Technical working group calls for urgent action on climate change

A report from the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group urges better planning and resourcing and strong leadership to prepare New Zealand for a warmer, wetter and wilder future.

The report, released today, makes 21 major recommendations as a starting point.

It says the Government should urgently set about first identifying what needs to be done and who does what along with undertaking a countrywide risk assessment to inform it.

It also suggests the Local Government Act 2002 be changed to specify climate change adaptation as a function of local government and arm local authorities with a clearer mandate.

Strong leadership is called for, too – the Government should make it clear to the public that climate change is a priority, from a review of policy and legislation to factoring climate impacts into government and council procurement processes.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw issued a press statement (HERE) to accompany the release of the recommendations.

The group’s Co-Chair, Dr Judy Lawrence, says in the statement that even if the world stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, our climate would still change for centuries.

“Previous emissions take time to show their impact and are long lasting. We are already seeing the effects of climate change with sea level rise, more floods and hotter temperatures and we can expect further losses and damage,” says Dr Lawrence.

“We need robust data to assess our risks and see where and who is most vulnerable and exposed. This will enable us to put a national plan into action which is independently monitored and reported on.

“Adaptation needs to be funded so that there are incentives for people and organisations to take adaptive action. All of this work needs to be supported by strong leadership.

“The group has conveyed its expectation that the government will put in place a coordinated set of measures. These will enable New Zealand to reduce its exposure and vulnerability to the changing climate.”

Mr Shaw said becoming climate-resilient was a significant challenge.

“But it’s clear from CCATWG’s report that with the right plans and tools in place, we have a greater chance of managing the transition,” says Mr Shaw.

“There is new money in Budget 2018 for resourcing the Government’s climate change priorities.

“I see risk assessment as a priority and I intend to bring options to Cabinet soon for a decision on how and when to do a risk assessment.

“In the coming weeks we will be asking New Zealanders how they see New Zealand adapting to the effects of climate change as part of the Zero Carbon Bill consultation.

“We are all in this together and we have a responsibility to future generations to make changes now and build on what has been started. This will provide a framework for the future. I urge everyone to be part of the conversation.

“Taking early action in the right areas is likely to avoid the need for more abrupt action later,” says Mr Shaw.

The report can be read HERE.

People can register to have their say on how New Zealand becomes climate resilient as part of the Zero Carbon Bill HERE.


Royal Society posts video discussion among experts on land use and climate change

A video recording of a panel discussion which looks at the implications for land use of responses to climate change, in this country and around the globe, has been posted on the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s website.

The discussion, Land use and climate change: new pressures and new possibilities?, is chaired by Veronika Meduna, NZ editor of The Conversation.

Issues of current land use and climate change are explored with a panel of international contributors – their expertise is in global food security, sustainable resource management, renewable energy, sustainable development, and economics relating to climate change.

The event was opened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group III co-chairs Professor Jim Skea (UK) and Dr Youba Sokona (Mali), who were at the IPCC lead authors’ meeting on Land Use and Climate Change in Christchurch in March.

Speakers were:

Professor Tim Benton (UK)
Professor and Dean of Strategic Research Initiatives at the University of Leeds and Distinguished Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London. Formerly the Champion of the UK’s Global Food Security programme.

Professor Annette Cowie (AUS)
Principal Research Scientist -Climate, NSW Department of Primary Industries
Research experience includes sustainability assessment and greenhouse gas accounting in agriculture and forestry; investigating key aspects of soil carbon dynamics; life cycle assessment of forestry, bioenergy and biochar systems.

Dr Fatima Denton (Ethiopia)
Head of the African Climate Policy Centre, Director of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s Special Initiatives Division.
In 2016 she was nominated by the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, as one of the Women Leaders Driving Agricultural Transformation in Africa.

Associate Professor Anita Wreford (NZ)
Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit, Lincoln University (NZ)
Applied economist specialising in responses to climate change, Anita is a lead author for the IPCC Working Group III.

The event was hosted by the University of Canterbury in partnership with the IPCC, the Ministry for the Environment, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, The New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Comprehensive resources on the implications of climate change, the impact on health, and mitigation options for New Zealand can be found at the Royal Society Te Apārangi website HERE. 

Source:  Royal Society Te Apārangi

Canterbury University scientists involved in intermittent rivers study

University of Canterbury scientists are part of a global research collaboration into the environmental impacts of dry riverbeds, with their findings published today in a new paper in one of the world’s top scientific journals (see AgScience report HERE).

New Zealand researchers, Professor of Freshwater Ecology Angus McIntosh and Dr Catherine Febria, of the School of Biological Sciences, UC College of Science, have been part of a global team from 22 countries evaluating what happens to plant litter that falls into in river beds when they are dry (i.e. not flowing).

They co-authored the paper titled ‘A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways’ which was published today in Nature Geoscience.

“People might feel that a pile of plant litter accumulating in a dry river bed couldn’t possibly contribute to global climate warming, but the surprising reality is it very likely is,” Professor McIntosh says.

The contributions of drying rivers haven’t been included in global carbon accounting previously and their CO2 effects  could be significant.

“This is especially important because, surprisingly, intermittent streams and drying rivers are thought to include more than 50% of the river length world-wide,” he says.

Dr Febria says it is known that when rivers dry up fish and insects die, and the whole food web of the river collapses.

“However, we haven’t previously appreciated the significance of all the decomposition that happens when the water comes back. The amount of carbon dioxide released in many cases is huge,” she says.

“We should all care about this because carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the driver of global climate warming.

“Our research indicates that increasingly drying rivers, along with other land use changes, are contributing to global climate warming. Moreover, climate warming in many places like Canterbury is predicted to increase the frequency and magnitude of drought which could also cause more river drying.

“That is a really worry because that could form a positive feedback cycle by releasing even more carbon dioxide.”

This is the first piece of research published from this collaborative study involving 94 international partners from 22 countries studying the dry beds of 212 rivers from round the world, including Canterbury.

Until recently, drying and intermittent rivers had been largely ignored. This global study is beginning to reveal they really are very important and should not be ignored.

Such extensive global research efforts have traditionally been rare. That a very large group of researchers from around the world, led by a group in France, have come together to contribute is really quite significant, Professor McIntosh says.

He didn’t expect the magnitude of emissions to be so high. Therefore the findings should force a rethink of how the global carbon models are made so that they include CO2 emissions from intermittent rivers.

Source: University of Canterbury

Dry riverbeds release CO2 when the rain comes

Dusty, dry riverbeds accumulate all manner of leaves, wood and other plant material, but when water starts flowing again it significantly speeds up the microbial breakdown of this plant matter and the release of carbon dioxide, according to a study examining 212 ‘intermittent’ rivers around the globe.

Several rivers in New Zealand and Australia are included in the study.

The authors say the findings change how we think about rivers contributing to CO2 emissions – accounting for intermittent rivers could increase estimates of daily CO2 emissions from inland watercourses by up to 150 per cent.

Intermittent rivers are rivers which sometimes stop flowing and can dry completely.

They are studied much less than permanent rivers but could represent half of the world’s river network. In response to climate change and increasing water demands, they may come to dominate the landscape in some regions.

Because little is known about their role in the global carbon cycle, a collaborative study involving 94 international partners was led by IRSTEA.

The research, published on May 21 in Nature Geoscience, represents the first global study of the contribution that intermittent rivers make to carbon cycling.

Quantification and analyses of the plant litter deposited along the dry beds of 212 rivers distributed across the globe showed high levels of O2 consumption and CO2 emissions upon short-term simulated rewetting events.

Associated drivers including climatic variables, flow regimes and geomorphological variables were also identified.

These results highlight the need to incorporate intermittent river ecosystems into further studies exploring the contribution of inland waters to carbon cycling at the global scale.

When a river ceases flowing, terrestrial plant litter, mostly leaves and wood from the adjacent riparian zone, falls and accumulates in dry river beds. The type and amount of litter varies, depending on climate, riparian vegetation, the width of the river channel, the duration of the dry period and the river’s flow regime.

To shed light on what happens to the litter during rewetting and to explore the contribution that intermittent rivers make to the global C cycle, the 1000 Intermittent Rivers project2 -a collaborative network – investigated the quantity and quality of terrestrial plant litter that accumulated during dry periods in 212 intermittent rivers across 22 countries.

Sub-samples of leaf litter collected by this international research consortium were analysed at Irstea’s DYNAM laboratory following standardised assays to simulate short-term (24-hours) rewetting events.

High respiration rates were measured, reflecting the reactivation of microbial communities within the litter. In turn, this activity released substantial quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

A rough extrapolation indicates that estimates of daily CO2 emissions from inland watercourses could rise by between 7 and 152% if data from intermittent rivers are added to existing data from perennial rivers, and one rewetting event could contribute up to 10% of this increase.

The results suggest that the exclusion of intermittent rivers leads to notable underestimation of the contribution of the world’s river networks to the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. The next step is to incorporate intermittent rivers into global models of litter decomposition and global carbon cycling in inland waters.

The study can be found HERE.

Source: scimex


Reducing greenhouse gas emissions on Māori-owned farms

Scion, in partnership with AgFirst, is undertaking a research programme funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) looking at GHG mitigation options for Māori-owned pastoral farms.

The research programme is led by Dr Tanira Kingi (Scion), based in Rotorua, and managed by Phil Journeaux (AgFirst) out of their Hamilton office.

It is aimed at understanding how diversified Māori farms like Te Uranga B2 can improve their carbon profile further with changes to the management system and land use diversification.

The programme will develop a carbon and economic profile of the current operation of the incorporation’s dairy, sheep & beef and forestry operations and then model hypothetical changes that the Committee of Management want to explore, to see the affect on carbon emissions and profitability.

The programme is collaborating with DairyNZ, B+LNZ, Federation of Māori Authorities and Te Tumu Paeroa to share the findings with the wider agribusiness community.

While this study is carried out on Māori-owned farms, it is the first research programme in the country that is modelling both farm management mitigation options and land use changes and is therefore relevant to New Zealand’s entire agricultural industry.

This news orginally was included in the Autumn 2018 newsletter of Te Uranga B2 at 

Source: New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre


Science boost for Overseer farm management tool

The Coalition Government and the primary sector will work together to boost the science behind the valuable Overseer farm management tool, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker announced in a Budget press statement.

Overseer is a tool used by a range of primary industries and regional councils to help measure nutrient use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Well-used, it can assist farmers to minimise waste and maximise profits,” says Mr O’Connor.

The Budget includes an investment of $5 million of operating funding over the next four years to enhance it.

The extra funding for Overseer will enable:

• quicker adoption of environmentally friendly farm practices

• the inclusion of a wider range of land types and farming systems

• a more user-friendly interface.

“All farmers and growers want to keep their fertilisers on their paddocks and crops, and they want the best tools to manage their environmental responsibilities,” Mr O’Connor says.

Mr Parker says the extra funding in the Budget opens up opportunities for farmers to trial new technologies, techniques and tools that would otherwise be too risky or expensive to try.

“We need practical, science-backed tools to achieve this Government’s goals to improve land use, achieve a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050, and help clean up our rivers so our kids can swim in them without getting crook.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries, AgResearch and the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand each hold one-third stakes in the Overseer intellectual property.


Dr Kumar and the secrets of reducing methane emissions from sheep

Dr Sandeep Kumar has been looking at one of the world’s most pressing issues –  greenhouses gases – and one bacterium that might hold the key to reducing emissions.

Dr Kumar, who graduated at a Massey University ceremony in the Manawatū yesterday, arrived in New Zealand in the summer of 2011 as a LEARN scholar from India to work in AgResearch’s rumen microbiology team.

His journey from India to Palmerston North is told on the Massey University website (HERE).

He grew up in a village in the eastern part of India where he gained his initial understanding of agriculture and its impact on society. His eagerness to learn more about it brought him to Palmerston North.

He returned briefly to India, then came back to start a PhD in 2013 thanks to funding from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) and a Walsh fellowship from Teagasc (Ireland).

For this PhD, Dr Kumar investigated sheep that naturally produce less methane, and the key bacteria associated with these sheep.

“Methane is a by-product of feed digestion that contributes about one-third of New Zealand’s anthropogenic greenhouse gases,” Dr Kumar says.

“In the rumen [the first stomach of a ruminant], nearly all bacteria exist by fermenting the plant material ingested by the animal. There is a rather large bacterium found to be abundant in the rumen of naturally low-methane emitting sheep called Quinella, I wanted to understand why large populations of Quinella are associated with the rumens of sheep producing less methane.

“The problem is that the few published attempts that define its metabolism were contradictory, so we needed to study it further to work out its role in low methane emissions.”

Quinella, a bacterium first seen in sheep rumen contents in 1913, cannot be cultured. Dr Kumar found a way to generate preparations of rumen contents highly enriched with Quinella by exploiting the physical size of this bacterium.

By analysing four Quinella genomes assembled from DNA extracted from rumen contents, he found that Quinella has all the genes needed to produce propionate and acetate as well as lactate.

Results showed it produced little or no hydrogen, a major precursor for methane, which explains why greater abundances of these bacteria leads to lower methane emissions.

Additionally, Dr Kumar found there were several species of the genus Quinella besides Quinella ovalis. 

“As a microbiologist it is quite challenging to work with unculturable bacteria but at the same time it is rewarding as well when you successfully answer the question,” he says.

” In my PhD that is what exactly happened, as even after an unsuccessful isolation attempt, with the help of molecular biology and bioinformatics tools and software, I was able to construct the physiology of Quinella.”

Dr Kumar conducted much of his research at the AgResearch Grasslands campus, supervised by Dr Peter Janssen (AgResearch), Dr Mark Patchett (Massey University) and Dr Sinead Waters (Teagasc).

Other interesting aspects of its metabolism were also found during Dr Kumar’s work, but those will be for others to investigate. He has now accepted a post-doctoral scientist position in AgResearch, where he will be applying his microbiological skills to study bacterial endophytes.

Source: Massey University