an independent body, Enviro-Mark Solutions, to internationally recognised standards, Dr Freeth says.

The EPA is determined to reduce the three main causes of its greenhouse gas emissions.

By 1 July 2021, its target is to reduce emissions per FTE from electricity use by 8%, reducing paper usage and the volume of waste going to landfill by 15%, and reduce emissions due to staff business travel by 8%.

The EPA has joined the Ministry for the Environment and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) in being CEMARS certified.

It was presented with its framed CEMARS certificate earlier this week.

The summary disclosure statement about EPA’s CEMARS certification and goals can be read HERE. 

Source:  Environmental Protection Authority

Dairy effluent treatment system is good news for water quality

New research conducted by Lincoln University on Ravensdown’s ClearTech® farm dairy effluent (FDE) treatment system in Canterbury has shown the system could have significant environmental benefits for river, lake and groundwater quality.

Field lysimeter trials conducted at Lincoln University by Professor Keith Cameron and Professor Hong Di, of Lincoln University’s Centre for Soil and Environmental Research, have shown significant reductions in leaching losses of total phosphorus (TP), dissolved reactive phosphate (DRP) and E. coli from ClearTech-treated FDE applied to pasture soil when compared with losses from untreated FDE.

The ClearTech system produces both clarified water and treated effluent. The clarified water can be recycled back to wash the dairy yard, or, like the treated effluent, can be irrigated out onto the land. Continue reading

Tucking into beef could be good for your health – but not the planet’s

As the barbeque season gets into full swing, New Zealand researchers are investigating whether certain kinds of red meat could actually protect against heart disease.

Researchers have recruited men aged 35-55 willing to eat free meat three times a week for eight weeks in the name of science, according to a press statement from the Liggins Institute.

Participants are supplied with either grass-fed Wagyu beef, grain-finished beef or soy-based meat alternative (they can’t choose which).

The study is looking at how the complex lipids (fats) in high quality, unprocessed red meat affect heart health, using the vegetarian protein group as a control. It follows earlier evidence that eating Wagyu beef in moderation may help protect against heart disease. Continue reading