Submissions are called for on international climate change guidelines

The Government is inviting input as it sets the priorities for New Zealand at international climate change negotiations.

Agriculture is among the areas on which New Zealand has focused.

In Paris in 2015, 174 countries plus the European Union committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

At the end of this year (2-14 December), international negotiators will meet in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The purpose of COP24 is to work out the guidelines for how countries work together to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

From today, New Zealanders are invited to have their say on what they think New Zealand’s stance on those guidelines should be.

“Tackling climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time,” says the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw.


“I’ve been clear that New Zealand will show leadership on climate change on the world stage, which is why we want to refresh our approach to international climate negotiations, and to hear from you about what you think is important in those negotiations.


“We need to lead by example at home and we also need to be clear about what we’re working towards at the international negotiating table.”

Having signed up to the Paris Agreement, the next step is to agree on guidance for countries as they go about implementing their national contributions to reducing greenhouse gases and limiting temperature rise, and that is what will happen in Katowice in December, Mr Shaw says.

“There are a number of areas New Zealand has focused on already, including transparency, effective mitigation, integrity of carbon markets, agriculture, as well as gender and indigenous people’s issues,” he says.

Public submissions can be made by clicking here for more details.

Submissions are due by 3 April.

Source: Minister for Climate Change


Global warming could cause key culinary crops to release seeds prematurely

British researchers show that higher temperatures accelerate seed dispersal in crop species belonging to the cabbage and mustard plant family, limiting reproductive success.

This effect is mediated by a gene called INDEHISCENT. The findings appear this week in the journal Molecular Plant.

“In many crops, such as oilseed rape, premature seed dispersal is one of the major causes of crop loss. In the context of climate change, this could become increasingly severe,” says co-senior author Vinod Kumar, a plant developmental biologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.

“This study exposes the potential vulnerabilities of crop production in the warming world and paves the way for addressing this problem.”

Plants have an extraordinary ability to adjust their life cycle to suit a range of environmental conditions. For example, despite day-to-day changes in weather and temperature, the release of seeds stays in tune with prevailing seasonal conditions.

“Seed dispersal is also a key trait that must be controlled when domesticating plants for food production,” says co-senior author Lars Østergaard, a plant geneticist at the John Innes Centre.

“With the prospect of climate change affecting crop performance, we wanted to understand how environmental signals such as temperature affect seed dispersal.”

One clue came from the observation that Arabidopsis plants, which belong to the Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage) family, mature and open their seed pods faster when grown at elevated temperatures. Inspired by this observation, Xin-Ran Li, a postdoctoral researcher with Kumar and Østergaard and first author of the study, set out to investigate.

They found a rise in temperature, from 22ºC to 27ºC, accelerated pod shattering and seed dispersal in Arabidopsis plants and important Brassicaceae crops such as oilseed rape, a key ingredient in vegetable oil. Moreover, elevated temperatures accelerated seed dispersal by enhancing the expression of the INDEHISCENT gene, which is known to regulate the development of seed pod tissue and promote fruit opening.

“We speculate that such mechanisms have evolved to facilitate proper seasonal timing of dispersal to ensure that seeds are released under conditions that are both timely and climatically optimal for germination,” Li says. “There could perhaps be a selective advantage in early maturation and dispersal in the wild.”

Beyond the evolutionary implications, the findings could have broad relevance for maintaining yields of important crops. Oilseed rape is one of the largest sources of vegetable oil in the world and is also used for biofuel and animal feed.

More generally, the Brassicaceae family includes many economically valuable agricultural crops, including cabbage, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, turnip, radish, and rutabaga.

“We were excited by the discovery that what we found in the model plant Arabidopsis also holds true for both crop plants, such as oilseed rape, as well as non-domesticated species from the Brassicaceae family,” Kumar says. “This highlights the significance of our findings both in the wild as well as in the field.”

Based on their study, the research team suggests new strategies for preparing crops for global warming. For example, plant breeding efforts could focus on developing temperature-resilient varieties capable of coping with climate change. Moreover, gene-editing tools, such as the CRISPR/Cas system, could be used to reduce the expression of the INDEHISCENT gene, thereby delaying seed release and reducing crop loss.

For their own part, Kumar and Østergaard plan to further investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying temperature-induced changes in seed dispersal.

They hope that by understanding this in detail, they will be better equipped to devise strategies to breed for crop resilience to climate change.

US scientists develop new tool to predict climate change effects on crop yields

University of Illinois researchers are attempting to bridge two types of computational crop models to become more reliable predictors of crop production in the American Corn Belt.

One class of crop models is agronomy-based; the other is embedded in climate models or earth system models.

They are developed for different purposes and applied at different scales, says Kaiyu Guan, an environmental scientist and the principal investigator on the research.

“Because each has its own strengths and weaknesses, our simple idea is to combine the strengths of both types of models to make a new crop model with improved prediction performance.”

Guan and his research team implemented and evaluated a new maize growth model, represented as the CLM-APSIM model, by combining superior features in both Community Land Model (CLM) and Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM).

“The original maize model in CLM only has three phenological stages, or life cycles. Some important developmental stages such as flowering are missing, making it impossible to apply some critical stresses, such as water stress or high temperature at these specific developmental stages,” says Bin Peng, a postdoctoral researcher in Guan’s lab and also the lead author.

“Our solution is incorporating the life cycle development scheme of APSIM, which has 12 stages, into the CLM model. Through this integration, stresses induced by high temperature, soil water and nitrogen deficits, can be taken into account in the new model.”

Peng says they chose CLM as the hosting framework to implement the new model because it is more process-based and can be coupled with climate models.

“This is important as the new tool can be used to investigate the two-way feedback between an agroecosystem and a climate system in our future studies.”

As well as replacing the original maize phenology model in CLM with that from the APSIM model, the researchers have made several other innovative improvements in the new model. A new carbon allocation scheme and a grain number simulation scheme were added, as well as a refinement to the original canopy structure scheme.

“The most alluring improvement is that our new model is closer to getting the right yield with the right mechanism,” says Guan.

“The original CLM model underestimates above-ground biomass but overestimates the harvest index of maize, leading to apparent right-yield simulation with the wrong mechanism. Our new model corrected this deficiency in the original CLM model.”

Peng says the phenology scheme of APSIM is quite generic.

“We can easily extend our new model to simulate the growth processes of other staple crops, such as soybeans and wheat. This is definitely in our plan and we are already working on it.

“All the work was conducted on Blue Waters, a powerful petascale supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on the University of Illinois campus,” says Peng. “We are currently working on parameter sensitivity analysis and Bayesian calibration of this new model and also on a high resolution regional simulation over the U.S. Corn Belt, all of which would not be possible without the precious computational resources provided by Blue Waters.”

The study, “Improving maize growth processes in the community land model: Implementation and evaluation,” is published (HERE) in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology.

Hayward kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty at risk from climate change

The most commonly grown variety of kiwifruit around Te Puke will not be commercially viable in the area by the end of the century, scientists predict.

A study into how climate change will affect production of the Hayward cultivar in the Bay of Plenty – the common bright green kiwifruit – has just been published in the New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science.

The lead author, NIWA scientist Dr Andrew Tait,says it is globally recognised that the effects of climate change is an emerging risk to the economic value of fruit crops, especially those grown in warm, temperate regions such as kiwifruit.

“Our study shows that kiwifruit production around Te Puke steadily decreases over coming decades. It will be marginal by 2050 and most likely not viable by 2100 under all but the most stringent of global greenhouse gas emission options.”

The good news is that other parts of New Zealand will become suitable for kiwifruit production as temperatures rise.

About 90 per cent of New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry is based in the Bay of Plenty and more than half of that around Te Puke. Production is mostly the Hayward variety which is suited to the climate and soils of the area, including warm springs, mild summers and autumns and high sunshine hours.

Kiwifruit need sufficient “winter chilling” between May and July to produce high flower numbers in spring that result in fruit. High winter chilling, or colder sustained temperatures over this period, generally results in more flowers and an earlier flowering period.

Productivity significantly increased between 1980 and 2010 due to technology changes and the introduction of a chemical sprayed on the vines in late winter to improve the effects of winter chilling. New Zealand kiwifruit exports were worth $1558 million in the year ending June 2016 – up from $930 million the previous year.

But the use of the chemical, hydrogen cyanamide, may be restricted or banned in future.

“As air temperatures in New Zealand continue to rise, the potential for more years with marginal or poor winter chilling conditions steadily increases. This could put significant stress on the kiwifruit industry in the Te Puke area, particularly if hydrogen cyanamide is banned,” Dr Tait says.

“If this happens soon then there is an urgent need to consider the viability of Hayward kiwifruit production in other areas of the country, alongside genetic improvement.”

NIWA temperature data and high resolution mapping abilities showed areas further inland in the Bay of Plenty as well as Canterbury and Central Otago had potential as Hayward kiwifruit growing regions.

Through good planning, the New Zealand kiwifruit industry is likely to remain viable for many decades to come, Dr Tait says.

Time to take a historic step for climate change, says Jan Wright

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, has challenged MPs of all parties to come together to tackle climate change.

 “Climate change is the ultimate intergenerational issue,” said Dr Wright.

“It’s a huge challenge. And not just for the current Government, but also for the Governments that succeed them into the future, be they blue, red, green, or any other colour,”

In a new report, the Commissioner acknowledges that the Government has made progress since the Paris agreement. And the cross-party working group on climate change has been a welcome development.

But she says it’s now time to take the next step.

 “There is an opportunity here for the next Parliament to build on recent developments and take a historic step forward that will be credited for generations to come,” said Dr Wright.

Dr Wright has recommended a new Act, similar to the UK Climate Change Act. This is a law that was passed with overwhelming cross-party support in the House of Commons in 2008.

Several other countries have since passed similar legislation, including Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

A similar law in New Zealand would put emissions targets into law, and require the setting of carbon budgets that would act as stepping stones towards the targets. It would also establish a high-powered independent expert group that would crunch the numbers and provide objective advice.

 “There has been a lot of debate around what our targets should be,” said Dr Wright. “But I’m much more interested in how we are actually going to achieve them.”

The Commissioner says underlining her recommendations is the need for a long-term approach to climate change.

“When it comes to climate change, we need to get used to looking decades ahead,” said Dr Wright. “The world is going to be a very different place in the future.”

The report is subtitled Climate change, progress, and predictability. Dr Wright says businesses and investors are crying out for some predictability in New Zealand’s response to climate change.

 “Many businesses are keen to take advantage of the opportunities of moving to a low-carbon economy, but they need more predictability before they invest.”

The Commissioner’s report, Stepping stones to Paris and beyond: Climate change, progress, and predictability, is available HERE.

A set of frequently asked questions is available HERE. 


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.

US withdraws from climate change agreement but NZ remains committed

US President Donald Trump’s today confirmed his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement but may begin negotiations for a better deal.

The US accounts for more than 15 per cent of total global emissions, exceeded only by China.

Under former President Barack Obama, the US committed to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

New Zealand has committed to reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett (HERE) said the US withdrawal was “a step backwards” but New Zealand remained committed to the agreement and the accord was still intact.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the US decision was a retrograde step but the rest of the world would keep calm and carry on.

The Science Media Centre asked climate change experts to comment on the implications of President Trumps decision (HERE).

It has posted these comments:

Professor James Renwick, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington,.

“My take is that this is a backward step, but it’s hardly game over for the Agreement or for climate change. The US could stay in and do nothing, which would be as unhelpful as pulling out.

“The US stepping away from Paris hands the opportunity to China, the EU, and others, to take the lead and this is already happening. I understand China is already developing an agreement with the EU to push harder on emissions reductions.

“Plus, the President and Washington is not the USA. Individual cities and states are doing their own thing. The Governor of California has already signalled that he’s looking internationally for partners to push emissions reductions.

“So, Trump pulling out may just encourage the rest of the world to do more. The US is pulling back from global leadership and other nations will step in to take over. This move may, in fact, signal the start of China’s real dominance of international affairs.

“Climate change is an incredibly pressing problem. If we are to live up to the Paris Agreement, the global community has somewhere between 5 and 20 years to move on significant emissions reductions. Every nation must strive to lead on this issue, and if the US isn’t there, New Zealand and other countries must step up.”

Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, political scientist, University of Canterbury, comments:

“It feels surreal to be listening to Trump’s announcement as I am packing to leave tonight for the author meeting on the Special Report for the IPCC about how to achieve the objectives agreed in Paris to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

“I was simply shocked to hear Trump describe a 2 degrees climate rise as “tiny, tiny” amount because a global rise of 2 degrees translates to much higher local temperature changes and changes beyond 2 degrees risks dangerous climate events

• The Announcement is no surprise – Trump signalled he intended to pull out of the agreement.

• What is a surprise is how long it took and that Trump has had to leave the door open for his re-entry into the Paris Agreement

• This decision has taken a very long time and is so equivocal because it is not one that is well supported even amongst his own core vote base. This is why Trump is working so hard to make climate change seem a ‘foreign’ economic threat

• Despite the deeply partisan political divisions in the USA, a detailed poll this month by Yale University of Americans’ attitudes to climate change revealed only 1 in 5 US voters now support withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and less than a third, just 28% of Trump’s own vote base agrees America should leave the climate agreement

“USA withdrawal also creates significant new problems for the President, which is why he has keep the door open

1. First are political challenges; the withdrawal of Trump will create a political vacuum which China and EU is already stepping into as new global leaders in technology- there is also significant risk of political isolation of USA. Tillerson’s visit to NZ for example reminds us that the USA needs it’s international allies, but by putting ‘America First’ also reminds domestic populations in the rest of the world that is what is good for America is not necessarily good for their own countries and this will make it harder for other governments to forge alliances with an unpopular USA administration.

2. Second, the President’s decision creates significant industry challenges. There is no evidence that there will be new jobs created by the old industries, while other significant business leaders of new industries, including Apple, will be very frustrated at changes to US regulations for new investment in clean technology. We can also expect intense lobbying now from some sectors to destabilise the wider global climate agreement by arguing that without USA ‘what is the point?’. However, while the USA makes up about 26% of total global emissions, what the rest of the world does will now matter very much. We can also expect to see intense lobbying from geoengineering sector to position experimental industries like large-scale carbon capture and storage.

3. Third, this creates significant leadership challenges for the President as the leadership vacuum allows space for a new generation of younger world leaders and city and state governments to position themselves as offering new vision, and many like the state of California are already significant global leaders in addressing climate change.”

Dr Adrian Macey, senior associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“There are two ways to ‘leave’ the Paris Agreement:

• Formal withdrawal – this would be the ‘nuclear’ option. It would be seen as a hostile act. Under the Agreement the process could take 4 years.
• Change or suspend the NDC (nationally-determined contribution) which is what Trump claims is an unfair burden on the economy. He could change this, as it is not legally binding. This would mean that a future administration could simply renew/revise the US contribution and restart cooperation.

“The loss of the US would be damaging, for sure, for four reasons:

• As the world’s second largest emitter, without it, staying within the 2 Degrees target would be much harder, if not impossible

• It could give an excuse to other countries not to stick to their targets

• It would signal an end to the leadership of the “G2” (US and China) whose cooperation was essential in getting the Paris Agreement.

• If it were followed by pulling money out of climate change more widely, it might call into question the very valuable and world-leading research being done in the US eg. by NASA with its various satellite-based research projects.

“And of course, it would mean a huge loss of influence for the US.

“BUT there are mitigating factors:

• There is already a global shift towards renewable energy (the core of the climate change challenge), quite independent of any international agreements. The economics are changing rapidly, and there are additional benefits in jobs and innovation. Coal is unprofitable in the US for simple economic reasons, nothing to do with climate change.

• Other countries are signalling that a US withdrawal won’t lessen their commitment to the Paris Agreement

• Powerful US states such as California will continue their climate change policies.

• Major US businesses, even oil companies are moving to address climate change in their long-term plans.

• China has signalled it intends to retain its global leadership role, and the EU will be keen to step into the gap left by the US – they have been less influential in recent years.

“So …. unfortunate, and a setback but no need to despair.”