Simon Bridges and climate change – two perspectives on National’s position

The Science Media Centre features observations by climate change scientist James Renwick on National’s newly announced position on climate change policy. Commentators at Point of Order have expressed an opinion, too.

Climate change is not a partisan issue and the need to take big steps to reduce emissions is urgent, climate scientist James Renwick writes on The Spinoff.  So the opposition’s support for a Climate Change Commission is very welcome.

The SMC gives us an excerpt (but you can read in full ):

In climate policy-land, things are all go here in New Zealand. The coalition government has got its Zero Carbon Bill out for public consultation, no new offshore oil exploration permits will be issued, and the Climate Change Commission is being set up. And now the leader of the opposition National Party, Simon Bridges, has come out in support of the Climate Change Commission and is looking for cross-party agreement on climate policy.

Wow. What a difference a year (and an election) makes. Not too long ago, the National government was unsupportive of the idea of a commission, was disinclined to shift climate change policy much, and then prime minister Bill English seemed pretty lukewarm about the whole climate change thing in general. Wherever Simon Bridges’ new passion for climate change action has come from, it is very welcome. Climate change is not a partisan issue, and the need to take significant action to reduce emissions is urgent. If all parties in parliament can agree on a way forward, there is a lot of hope that we’ll see meaningful and long-lasting policies implemented that genuinely reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

So, this is a big deal.

You can keep reading here… 

Point of Order quotes Bridges as saying climate change is the most significant environmental issue  for NZ.  “We need to deal with  it as an important long-term issue and provide certainty on it”. 

The blog goes on to say:

On the  face of it  Bridges seems  to be  departing  from National’s previous line  on climate change. But he’s   quick  to  point out  it  was the National   govt which signed NZ up to the Paris Climate Accord.

I did, actually, as Associate Climate Minister, with Tim Groser… What we’re saying is we are stepping up on the framework that’s enduring. We need to be practical, have sensible environmental solutions. We don’t want to see the disruptive damage to the economy quickly.We don’t want to see real costs imposed on hard-working Kiwi households overnight.

“But what we will do, just like I think this government will as well, is we’ll take the advice from that climate commission, we’ll be accountable in terms of how we decide on the advice”.

To a question on  Q&A  from Corin Dann, whether  under National there would  be a return to the formula of more intensive dairy farming, big irrigation, driving more production, Bridges responded:

I think certainly we wouldn’t want to see significantly more cows. I think the reality is what we have got to do… we’ve got to invest a lot more in science and innovation and technology to get those solutions. And then you might start to be able to do some of the things that we were talking about, which is have an ETS that begins to bite”.

So what should we make of this?

Point of Order considers things through a political prism:

Bridges’  call for an  all-party  approach  to   climate  change  has  a political  subtlety about it which may have escaped those  whose  focus  has largely been confined to his  appearance, his   diction or  his hair-do.

How can his  call for  bipartisanship on climate  change be  refused?  If either  Labour  or the Greens turn  it  down,  it makes  each look  politically inept, even  cheapskate   (as if  we haven’t  seen already how  politically  inept  some ministers are)?

And what about the acting  PM?  How statesmanlike would it be if he refused to join the party  on climate change?.

The  danger  in an all-party  approach  to  climate  change  is  pointed in the direction of the Green  Party.  It’s  the  issue  which  attracts   votes to them from  middle-of-the-roaders, and even some  who might otherwise  tick National.

But if National is as  active on climate change  as everyone  else, then  why  vote for the  Greens (many of whose other policies   are  so far left that even Labour won’t accept them) ?

It could  pull back crucial support from the  centre.  In that  case Bridges  may prove to be a  lot smarter, politically, than  so far has been recognised.

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Separating cars from cows in climate policy

Long-lived atmospheric pollutants that build up over centuries, like CO2, should be treated differently from short-lived pollutants which disappear within a few years, like methane, an international team of researchers is arguing.

The collaboration involved Victoria University of Wellington researchers.

The Government should pay heed to the team’s recommendation before further regulating New Zealand’s biggest industries in the agricultural sector.

Current policies tend to treat all pollutants as equivalent, the researchers say. But methane should be treated differently and a separate climate change policy is needed to regulate methane emissions.

Scimex reports a press statement from Victoria University of Wellington HERE.

A new collaboration between researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, the Universities of Oxford and Reading in the United Kingdom and the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway shows a better way to think about how methane might fit into carbon budgets, the statement says.

“Current climate change policy suggests a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with emissions,” says Professor Dave Frame, head of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute.

“But there are two distinct types of emissions, and to properly address climate change and create fair and accurate climate change policy we must treat these two groups differently.”

The two types of emissions that contribute to climate change can be divided into ‘long-lived’ and ‘short-lived’ pollutants.

“Long-lived pollutants, like carbon dioxide, persist in the atmosphere, building up over centuries,” says Dr Michelle Cain, from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford.

“The carbon dioxide created by burning coal in the 18th century is still affecting the climate today.

“Short-lived pollutants, like methane, disappear within a few years. Their effect on the climate is important but very different from that of carbon dioxide, yet current policies treat them all as equivalent.”

The research collaboration proposes a new approach to climate change policy that would address the effects of these different emissions.

This would be particularly relevant to New Zealand agriculture.

“We don’t actually need to give up eating meat or dairy to stabilise global temperatures,” says Professor Myles Allen from the University of Oxford, who led the study.

“We just need to stop increasing emissions from these sources. But we do need to give up dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate policies could be designed to reflect this.”

Under current policies, industries that produce methane are managed as though that methane has a permanently worsening effect on the climate, says Professor Frame.

“But this is not the case. Implementing a policy that better reflects the actual impact of different pollutants on global temperatures would give agriculture a fair and reasonable way to manage their emissions and reduce their impact on the environment.

“Implementing a policy like this would show New Zealand to be leaders and innovators in climate change policy. It would also help New Zealand efficiently manage their emissions, and could even get us to the point where we manage them so well we stop contributing to global climate change at all.”

The research can be seen in npj/Climate and Atmospheric Science HERE.

Source: Scimex

Flat Earthers vs climate change sceptics: conspiracy theorists and contradictions

Flat Earthism and the idea that human activity is not responsible for climate change are two of the most prevalent conspiracy theories today, two academics from Nottingham Trent University contend in an article republished (HERE) on Sciblogs.

Both ideas have been increasing in popularity since the late 20th century, Gareth Dorrian and Ian Whittaker write in an article first published in The Conversation (the original article can be read HERE).

They write:

Currently, 16% of the US population say they doubt the scientifically established shape of the Earth, while 40% think that human-induced climate change is a hoax. But proponents of one of these theories are not necessarily proponents of the other, even though both are often motivated by a common mistrust of authority. In fact, they regularly contradict one another.

Flat Earthers, for example, tend to disbelieve organisations such as NASA on the shape of Antarctica – or indeed, that there is a southern hemisphere at all. Yet the president of the Flat Earth Society, Daniel Shenton, is quite convinced – presumably at least in part thanks to information from NASA – that climate change is happening and espouses a fairly conventional view on the subject.

Former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci (dismissed by president Trump after ten days in office), meanwhile, believes that the Earth is in fact round, but does not believe in anthropogenic climate change, as he made clear in an interview with CNN.

Such selective reasoning is common among conspiracy theorists who often lack consistency with one other. Despite this, the media, celebrities and even politicians regularly make broad comparisons between climate change scepticism, Flat Earthism and other conspiracy theories.

Fabricated data?

In the field of global climate change, scientific bodies often are accused, even by those in power, of fabricating data. But such criticism is often deeply flawed.

Take those sceptics, for example, who believe that climate change is occurring, but because of natural – rather than man-made – causes.

If one argues that data has been fabricated to show warming where there is none, one cannot then also imply that warming is occurring after all, but naturally. Either there is warming or there is not.

Similarly, Flat Earthers who state that images showing Earth’s curvature are due to the shape of a camera lens, themselves believe in a disc which by definition has a curved edge.

Indeed, one of the few commonalities which exist between all major conspiracy theories is that somehow scientists and governments are involved in a grand conspiracy for reasons unknown.

A major part of the scientific anthropogenic climate change argument is that there is an increase in temperature extremes in both summer and winter.

Evidently, a Flat Earth model cannot support this; in fact, the most accepted Flat Earth model, which maintains that the sun rotates in a non-variable circular orbit over the flat disk, implies that there should be no seasons at all, let alone multi-decadal seasonal extremes due to climate change. Nevertheless, to quote Shenton:

Climate change is a process which has been ongoing since (the) beginning of detectable history, but there seems to be a definite correlation between the recent increase in worldwide temperatures and man’s entry into the industrial age.

In this instance, the president of the Flat Earth Society is correct. Anthropogenic climate change sceptics, on the other hand, are often willing to accept the science behind the Earth’s natural cycles, which they blame – instead of human activity – for the world’s weather woes. Clearly, we again find an implicit difference of opinion between a Flat Earth model, and a non-anthropogenic climate change one.

It is also clear that many climate change sceptics believe in the (approximately) spherical Earth, even if only subconsciously, by their use of scientifically accepted global maps when discussing data – not to mention when calling it “global” warming.

And what about aliens?

If governments and scientists are so untrustworthy and steeped in corruption, then why would one believe them on any issue? Where does the line of trust actually fall? Why would a person who mistrusts governments and scientists on the shape of the Earth, not hold the same politicians and scientific organisations similarly bogus on the issue of climate change? Or alien abductions, chem trails, or anything else?

But the problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The US has the highest number of believers in both flat-Earthism and anthropogenic climate change scepticism, and the UK is not far behind.

The US also has a high number (more than 50%) of senior political figures who deny man-made climate change, not to mention a democratically elected leader vocally believing the same. There are also numerous well-known celebrities who question the established shape of our planet.

While of course scientists can play the blame game, it could be that the scientific method itself is a major limiting factor in communicating results with the public. Science is not just a body of knowledge, but a method of critical thinking.

Scientists, by necessity, have to communicate their findings in a certain rigid way focusing on probabilities, certainty values and confidence intervals. These can appear dry or baffling to the public. But by providing more easily understandable narratives we can make scientific discussions with the public more productive.

The ConversationIn today’s complex world of social media narratives, the engagement of scientists with the public is more crucial than ever. Thankfully, current funding for public engagement training and activities is accessible to scientists with a passion for communication and conversation, enabling them to communicate facts rather than “fake news”.

***
Gareth Dorrian is  Post Doctoral Research Associate in Space Science at Nottingham Trent UniversityIan Whittaker is a Lecturer.

***

 This article has been restored after being accidentally removed from AgScience earlier today during the repair of a glitch in the blog’s formatting. 

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

Climate change and health report launched

A new report shows how climate change will impact on New Zealander’s health over the next 50-100 years and makes the case for better preparation.

You can read the Climate Change and Environmental Health report HERE. 

How a changing climate impacts on people’s health will also change, says Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.

The health system must be better prepared to deal with increased temperatures and more extreme weather events, she says.

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and published by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

“The risks outlined in this report show why we need to act to reduce climate pollution now, as well as prepare for the level of climate change that is already set to happen,” Ms Genter says.

“The flooding and evacuation of Edgecumbe caused serious disruption to people’s lives. Already this year we have seen how a storm like cyclone Fehi caused a state of emergency in Buller and Dunedin.

“Today’s report maps out where the problems will be. Allergens and irritants in air, extreme weather events, ultra-violet solar radiation, and vector-borne, water-borne and infectious diseases might all increase in the coming decades and they have the potential to impact on our health and the health of our loved ones.

“The spread of infectious disease, particularly in our water sources, is of concern and needs greater attention.”

The Ministry of Health will be working with district health boards – many of which are already doing a lot of work on this – to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprints.

The Ministry has asked ESR to provide scientific advice on how the health sector can adapt to climate change.

Source: Associate Minister of Health

 

Drought will bring more crop disease, scientists warn

New Zealand’s land-based primary industries need to get ready for increasingly serious crop disease as climate change causes more and longer droughts, according to new research.

In the journal Australasian Plant Pathology, the authors of the study say climate change is expected to bring more droughts in many parts of New Zealand, and more droughts are “likely to increase the severity of a wide range of diseases affecting the plant-based productive sectors”.

Scientists from the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Scion, Lincoln University, AUT University, Landcare Research and the University of Auckland analysed the potential impact of climate-change-induced drought on several commercial plants and their diseases.

They found that in most instances “increased drought is expected to increase disease expression”.

The probable negative effects of drought include

“…a predisposition of hosts to infection through general weakening and/or suppressed disease resistance”. More frequent and more severe droughts could also lead to “emergence of enhanced or new diseases of plants that can reduce primary production”.

New plant disease pressures are expected to occur

“… with potentially devastating impacts for New Zealand’s productive sectors.”

But the news is not all bad.

“Drought may reduce the severity of some diseases, such as Sclerotina rot of kiwifruit and red needle cast (RNC) of radiata pine,” the scientists said.

And in some cases it could “activate systemic defence mechanisms resulting in increased resistance to infection”.

In an extended case study the authors said that the effects of increased drought on New Zealand’s Pinus radiata industry would depend on many factors, including whether drought happened early or late in the season.

“There is urgent need to study the impacts of the different levels of drought and different levels of RNC severity to understand the thresholds at which radiata pine plantations would still accomplish their economic and ecological roles.”

Lead author Dr Steve Wakelin, of the Bio-Protection Research Centre and Scion, said it was essential that more research was carried out so each industry could prepare for the effects of drought.

“Many industries, such as agriculture and horticulture, may have time to gradually change over the next 20 or 30 years, to avoid the worst effects of drought or even take advantage of any opportunities the changing climate may bring.

“However, plantation forestry does not have the luxury of flexibility. What is planted now will need to not just survive but thrive in whatever climate and disease conditions are prevailing in the next 20, 30, or 40 years.

“It’s essential that primary industries with a long production cycle start assessing and addressing the risks and opportunities a much drier climate will bring.”

***

Wakelin, S.A., Gomez-Gallego, M., Jones, E. et al. Climate change induced drought impacts on plant diseases in New Zealand Australasian Plant Pathol. (2018) 47: 101.

Source: Bioprotection Research Centre

EPA welcomes Productivity Commission’s draft report on shifting to a low-emissions economy

The Environmental Protection Authority, which administers this country’s Emissions Trading Scheme, has welcomed the Productivity Commission’s draft report on how New Zealand can reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions through a transition to a low-emissions economy while at the same time continuing to grow income and wellbeing.

The report makes 140 findings, 50 recommendations and asks 11 questions.

Some 10 days after its release, EPA chief executive Dr Allan Freeth has issued a statement to say the report calls for a shared, long-term vision on what must be done.

The EPA’s submission on the report last year highlighted three mains points to a vision for a low-emissions economy – new thinking around New Zealand’s climate change approach, more cross-government collaboration, and the incorporation of operational perspectives in decision-making early.

“With multiple agencies and parties working on climate change, there are many opportunities to reset our thinking, and drive new and more efficient behaviours throughout New Zealand,” Dr Freeth said.

“The EPA is well positioned to support the national response to climate change.”

The authority administers the Emissions Trading Scheme and the NZ Emissions Trading Register (see HERE), which holds around $2.6 billion worth of privately held assets.

“When you consider the value of these assets some of these entities hold in the NZ Emissions Trading Register, it’s important we deliver efficiencies and have a secure and robust system,” Dr Freeth said.

“Our ETS team is on the ground, actively engaging with all entities who play a part in climate change.”

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Register has been upgraded to better support current functions and have more flexibility for future needs, like the introduction of auctioning into the ETS, Dr Freeth said.

“We are already looking at how to improve our operations for the EPA and the customers, exploring new ways to deliver carbon market information, and testing new ways to get the best out of compliance and enforcement tools.

“New Zealand has also made a good start on addressing ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal convention.

“Our scientific work to review and approve hazardous substances and new organism applications, will continue to be important as leading-edge science continues to deliver new approaches which may result in lower emissions.

“We are also exploring things like mapping New Zealand’s chemical loading, which will help build comprehensive data of where hazardous substances are stored, like fertilisers, which could possibly support work on agricultural emissions.”

Describing the EPA as New Zealand’s proactive environmental regulator, Dr Freeth said it is always looking at how to better use its experience and strong track record of using evidence, science, and mātauranga Māori to inform decision-making processes.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report says moving to a low-emissions economy will require:

  • getting emissions pricing right, to send the right signals for investment;
  • harnessing the full potential of innovation and supporting investment in low-emissions activities and technologies;
  • creating laws and institutions that endure over time and act as a commitment device for future governments; and
  • ensuring other supportive regulations and policies are in place (including to encourage an inclusive transition).

Submissions which will contribute to the next stage of the inquiry can be made here by 8 June. 

A final report will be presented to the Government in August.