Science organisations combine to plot a path to net carbon zero

Eight government-owned science organisations have joined forces to accelerate the reduction of their greenhouse gas emissions.

The seven Crown Research Institutes and Callaghan Innovation, after working individually on this challenge for some years, have come together for a week-long series of online workshops to share best practice and insights on how to get to net carbon zero in their operations as quickly as possible.

Workshop co-ordinator Roger Robson-Williams, of Plant & Food Research, said the initiative will enable the organisations to pool their knowledge and experience and achieve more in their greenhouse gas emission programmes. Continue reading

 Plan to transform food processing waste could benefit NZ economy and environment

Micro-organisms found in bacteria and fungi could help change food waste into high-value products that would boost New Zealand’s economy by $1.6 billion a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A research project led by University of Canterbury Environmental Science Professor Brett Robinson aims to find ways to turn waste products from New Zealand’s food production industry – such as milk processing waste and grape marc (skins and stalks) – into high-value soil conditioners and animal feed.

He says about 2.2 million tonnes of food processing waste products are dumped each year in New Zealand, costing about $270 million a year and increasing our greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we are aiming to do is create a more sustainable, circular agricultural economy, where biowaste can be transformed into useful new products to help feed animals or improve our soils.

“There’s huge potential to create a win-win situation where we dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also potentially boosting our economy by more than $1.6 billion annually.” Continue reading

Feds say GM discussion offers solution to GHG challenge

As reports on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to be rolled out, it was the government’s reaction to another report – the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on genetic engineering – that caught Federated Farmers’ attention.

Federation president and climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said farmers were intensely interested in further reducing their world-leading GHG emissions footprint per kilogram of food produced.

But the federation has been saying for several years that new tools are needed to do this.

“Genetic modification is one of those new technologies that offers exciting potential,” he said.

Last year, the Productivity Commission’s ‘Reaching for the Frontier’ final report said the Government should undertake a full review of the regulation of genetic modification (GM), to ensure it is fit for purpose and supports domestic innovation. Continue reading

A global love for processed foods is hurting agricultural biodiversity – and our health

A global diet that increasingly includes ultra-processed foods is having a negative impact on the diversity of plant species available for human consumption while damaging human and planetary health, according to a commentary published in the journal BMJ Global Health.

Experts are warning that an increasingly unhealthy diet is not only bad for human health directly but is causing environmental damage to the planet.

Ultra-processed foods such as sweetened or salty snacks, soft drinks, instant noodles, reconstituted meat products, pre-prepared pizza and pasta dishes, biscuits and confectionery, are made by assembling food substances, mostly commodity ingredients, and ‘cosmetic’ additives (notably flavours, colours and emulsifiers) through a series of industrial processes.

These products are the basis of a ‘globalised diet’ and are becoming dominant in the global food supply, with sales and consumption growing in all regions and almost all countries. Currently, their consumption is growing fastest in upper-middle-income and lower-middle income countries.

Consequently, dietary patterns worldwide are becoming increasingly more processed and less diverse, having an impact on agrobiodiversity – the variety and variability of animals, plants and microorganisms used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture. Continue reading

Genetic engineering can have a positive effect on the climate


The use of genetically modified (GM) crops in agriculture remains contentious in many parts of the world – including New Zealand.   Surveys show many people fear these crops could have negative effects on human health and the environment. But a new study shows genetically modified crops could be good for the environment, and for the climate in particular.

Agriculture accounts for around 25 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. A large share of these emissions is due to livestock production and fertiliser use.

More than one-third of agriculture’s emissions is caused by land-use change, however, especially the conversion of forests and other nature reserves to agricultural land in order to satisfy the rising global demand for food and feed.

“Using better technologies to increase crop yields on the land already cultivated could reduce this land-use change and the associated emissions,” says study author Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim, Director of the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn.

Certain types of genetically modified crops — such as GM maize and soybean — are widely grown in other parts of the world, but hardly in Europe.

“The main reasons are public acceptance issues and political hurdles,” says Dr Qaim. Continue reading

Emissions down 11 per cent in one quarter but 12-months decline was just 0.4 per cent

Seasonally adjusted greenhouse gas emissions from industries and households fell 11 per cent over the September 2021 quarter according to new Stats NZ figures.

That followed a 4.7 per cent increase in the June 2021 quarter.

The September 2021 quarter fall in gross emissions was largely due to a reduction in coal use for electricity generation. COVID-19 alert level restrictions and nationwide/regional lockdowns also contributed.

Emissions decreased across all industry groupings in the September 2021 quarter, as COVID-19 restrictions took hold in the second half of the quarter.

The largest industry contributors to this decrease were electricity, gas, water, and waste services, down 33 per cent (969 kilotonnes); manufacturing, down 10 per cent (273 kilotonnes); and transport, postal, and warehousing, down 17 per cent (156 kilotonnes). Continue reading

A global plant-based diet could have a massive impact on reducing global warming

Phasing out animal agriculture around the globe in favour of a plant-based diet would substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions,  according to international modellers.

The team modelled the impact on emissions of phasing out animal agriculture over the next 15 years, which they say could reduce emissions by the equivalent of 25 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year.

The researchers say their model is limited by the assumption that land currently used for agriculture would be returned to more environmentally-friendly use, and they have not fully considered the viability of switching to a plant-based diet in areas where cropping is difficult.

Michael Eisen, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Patrick Brown, of Stanford University and Impossible Foods, have presented their findings in the open-access journal PLOS Climate.   Continue reading

 Better ways for countries to collaborate on carbon credits

New Zealanders are among international researchers who have presented a new model for small groups of countries to work together to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Unlike previous ways of buying carbon credits, the researchers say Climate Action Teams will only reward emissions reductions beyond already ambitious national commitments.

In their policy brief, the researchers look at a hypothetical team among New Zealand, Switzerland, and Chile, finding that Chile could provide enough emissions mitigation to support NZ and Switzerland to meet their emissions reduction commitments at a lower cost than NZ and Switzerland’s domestic action alone.

A media release from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust says: Continue reading

Emissions tools are designed especially for arable farmers

The Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) has released a greenhouse gas emissions calculator and a greenhouse gas emissions planning module for arable farmers.

With the simultaneous release of these two bespoke, tools arable farmers quite literally have everything they need to meet their greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting and planning commitments at their fingertips.

Obligations around agricultural greenhouse gas emissions understanding and management are being phased in via the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) industry-government partnership.  Arable as well as livestock farms are expected to comply.

The first step for all farm businesses is to know their annual total on-farm biological greenhouse gas emissions (their ‘number’) and to have a written plan to manage emissions. A quarter of New Zealand farm businesses must know their number and have a plan by the end of this year. That expectation expands to all farmers knowing their number by the end of 2022 and all having a written plan by the end of 2024.

It’s a big challenge and ha’s why FAR developed the two newly released tools, says FAR’s Turi McFarlane. 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