Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hamilton student goes to court to battle NZ Govt over climate change policies

A law student from Hamilton is challenging the Government in the High Court over what she claims is a “failure” to properly address climate change.

According to Sarah Thomson, 26, New Zealand’s targets under the Paris Climate Agreement are “unambitious” and fail to reflect scientific consensus on climate change.

The case, the first of its kind in New Zealand, will be heard over three days from today in the Wellington High Court.

Thomson says she has been inspired by climate change litigation around the globe, including the 900 Dutch citizens who filed a case the Dutch Government and a case in the US where 21 young people are suing the Federal Government.

She says she has the backing of several world-renowned climate change experts, including former NASA researcher James Hansen, who is giving evidence in the case.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change author and Victoria University of Wellington Professor James Renwick is also giving evidence.

The lawsuit will ask the Minister for Climate Change Issues to justify the way in which New Zealand’s climate targets have been set.

Broad range of research topics covered in Royal Society lecture series

The Royal Society Te Aparangi has announced a nationwide lecture series hosted by its branches to demonstrate the range of research being carried out throughout New Zealand.

The lectures are part of the society’s 150th anniversary activities.

Each talk will include a presentation and video celebrating the society’s past and looking to the future, led by Professor Richard Bedford, the society’s president.

Topics range from human heat stress due to rising temperatures and humidity in response to climate change to future food and developments in pest management for pipfruit crops.

Gene editing to improve the national dairy herd is another of the topics.

Professor Bedfored describes it as “a broad and intriguing collection of research we can be proud of.”

The events are free but a donation to support branch activities would be appreciated.

More details can be found HERE.

Decomposing leaves are shown to be a source of nitrous oxide

Michigan State University scientists have pinpointed a new source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s more potent than carbon dioxide.

The culprit?

Tiny bits of decomposing leaves in soil, according to account of the research released by the univerity (HERE).

The discovery, featured in the current issue of Nature Geoscience, could help refine nitrous oxide emission predictions as well as guide future agriculture and soil management practices.

“Most nitrous oxide is produced within teaspoon-sized volumes of soil, and these so-called hot spots can emit a lot of nitrous oxide quickly,” said Sasha Kravchenko, MSU plant, soil and microbial scientist and lead author of the study.

“But the reason for occurrence of these hot spots has mystified soil microbiologists since it was discovered several decades ago.”

Part of the vexation was due, in part, to scientists looking at larger spatial scales. It’s difficult to study and label an entire field as a source of greenhouse gas emissions when the source is grams of soil harboring decomposing leaves.

Changing the view from binoculars to microscopes will help improve N2O emission predictions, which traditionally are about 50 percent accurate, at best. Nitrous oxide’s global warming potential is 300 times greater than carbon dioxide, and emissions are largely driven by agricultural practices.

“This work sheds new light on what drives emissions of nitrous oxide from productive farmlands,” said John Schade, a programme director for the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program, which co-funded the research with NSF’s earth sciences division.

“We need studies like this to guide the creation of sustainable agricultural practices necessary to feed a growing human population with minimal environmental impact.”

To unlock the secrets of these N2O hotspots, Kravchenko and her team took soil samples from MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research site.

Then in partnership with scientists from the University of Chicago at Argonne National Laboratory, they examined the samples at Argonne’s synchrotron scanning facilities, a much more powerful version of a medical CT scanner. The powerful X-ray scanner penetrated the soil and allowed the team to accurately characterize the environments where N2O is produced and emitted.

“We found that hotspot emissions happen only when large soil pores are present,” Kravchenko said. “The leaf particles act as tiny sponges in soil, soaking up water from large pores to create a micro-habitat perfect for the bacteria that produce nitrous oxide.”

Not as much N2O is produced in areas where smaller pores are present. Small pores, such as in clay soils, hold water more tightly so that it can’t be soaked up by the leaf particles. Without additional moisture, the bacteria aren’t able to produce as much nitrous oxide. Small pores also make it harder for the gas produced to leave the soil before being consumed by other bacteria.

“This study looked at the geometry of pores in soils as a key variable that affects how nitrogen moves through those soils,” said Enriqueta Barrera, program director in NSF’s earth sciences division. “Knowing this information will lead to new ways of reducing the emission of nitrous oxide from agricultural soils.”

More specifically, future research will review which plant leaves contribute to higher N2O emissions. Plants with more nitrogen in their leaves, such as soybeans, will more than likely give off more N2O as their leaves decompose. Researchers also will look at leaf and root characteristics and see how they influence emissions.

Indication of interest in Biosecurity 2025 working groups is sought

The Biosecurity 2025 team is establishing the steering group and working groups signalled at the Grow Biosecurity Forum in November last year, with membership from across the biosecurity system.

The role of the steering group (the Royal Society of New Zealand advises in its latest newsletter) will be to oversee the development of an implementation framework to deliver the Biosecurity 2025 Direction Statement. Working groups will develop work plans that will each be a component of the overall implementation framework.

An early task for the Steering Group will be to confirm the scope and role of working groups, however at this stage, the biosecurity team are seeking an indication of interest for involvement in the working groups.

It is likely that:

  • There will be multiple working groups, most likely one for each strategic direction.
  • Working groups will deliver a workplan, which will contribute a component of the overall implementation plan. These workplans will outline the key actions and activities that are required across the system to deliver on the particular Strategic Direction
  • Working groups will be in place for 6-8 months (until work plans have been developed)
  • Members will be expected to contribute to the work of the working groups including the development of workplans. Commitment is likely to include several full day meetings and work outside of meeting sessions. Although there will be some flexibility for members to be more or less involved, they are looking for people who can commit time and effort to ensure that implementation planning is a timely and effective process.
  • Working group membership will be drawn from across the biosecurity system

The biosecurity team will provide further information about scope and role of working groups and the expectations for commitment of members once confirmed. However at this stage, they would like to hear from you, if you, or your organisation, are interested in being involved. If possible, please let them know what Strategic Direction you are most interested in.

A copy of the Direction Statement is available on the MPI website.

the Biosecurity 2025 Team can be contacted at

Trump is poised to begin rolling back Obama’s environmental regulations

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today (NZ time) aimed at rolling back one of former President Barack Obama’s major environmental regulations to protect American waterways. But according to the New York Times (HERE), it will have almost no immediate legal effect.

The order essentially will enable Mr Trump to direct his new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the complicated legal process of rewriting the sweeping 2015 rule known as Waters of the United States. But that effort could take longer than a single presidential term, legal experts are quoted as saying.

The order is the first of two announcements expected to direct Mr Pruitt to begin dismantling the major pillars of Mr Obama’s environmental legacy.

In the coming week, Mr. Trump is expected to sign a similar order instructing Mr Pruitt to begin the process of withdrawing and revising Mr Obama’s signature 2015 climate-change regulation, aimed at curbing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

Both of those rules were finalised under existing laws long before Mr Obama left office. Legal experts say they cannot therefore be simply undone with a stroke of the president’s pen.

The clean water rule was issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act. It gives the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major bodies of water, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as in streams and wetlands that drain into those larger waters.

The water rule came under fierce attack from farmers, property developers, fertiliser and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers, golf-course owners and other business interests that contend it will stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has led the legal fight against the rule, contends that it places an undue burden on farmers in particular, who may find themselves required to apply for federal permits to use fertiliser near ditches and streams on their property that may eventually flow into larger rivers.

Federated Farmers says climate change actions should be practical, research-based

Federated Farmers supports the need for action to address climate change but says New Zealand’s responses should be practical, cost-effective and based on sound research.

Delegates representing 24 branches around the nation unanimously passed a 12-point Federated Farmers Policy on Climate Change in Wellington last week.

“The scientific consensus is that climate change is happening and that humanity, including agriculture, contributes,” the policy states.

The 13,000-member farmer group called for greater investment in research efforts to reduce biological agricultural emissions. It was worth accessing all the tools of modern biology, including biotechnology, but the measures should be cost-effective and not at the expense of farm productivity.

The Paris agreement also gives priority to food security and production, recognising the dual challenge of controlling global temperatures and feeding a growing population.

New Zealand farmers are world-leading carbon efficient protein producers so it makes no sense to include our agricultural biological emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme until there are effective mitigation tools, and our international competitors are likewise included.

“We would otherwise simply be exporting production to other less efficient players, making the global environmental problem worse, not better,” Federated Farmers climate change portfolio leader Anders Crofoot says.

Federated Farmers sees co-benefits from managing the cross-over between climate change and other policy issues. For example, research into better understanding the nitrogen cycle could lead to reductions in nitrous oxide emissions as well as the nitrate leaching that affects waterways.

Soil erosion control plantings in hill country and riparian planting will sequester emissions, reduce sedimentation and phosphate in streams and rivers, and also achieve biodiversity objectives.

Farming’s need to remain viable requires an exploration of the implications of the threats and opportunities arising from a changing climate, Mr Crofoot says.

AgResearch CEO says NZ will benefit from new science links with China

AgResearch has announced it intends to form a joint international research centre with China’s largest state–owned food company and largest university research department specialising in food science and nutrition.

A Collaboration Arrangement was signed earlier this month in Beijing with the Nutrition and Health Research Institute within the China Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation and with the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering of China Agriculture University.

The parties will explore opportunities to work together formally in the name of a “Joint International Research Centre for Food Science” to promote international exchange, research and productivity, with a particular focus on further enhancing a China/New Zealand relationship”.

The arrangement states:

“The overall goal of the collaboration is to initiate activities that are of mutual benefit to the parties in terms of knowledge development, scientific and technological innovation and economic benefit”.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says the relationship with such influential institutions – from the world’s most populous country with a rapidly expanding middle class – opens up a host of opportunities for AgResearch, and agriculture and agribusiness in New Zealand.

Some of the key research areas where AgResearch expects to work closely with COFCO and CAU are food science, processing, food assurance and safety, and human nutrition.