Sobering stats on the state of our freshwater – expert reaction

The Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ have released the latest national report on the state of our freshwater.

Our Freshwater 2023 details the key pressures on New Zealand’s lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and aquifers, and the impact of declining water quality on the economy, the environment, and our physical and cultural health. An interactive webpage also explores the state of the environment through the eyes of a tuna (longfin eel).

The Science Media Centre asked experts to comment.

  • Drs Neale Hudson, Manager –National Freshwater Centre, and Clive Howard-Williams, Emeritus Scientist, at NIWA:

“In Our Freshwater 2023, the Ministry for the Environment has taken advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to add pressures such as land use and climate change to the reporting framework.

“In previous reports, the narrow focus on freshwater state was unbalanced, like a medical doctor focusing on the symptoms of an illness without considering the causes. The new report is a good start, but there is a long way to go. The PCE advised ‘adding’ pressures, with no direction about how information about pressures should be used. Simply listing multiple pressures serves to increase the number of disconnected sets of information in the new report. A better use of pressure information is to establish clear, evidence-based relationships between changes in freshwater state and the pressures that cause them. This is a logical step forward, if we are to reverse environmental degradation by reducing pressure levels. Despite the logic, evidence for cause-and-effect relationships is rarely included in environmental reports. Our Freshwater 2023 cites a single study that attributes water quality trends to changes in land use and climate. This work needs to be greatly expanded, and it needs to be a major component of future environmental reports. Continue reading

Synthesising everything we know about climate change – expert reaction

Not only are there feasible ways to cut down greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change, but these actions can be taken right now, according to a major scientific report released today.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment Cycle, bringing together comprehensive, previously released reports on the physical science of climate change, what can be done to adapt to it, and what can be done to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we emit.

The Science Media Centre asked experts to comment on the report. Here are their responses –

  • Dr Daniel Kingston, Senior Lecturer, University of Otago:

“This synthesis report provides a summary of the three major IPCC assessments released in 2021 and 2022, plus three further special reports. It is important to note that these reports provide a summary of current understanding, rather than primary research undertaken by the IPCC itself. Some of the leading experts in the world volunteer their time to write these reports. An open review process then takes place allowing other experts to scrutinise the reports prior to publication. Finally, the synthesis report is reviewed line-by-line by member governments from all over the world, plus scientific experts, prior to release.

“One of the key headlines from this synthesis is that human activities have unequivocally caused global surface temperatures to rise. The use of the term ‘unequivocally’ is hugely meaningful here. Scientists are typically cautious and like to include many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ with their statements. To eliminate all doubt that humans are causing global warming highlights starkly just how overwhelming the evidence is in this case. Continue reading

Experts discuss climate warming and the fuelling of Cyclone Gabrielle

Significant parts of the country today have been dealing with the devastation caused during a night of extreme weather which left communities cut off across the North Island.

The Minister for Emergency Management, Kieran McAnulty, declared a national state of emergency at 8.43am. It was only the third time a New Zealand Government had declared a national state of emergency.

Previous declarations were triggered by the Christchurch earthquakes and Covid-19 pandemic.

The declaration initially applied to the six regions that had declared a local state of emergency: Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay. It was subsequently extended to include the Tararua District, which declared a local state of emergency shortly after Mr McAnulty declared a national emergency. Continue reading

New advice from commission on ETS unit limits and price control settings

The Climate Change Commission’s first advice on updating the Emissions Trading Scheme unit limits and price control settings for the next five years was released today, triggering the posting of expert comments from the Science Media Council.

The advice on updating NZ ETS settings will now be delivered annually to the Minister by the Commission.

Under the ETS, businesses that emit carbon must surrender a carbon credit – or unit – for every tonne of pollution they emit.

Commission Chair Rod Carr said confidence in the stability and predictability of the scheme was key to making it effective.

“It needs to be kept up-to-date, so that it aligns with the country’s emissions reductions targets,” Dr Carr says.

“Aligning NZ ETS settings up with our emissions reduction targets will make it easier and cheaper to achieve those goals, and guide us towards a thriving, low emissions, climate resilient economy.”

Compared to current settings, the Commission recommends: 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

Experts comment on latest international report on climate change – NZ Minister says Govt will be equal to the science

Human-induced climate change is already affecting weather and climate extremes across the globe, according to the latest report from Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The evidence has strengthened – not only in the observed changes in heatwaves, heavy rains, and drought extremes, but also in their attribution to human influence, since the panel’s previous report, published in 2013.

The report has been written by thousands of scientists and reviewers from more than 100 countries, including New Zealand.

The findings provide the starkest warning yet of the risk facing our children, our planet, and future generations, unless urgent action is taken, this country’s Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, said in a statement in response to the report.

The Minister said a collective effort involving every sector of the economy, every community, and almost every government agency and their Minister will be needed to avert a climate crisis.

“Right now, Ministers and agencies are discussing what action they will take to bring down emissions in their sector, which will form the basis of our forthcoming Emission Reduction Plan. We must use this chance to review progress and make sure the actions we are committing to will cut emissions in line with what the latest science requires. Anything less will not be enough.

“The findings of the IPCC reaffirm those of the Climate Change Commission and confirm why this Government is right to prioritise climate action.”  Continue reading

What a dry winter would mean for the ag/hort sector – and for the country

New Zealand may be heading into a dry winter following a month of near record-breaking dry patches across the country.

What are the flow-on effects if insufficient rain falls during the cold season?

The Science Media Centre asked experts to comment on how the potential dry season may affect …

  • Rural communities and agriculture
  • Hydro energy production
  • The environment

These experts have responded: 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

Review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research in New Zealand

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is urging the Government to reconsider the way it funds environmental research in New Zealand.

In a new report, he says public investment in environmental research is fragmented and funding for New Zealand’s environmental collections and databases has been inadequate. This makes it harder to respond appropriately and in a timely fashion to the country;s many environmental challenges.

The report examines how public funds are invested in environmental research in New Zealand.

The Commissioner recommends an environmental research strategy to be developed by the Ministry for the Environment and dedicated, long-term funding for environmental research to be ring-fenced.

He proposes two models for disbursing the research funds, one of which would involve the establishment of a dedicated Environmental Research Council.

The council would provide funding similar to how health research funding is managed. Continue reading

What farmers think about biodiversity on their land – and what experts think about the survey findings

More than 90% of sheep and beef farmers who responded to a recent scientific survey – acknowledge the benefits of managing biodiversity on their farmland.

The  benefits were mainly social or environmental, such as protecting land for future generations.

But a majority of the respondents also identified barriers to conservation efforts, such as financial costs or time investments.

The survey of sheep and beef farmers around New Zealand received nearly 700 responses that described advantages to managing and protecting biodiversity on their land.

Lead author Dr Fleur Maseyk, from The Catalyst Group, says the study showed many farmers associate a range of values and benefits with biodiversity on-farm, spanning social, environmental and economic themes.

Social advantages were the most commonly recognised –  47% of the responses described benefits such as advantages to the farmer, their family and staff, and benefits beyond the farm gate such as inter-generational equity and meeting the responsibility of land management. Continue reading