PM joins global leaders on climate warming while another step is taken to measure methane emissions

Two statements from the Beehive have drawn attention to the government’s aims to tackle climate change, reducing emissions and paving the way for a carbon-free New Zealand.

One of the statements reminded us that the US is back in the business of joining other countries in efforts to combat climate change.

This came from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said she had joined President Biden at a virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by the United States overnight.

The summit, held for Earth Day, brought world leaders together to galvanise efforts to reduce emissions this decade and keep the shared goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within reach.

“New Zealand welcomes the United States’ international leadership on climate change and sees this summit as an important opportunity to work collectively to drive effective global action on climate change,” Jacinda Ardern said.

New Zealand was asked to specifically participate in the climate finance session of the Summit. Continue reading

How a change in peatland farming could reduce global carbon emissions

Reducing drainage depths in agricultural peatlands by 50% could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of over 1% of global anthropogenic emissions, suggests a paper in Nature this week.

Complete restoration of peatland remains the most sustainable option, but where it is not feasible to end drainage-based agriculture, partially raising the water table in peatlands could reduce emissions without halting their productivity.

Draining peatlands can provide fertile land for growing crops, because removing water triggers the release of nutrients through decomposition.

But crops grown on peat have some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per crop calorie in the world. The equivalent of around 3% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gases are emitted from drained peatland. Continue reading

Reducing our climate emissions – can eating greener make a difference?

New Zealand Herald science writer Jamie Morton has asked what difference would be made to climate change emissions if we all moved to climate-friendly diets.   More specifically, should we take red meat out of our diets?

Let’s look at what we know, Mr Morton writes.

His article kicks off:

Climate change presents an existential threat – and a challenge that’s going to require transformative action by governments and polluting industries across the globe. What actions can we, as individuals take?

 The article which looks at climate-friendly diets is one of a series of extracts from Mr Morton’s contribution to the upcoming book Climate Aotearoa: What’s happening and what we can do about it, edited by former prime minister Helen Clark.

Mr Morton notes that agriculture covers nearly 40 per cent of global land, making agroecosystems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet.

Food production accounts for up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly three-quarters of freshwater use.

In this country, land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.

Mr Morton writes:

Ditching animal protein is seen by an increasing number of people as the only way to deal with the fact that, by 2050, the world’s population will hit 10 billion, rendering the demand for meat higher than the industry’s ability to supply it.

He references science communicator Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, who cites studies which suggest that climate change is going to lower the yields and nutritional value of staple crops like corn and wheat.

At the same time, it will expand the areas where crop pests can survive, and make it more difficult for farmhands to work at certain times of the day due to the heat.

“In other words,” she says, “we simply can’t rely on our current land-hungry, water-thirsty, pollution-heavy and extinction-inducing ways of producing food if we are to feed the ever-growing human population as our environment changes around us.”

Mr Morton also references Otago University researchers who have found that eating less red meat could be key to New Zealand significantly slashing emissions while saving billions of healthcare dollars over coming decades.

Specifically, they showed a population-level shift to diets rich in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes could — depending on the extent of changes made — cut diet-related emissions by between 4 and 42 per cent annually.

More strikingly, if all Kiwis adopted an exclusively plant-based diet tomorrow, and avoided wasting food unnecessarily, we’d achieve what would be equivalent to a 60 per cent drop in emissions from cars.

As a bonus, Kiwis could collectively enjoy up to 1.5 million more “life years” — that’s those equivalent to a year of optimal health — and save our health system between $14 billion and $20b over the lifetime of our current population.

Mr Morton sees signs that a green shift is happening.

By 2016, the proportion of Kiwis who stated that all — or almost all — of the food they ate was vegetarian had grown by nearly a third from four years earlier.

And recent polling by Colmar Brunton indicates that about one in 10 of us is now largely shunning meat, amid a growing shift to sustainable lifestyles.

Industry data similarly indicate a downward trend of red-meat consumption in New Zealand over the past 10 years, with beef, lamb and mutton down 38 per cent, 45 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.

Rates of vegetarianism tend to drop among Kiwis in their 30s and 40s  but veganism is increasing.

Mr Morton notes that almost half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture — the bulk of that being methane from ruminant animals such as cows and sheep — and some farming models like intensive dairying do generally emit more greenhouse gases.

But sheep and beef emissions have fallen by a third since 1990, in step with falling stock numbers.

And with some 2.8 million hectares of forest on sheep and beef land, the industry holds the largest collection of native bush outside the conservation estate, bringing some carbon-offsetting benefits.

  • Mr Morton acknowledges that his text has been extracted from Climate Aotearoa: What’s happening and what we can do about it, a new book from a range of leading New Zealand climate scientists and commentators, edited by Helen Clark. Published by Allen & Unwin NZ. RRP$36.99. Available in stores from Monday, April 19

Source:  New Zealand Herald

Changing feeding times helps fight climate change

New research finds that delaying when animals are fed means they will urinate at night in colder temperatures.

The cooler temperatures mean less nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is produced from the nitrogen in the urine.

Co-author of the study*, Dr Jim Gibbs, senior lecturer at Lincoln University in livestock health and production, said understanding the relationship between time of feeding and subsequent nitrogen excretion may lead to better farm management strategies to reduce greenhouse gas output.

“Animals fed in both the morning and afternoon excreted approximately 60% of their urine volume and total urea within 12 hours of being offered fresh feed.

“This work suggests that shifting animals to new pasture late afternoon would result in more urinary nitrogen being deposited at night when lower ambient temperatures should lead to reduced volatilisation and lower N2O production.”

“This is good news for the dairy industry, as South Island farmers already use evening shifts for fresh feed, to better judge pasture use in daylight hours. This work shows the value of evaluating management of the whole production system to improve farming outcomes.”

The work was funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change (SLMACC) Fund.

*Effect of feeding time on urinary and faecal nitrogen excretion patterns in sheep https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/ref/10.1080/00288233.2021.1892775?scroll=top&

Source:  Lincoln University

NZAGRC Innovation Fund makes $4m available for new research round

The New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre has made $4 million available for a second round of its competitive Innovation Fund.

Proposals are called for projects that address the reduction of methane and/or nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural activities in New Zealand.

Successful applications must develop novel approaches and/or significantly strengthen current research avenues that show major promise for bringing practical, farm-level solutions closer to implementation. Continue reading

Swiss researchers find reducing agriculture’s carbon is likely to lift food prices

Swiss researchers say using Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) to offset the emissions caused by agriculture is likely to increase food costs.

They say failing to mitigate agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions could lead to an increase in global temperatures above the 1.5 – 2˚C target, by about 0.4˚C, and that CDR is likely to play a role.

But they estimate that beef costs would climb by 41%, milk by 40% and rice by 14% in the USA as a result.

The cost increases for beef and rice could be significantly higher taking the whole world into account, potentially threatening food security and welfare, they say.

As a report in Cosmos explains, carbon dioxide removal – or CDR – is often touted as a solution for industries that can’t easily reduce their emissions.

This article explains what CDR entails:

Continue reading

Seaweed supplements can slash livestock emissions – without lowering meat quality

A California study has found that feeding a red-algae supplement to beef cattle more than halved methane emissions, without compromising meat quality.

The largest reductions were found with a high seaweed-supplemented, low-forage diet, which lowered methane production by as much as 80%.

Cattle achieved normal growth rates while consuming less food, suggesting that seaweed-supplemented diets could help farmers improve efficiency, reduce costs, and reduce methane emissions all at once.

Livestock farming is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide because ruminants like sheep and cattle produce methane as a byproduct of digestion.

The study which found how supplementing the diet of beef cattle with red seaweed can reduce methane emissions without compromising meat quality was published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, by Breanna Roque from the University of California and colleagues.

The researchers fed 21 Angus-Hereford beef bullocks their usual diet of hay, grains, and corn, supplemented with either zero, low, or high concentrations of red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis).

They measured the quantity of methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide released by individual bullocks periodically for 21 weeks and found that seaweed supplements reduced methane emissions by between 45% and 68%.

The proportion of forage in the base diet also influenced emissions.  The greatest reductions were found with a high seaweed-supplemented, low-forage diet, which reduced methane production by as much as 80%.

Professional grading and consumer testing revealed no effect on the quality or flavor of the meat.

The study is the first to show a sustained reduction in cattle greenhouse gas emissions as a result of feed supplementation. Bullocks also sustained normal growth rates while consuming less food, suggesting that red seaweed supplemented diets could help farmers improve efficiency, reduce costs, and reduce methane emissions simultaneously, the authors say.

“There is more work to be done, but we are very encouraged by these results,” Roque said. “We now have a clear answer to the question of whether seaweed supplements can sustainably reduce livestock methane emissions and its long-term effectiveness.”

The research can be read HERE.

B+LNZ welcomes MfE report on sequestration as an important contribution

We learned of an important new report for the farm sector and its scientists not in press statements from the Ministry for the Environment  (which published the report) or its minister, but from Beef+Lamb NZ.

The report, posted on the ministry’s website without fanfare today, is titled Net emissions and removals from vegetation and soils on sheep and beef farmland.

The  report estimates the net emissions and removals from vegetation and soils on New Zealand sheep and beef farmland, using methods consistent with New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory (MfE, 2020) and the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines for reporting (IPCC, 2006b).

Woody vegetation and drained organic soils on sheep and beef farms are estimated to be a net sink, removing 5487 kt CO2-e from the atmosphere in 2018.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) removals were driven by large areas of natural (indigenous) forest and planted (exotic) forests. Emissions from vegetation were driven by deforestation and harvesting of planted forests. Continue reading

Experts comment on the Climate Commission’s 15-year decarbonisation blueprint

The Climate Change Commission (as we posted yesterday) has outlined its advice on how New Zealand should reshape its economy to mitigate the climate crisis.

The report says current government policies do not put the country on track to meet its 2050 targets.

To achieve those targets, the report sets new emissions targets and recommends a transition to electric vehicles, accelerated renewable energy generation, climate friendly farming practices and more permanent forests, predominantly natives.

The draft proposal will be open for public feedback starting tomorrow until 14 March.

The Science Media Centre asked experts to comment on the report.  Here is the feedback – Continue reading

Commission outlines advice on how NZ should reshape economy to tackle climate crisis

The Climate Change Commission has published a draft discussion paper, noting that the Government has committed to reaching net zero emissions of long-lived gases by 2050, and to reducing biogenic methane emissions by between 24-47% by 2050. It says its work shows that meeting these targets is possible – and can lead to a thriving, climate-resilient and low

But the Government must pick up the pace.  New Zealand will not meet its targets “without strong and decisive action now to drive low emissions technologies and behaviour change across all sectors”.

The country must focus on decarbonising and reducing emissions at the source.

“As a country we can no longer rely on forests to meet our climate change targets.” Continue reading