New Zealand implements hydrofluorocarbon rules to help cool the planet

The Environmental Protection Authority is leading New Zealand’s implementation of the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement to reduce the levels of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

A new permitting scheme to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders from climate change will be introduced in February next year, to be applied to all bulk imports and exports of HFC gases, which are used in refrigeration units and air-conditioning units.

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Substances group, said science has shown HFC gases are potent greenhouse gases, which means they capture heat from the sun and release it into the Earth’s atmosphere.

HFC gases have a high global warming potential (GWP), which can be as much as 50 to 14,800 times more than carbon dioxide.

The Kigali Amendment builds on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which has been instrumental in repairing ozone layer damage caused by ozone-depleting gases during the 1980s.

“If Kigali is successful it is estimated it could reverse current warming up to an estimated 0.5 degrees by the end of the century,” said Dr Thomson-Carter.

“The EPA’s role under the Ozone Layer Protection Regulations will see the Authority manage the permit system for 18 different HFC gases.”

Read more about the Kigali Amendment here.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

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Government announces set of improvements to NZ’s Emissions Trading Scheme

Acting Climate Change Minister Julie Anne Genter has announced the first of two planned tranches of improvements to the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) following recent public consultation.

These improvements, together with the second tranche of decisions, are expected to be introduced to Parliament next year as amendments to the Climate Change Response Act 2002, which is the legislation that established the ETS.

The improvements will create a more effective ETS to help meet the Government’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plant one billion trees, Ms Genter said.

The most significant improvement is establishing a framework which will enable New Zealand’s emissions under the ETS to be capped. This would restrict the number of units supplied into the scheme, increasing the incentive to reduce emissions.

“Up until now, the ETS has been the only emissions trading scheme globally which doesn’t have a cap. The ability to set a cap will help New Zealand meet its international climate change targets, as well as any new domestic targets,” says Acting Minister Genter.

The improvements also focus on providing more certainty to scheme participants.

Submitters to the recent ETS consultation told the Government that ETS settings needed to be more predictable so participants could confidently take further action to invest in low-emissions activities, Ms Genter said.

A predictable process to manage the cap over time will include annual announcements looking forward five years.

And auctioning will be introduced into the ETS in a way that aligns the supply of units with New Zealand’s emission reduction targets.

The cost containment reserve, operated through the auctioning mechanism, will replace the current price ceiling, or fixed price option (FPO).

The cap will include setting the number of units to be auctioned and the settings for the new cost containment reserve.

Currently, market participants can choose to pay $25 for every tonne of emissions they emit instead of buying units from emissions unit holders.

The fixed price option for surrenders due in 2019 will continue to remain at $25 “to maintain regulatory predictability.”

“We want the ETS reforms to be well-managed and well-signalled and this means keeping the FPO in place while those reforms go through,” Ms Genter says.

The Government will also investigate the potential introduction of a price floor in the scheme.

“We heard from submitters that having a price floor in the ETS might encourage investment to reduce emissions, so we are going to investigate this option further,” says Ms Genter.

“No decision has been made as to when the ETS will be reopened to international units but, at this stage, they would not be a first choice.

“If, in future, the Government decided to allow international units, we would ensure that the units were of high environmental integrity. 

“We’re confident that these changes provide an important balance between predictability for market participants, and flexibility for the Government to manage the ETS so that it supports our emissions reduction targets.”

Other key changes include setting up an infringement offence regime for low-level offending against the ETS rules, and taking steps to improve market governance.

Throughout August and September, the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Primary Industries, and Forestry New Zealand consulted on proposed improvements to the ETS.

Just over 250 submissions were received from businesses and industry groups, iwi and Māori, community groups and individuals. The majority supported the Government’s proposals.

Copies of the submissions can be viewed at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/ets

Information about the forestry changes planned for the ETS can be found by visiting the Ministry for Primary Industries webpage https://www.mpi.govt.nz/funding-and-programmes/forestry/emissions-trading-scheme/

High demand for New Zealand funded international agri-science scholarships

The latest winners of a New Zealand and CCAFS-funded international PhD scholarship have been announced following a three-fold increase in applications.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Climate Change Minister James Shaw say the increased demand clearly demonstrates the value countries place in the programme, which provides scientific solutions to reduce greenhouse gases in food production.

A total of 212 applicants from more than 50 countries applied, compared to 65 applicants from 23 countries in the previous round earlier this year.

Students will research rumen microbiology, rice production, soil science, and rangeland management, among other topics.

“The strong interest in the scholarships reflects the global desire to ensure food production systems are economically and environmentally sustainable in the face of an ever hungrier world,” Damien O’Connor said.

“The range of scientific disciplines and diversity of production systems covered by the scholarships highlights the complexity of the challenge of tackling greenhouse gases from food production.

“As an agricultural economy, New Zealand understands the importance of getting this right and the vital role that science will play. Many around the world are now looking at what agricultural expertise can deliver in terms of low-emissions food production to feed the world’s growing population.” 

Twenty-seven scholarships will be awarded to students from 17 countries who will be hosted by institutions in 15 countries, with winners announced at the UN climate talks in Poland, where Minister Shaw is attending the final week of talks at COP24 with New Zealand’s delegation.

“We’re really pleased that New Zealand is able to support this vitally important programme,” says James Shaw.

“We also want to acknowledge the support of many of our fellow GRA members and partners, particularly CCAFS, for providing exciting opportunities for these students,” James Shaw said.

New Zealand provides core funding to support the scholarship programme, which allows early career scientists to undertake 4-6 month research exchanges at institutions of GRA members and partners, including CGIAR Centres.”

The PhD scholarship programme, CLIFF-GRADS, is a joint initiative of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases  – in which New Zealand has a leading role – and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Programme for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security .

Further details are at www.ccafs.cgiar.org/CLIFFGRADS and www.globalresearchalliance.org

Source:  Ministers of Agriculture and Climate Change

The BERG report: ministers welcome agricultural sector’s work on emissions

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Climate Change Minister James Shaw have welcomed the report of the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), which has been released today.

The report shows many farmers want to take action to reduce emissions, but need more information about what steps they can take.

It also shows if all farmers operated using today’s best practice, New Zealand may be able to reduce emissions by up to 10%. Continued funding for research into new, novel technologies will be important for reducing emissions further.

The Biological Emissions Reference Group Report is the culmination of two years of research into the opportunities, costs and barriers to reducing biological emissions in New Zealand’s primary industries.

The group is a joint agriculture industry-government working group of nine key organisations: Beef + Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Deer Industry NZ, Federated Farmers, The Fertiliser Association of NZ, Fonterra, HortNZ, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and Ministry for the Environment (MfE).

In essence, BERG has looked at what lowering emissions means for the primary sector, said Damien O’Connor.

He thanked the group for taking on the challenge to help answer some big questions and said it had provided a comprehensive range of findings, from farmers’ perceptions of climate change through to views on the likelihood of new technologies being available to reduce emissions in future.

James Shaw said a key finding is that, overall, biological emissions in the future could potentially be reduced 10 – 21% by 2030 and – 48% by 2050.

That offered real hope to farmers and agricultural businesses which wanted to reduce emissions while maintaining productivity and profitability.

“It also offers real hope to a world that needs to expand food production for a growing global population but also needs to bring down climate pollution at the same time,” Mr Shaw said.

And it highlights the importance of clear government policies so farmers can make well-informed decisions about

Penny Nelson, deputy director general policy and trade at MPI, said the group saw the need for a good evidence base to support the sector to address some key climate challenges.

“Farmers were asking what practical things they can do to reduce their emissions. We needed to improve our shared understanding of the possible innovation and solutions, and the barriers standing in farmers’ way.”

Cheryl Barnes, deputy secretary, water and climate change at MFE, said it’s great that the agricultural sectors and government are working in partnership to provide information to inform discussion on these important issues.

The reference group commissioned nine new research projects. The work has already informed advice to the government on options for the 2050 emissions target, and will feed into future planning and policy. It has also been used by the Productivity Commission, the Interim Climate Change Committee, and industry.

The BERG plans to host an event in early 2019 to discuss the analysis and findings in more depth.

Source:  Ministers of Agriculture and Climate Change

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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NZAGRC reports progress with climate change science in the past year

Dr Peter Millard, chair of the the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre Steering Group, reports that key results in 2017/18 demonstrate climate change science teams are getting closer to finding viable solutions to reduce agricultural GHGs.

Governments globally began ratifying the 2015 Paris agreement much earlier than anticipated, including New Zealand in October 2016, he says in a report on NZGARC’s highlights published today.

Domestically the new Minister for Climate Change has been consulting on a proposed Zero Carbon Act, to be introduced in 2019, as the Government drives climate change policy towards low emissions and climate resilience.

This framework supports the existing target for New Zealand to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, Dr Millard says.

The NZ Government also plans to set a new emissions reduction target for 2050 and establish an independent Climate Change Commission.

The Interim Climate Change Committee with a supporting secretariat has been established, with Dr Harry Clark, NZAGRC Director, contributing as a committee member and Dr Andy Reisinger, NZAGRC, Deputy Director (International) as part of the committee secretariat.

A key challenge for this committee is to develop evidence and analysis on how agriculture should be brought into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

New Zealand farms contribute 49% to the country’s GHG emissions, necessitating changes.

There are a number of science and policy challenges to be considered, particularly how to mitigate agriculture’s emissions whilst still producing sufficient food to supply an expanding global population.

The emissions intensity of New Zealand agriculture per unit of meat or milk produced has declined on average by about 1% a year since at least 1990. However this has been more than offset by the increased overall product generated by the sector.

While our farmers are making a contribution and making efficiency gains, it is not enough to counter the extra GHGs being produced overall, Dr Millard says.

New, practical, cost-effective mitigation technologies and practices will make a valuable contribution to Government strategies and subsequent action plans.

International collaborations and alliances can help find lasting global solutions, Dr Millard says.

Developing these approaches is the role of the NZAGRC alongside the joint industry/Government-backed PGgRc.

“Our efforts are a great example of Government, industry and researchers working together,”  Dr Millard says.

The NZAGRC is also working with the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG) and industry-led initiatives such as the Dairy Action for Climate Change.

Source:  New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre 

Cow emissions are said to be devastating the environment daily

Researchers from World Animal Protection  today warned that farm animals around the world are causing devastating damage to the environment by emitting immense amounts of greenhouse gas every day.

According to their figures, 1.47 billion cows alone emit approximately 150 billion gallons of methane every day.

“Methane is thought to be 25-100 times more destructive to the environment than carbon dioxide,” a press statement from World Animal Protection says.

“Ninety-five per cent of the greenhouse gas produced by cows is from burping – unfortunately for the planet, cows burp approximately every 90 seconds which means there are a staggering 1.41 trillion methane-rich cow burps being released into the environment every day.”

The World Animal Protection researchers say they have also found that more than 23.7 billion methane-rich cowpats, weighing a total of 43.4 million tonnes, are deposited around the world every day – but cows are not the only culprits. Animal agriculture, including pigs, chickens, cows and other farmed animals accounts for 7.1 gigatonnes equivalent of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is “more than all the cars, planes and other forms of transport put together”.

The charity is urging the Environment and Agriculture Ministers of the world’s biggest livestock farming nations to encourage their people to eat less meat to reduce global warming.

It argues that fewer farm animals means less greenhouse gas. Eating less but higher-welfare meat would also improve animal welfare.

Meat consumption is increasing around the world along with the number of factory farms.  If left unchecked, agriculture is projected to produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of which will come from meat and dairy.

Steve McIvor, CEO of World Animal Protection, says:  the environmental impact of meat production needs to be taken much more seriously as does the suffering endured by 50 billion animals on factory farms every year. By eating less, but higher welfare, meat people can reduce global warming and improve the lives of billions of animals every single year.

Source: World Animal Protection

Sir Peter reports on the mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions

Arguments for focusing on carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and giving less emphasis to methane are counter-productive, Sir Peter Gluckman says in a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which accompanies his final report as the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor. Therefore he does not favour avoiding a focus on methane, despite the challenges such a focus creates.

He also says it it unrealistic to imagine a GHG-neutral profile from agriculture without offsets in various forms.

Those views are reflected in Sir Peter’s final report, which has been published today.  It is entitled Mitigating agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: Strategies for meeting New Zealand’s goals

The report’s conclusions are driven by consideration of the highly variable nature of New Zealand geography, soil types, climate, and farming systems, Sir Peter says in his letter to Ms Ardern.

This heterogeneity creates challenges for generalisation and identifying the best ways to proceed. There are actions that farmers can now take that will have some impact on GHG emissions, and some near-term technologies that could have further effect if further developed for and adopted into NZ farming systems. But

” … there is no current or foreseeable methodology that will provide an accurate measure of GHG emissions on an individual farm, nor of what any particular mitigation measure might achieve at a farm level. This has major implications for how to proceed.

“Emissions at an individual farm level can only be estimated through proxy measures using scientific models such as OVERSEER, which is subject to some debate over its utility as a direct regulatory tool across a range of farm types, and has other issues that currently limit its usefulness. Taking these factors into account, one option that seems feasible is to use a ‘farm plan’ approach whereby a farmer, with expert advice and science-based input, identifies mitigation strategies he/she will be accountable for adhering to.

“Compliance or otherwise with an appropriate farm plan could extend to other dimensions of environmental management and to animal welfare and could be linked to any market or regulatory incentive scheme. Such an approach would require greater focus on the skillset of appropriately accredited farm advisors.”

The report highlights where scientific and policy focus should be concentrated, and outlines actions in terms of farmer and industry practices as well as research and investment to speed up the development of the most promising abatement technologies and better quantification of GHG emissions.

Sir Peter says:

“In some cases, issues of social acceptance and regulatory approvals will need to be addressed pre-emptively. It is likely that significant trade-offs will be required and there will be conflicting views: these should be acknowledged.”

Sir Peter recalls in the letter his first meeting with Ms Ardern to discuss her priorities for his Office after she became Prime Minister. She asked him to report back on what the agricultural sector could do over the near and intermediate term to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, enabling  New Zealand to track more effectively towards meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate action, and ultimately, the government’s carbon-neutral goal.

The letter says:

“New Zealand is seen internationally as an efficient producer of high quality food and will remain a major agricultural producer into the foreseeable future. However, maintaining agriculture’s central role in our export economy will require the sector to be increasingly sympathetic to the environment. Part of that must include reducing its contributions to greenhouse gas (GHG) production, and this could be done over time probably without substantive impacts on productivity or economic returns. But doing so will likely require some complex trade-offs, consideration of new technologies, and significant changes in farming practice and land use.

“In order to fully understand the landscape, my Office convened two large expert group meetings of governmental, farming and food sector stakeholders and have met with many experts from relevant sectors in smaller groups to discuss the opportunities and challenges in this complex area.

“My Office canvassed expert opinion on specific mitigation options and we have reviewed the scientific literature, including draft copies of analyses commissioned by the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), a joint government and sector working group (due for public release in September 2018). I understand that the Productivity Commission, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Interim Climate Change Committee (with whom I have met) will be providing Government with further evidence and/or advice on these and related issues in the future.”

Sir Peter’s report aims to present a high-level perspective on what would be needed to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and greater offsets, in the agricultural sector. It integrates the work of various research efforts in New Zealand and abroad, briefly reviews available on-farm mitigation options, highlights emerging opportunities, and identifies gaps in knowledge or other barriers that need to be overcome if agriculture is to be included in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), or any other policy mechanism.

The executive summary says agriculture – in contrast to the power and transport sectors – has fewer options to make large emissions reductions quickly and cost-effectively.

“Obligating farmers to reduce their emissions should not impose a disproportionate burden on them relative to their international competitors, nor relative to other sectors within New Zealand. There are no zero-emission strategies for biological GHGs, yet there are many reasons to act aggressively to reduce their emissions. This goes beyond arguments of short-lived versus long-lived gases; there are also strong market and reputational reasons for driving down agricultural emissions while making farms more efficient and sustainable.

“Methane and nitrous oxide are the main GHG emissions occurring on farms. Methane, derived mainly from enteric fermentation in ruminant livestock, is a short-lived gas, but one that has contributed most to the sector’s increasing emissions since 1990.

“Although methane does not accumulate in the atmosphere like CO2 does, it has potent effects on near-term warming, and this potency increases with increasing rates of methane emissions over time. While noting that methane emissions from agriculture cannot, and need not be, reduced to zero, reducing global methane emissions quickly will impact the peak warming temperature and the rate at which CO2 emissions need to be reduced.

“The metrics used to account for the different gases are important, particularly if biological GHGs are to be included in the ETS or similar mechanism at any level, as different metrics have implications for carbon, nitrous oxide and methane budgets.

“Strategies exist now that can help reduce biological GHGs, but currently, individual strategies are only expected to have modest effects on total emissions reduction, and there are trade-offs between possible options that will require careful consideration at an individual farm situation.”

The main strategies relate to:

• On-farm land-use decisions that reduce GHG emissions per unit of land area or increase carbon sinks – including forestry and other tree plantings, and horticulture blocks.

• Feeding practices, grazing and pasture management – including forage selection and the balance between stocking rates per hectare and individual performance per animal.

• Animal husbandry including breeding for high genetic merit in terms of breeding, productivity and emissions profiles.

• Animal housing and effluent management

• Precision-farming techniques – including irrigation and fertiliser management

“Apart from substantial land-use change, reducing livestock numbers and afforestation, the report says, the main opportunities to reduce emissions significantly will depend on technological innovations; for example the development of market-acceptable nitrification inhibitors, and to rumen methane inhibitors such as 3NOP for use in pastoral systems.

“Developing a methanogen-inhibiting vaccine holds theoretical promise for reducing methane emissions across all ruminant livestock systems but no proof-of-concept in animals yet exists.

“A mission-led approach to research will continue to be needed. Social science research is also required to understand how best to encourage early adopters and to enhance uptake of effective strategies across the sector. For the longer term, unravelling the regulatory and social licence issues around the use of new and evolving technologies will be critical for continuing scientific advancement as part of the national effort to reduce New Zealand’s largest sources of GHGs.

Despite the many scientific, economic and implementation challenges, failure to take actions within the agricultural sector will not only be costly to those farmers who find themselves unprepared for change, it will also ultimately be costly to New Zealand.”

NZIAHS forum reminder: The NZIAHS forum, to be held in Science House in Wellington on Friday, is titled Agriculture and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS): How do we enable farmers to respond?

Source: Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor