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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The Budget’s provisions for science and innovation — SMC seeks expert reaction

The Science Media Centre has gathered several comments on the Labour Government’s first Budget, which includes funding for the R&D tax credit (announced last month), a new Green Investment Fund to transition to help the transition to a low-carbon economy and funding towards healthier homes.

The SCM notes the budget’s inclusion of:

• over $1 billion in an R&D tax incentive to encourage businesses to innovate

• $10 million for improving the performance and transparency of New Zealand’s science investments through a National Research Information System

• $100 million for the Green Investment Fund, designed to encourage private-sector investment in high-value, low-carbon industries, clean tech and new jobs

• $45 million for promoting energy efficiency, including just under $13 million for a grant scheme for warm, dry homes.

Among the key players in the science and innovation sector who expressed their opinions were –

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Curtailing nutrient run-off from farms – expert reaction to Minister’s warning

Environment Minister David Parker told TVNZ’s Q&A on Sunday that tough measures to curb nutrient run-off from farms could stall further dairy intensification.

He signalled the imposition of rules which limit how much pollution farmers can put into waterways (as AgScience reported HERE).

Limits on dairy cow numbers in some areas could be among the consequences.

He said there would not be a direct cap on the number of cattle.

He also said “cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yet, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain”.

The Science Media Centre ( HERE) asked experts to comment on what a future dairying system might look like.
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* Robyn Dynes, science impact leader, AgResearch, comments:

“Requirements or targets for reducing nutrient losses on farms are nothing new in many areas of the country, and in our experience, most farmers are already moving in that direction.

“While reducing stock numbers is one approach to reducing nutrient loss, there is no one size fits all. Whatever restrictions are put in place, it is important to recognise that every farm is different and has a different capacity to adapt and change. This is where research plays a crucial role in helping the transition by farmers – including providing better guidance on land use suitability and future technologies, such as in the digital agriculture space.

“Many farmers have already changed their systems to meet current and future targets, but the challenge is to meet those targets and make a profit. There are different approaches that can be taken around more efficient use of farm inputs like fertiliser and water, better targeting source areas of contamination, and use of alternative animal feed like fodder beet and plantain that have been shown to reduce nutrient losses.

“A big driver for farming has always been what is economic, and the environment is now another important driver. But there are others issues to consider around culture and communities and shared responsibility, that we cannot lose sight of. The risk is that if changes are made without all of these issues being considered, we could end up with unforeseen problems down the line.”

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* Professor Troy Baisden, Professor and Chair in Lake and Freshwater Sciences, University of Waikato, comments:

“Globally, humans have pushed the Earth’s limits, and nutrients – both nitrogen and phosphorous – are examples where development has shot well beyond the boundaries describing the ‘safe space’ to keep the Earth’s ecosystems functioning to support us. This is particularly true in highly populated areas of the Northern Hemisphere, but the data for New Zealand show that we’re not far behind. In many areas, we’re already reaching a level of impacts that are difficult to reverse. What I find most remarkable about the Minister’s recent comments is the firmness that we’re not going to keep crossing these limits. That’s what’s really important to note here, and I’ll come back to that.

“How we reverse course is another issue, particularly because few nations have. We already have examples, in areas like Taupō and Rotorua, where there’s been real commitment and investment to protect iconic lakes. That’s resulted in action by regional council legislation that has at least held the line and prevented irreversible eutrophication.

“Yet, it’s important to understand that the progress in Taupō, Rotorua and elsewhere is a bit short of what’s required to maintain profitability while reducing stock numbers. And as a result, getting plan changes working in those areas takes years of understanding thinking and compromise. It tends to lead to a feeling of completion only when everyone is equally unhappy.

“To maintain or improve productivity while reducing stocking, we almost certainly need a more forensic set of tools that can convincingly provide the insights farmers need. Those insights can come in the form of ‘gee whiz’ moments, for instance quantifying that there’s a huge loss of nitrate during short periods, on particular soils. And equally importantly, we need to help find ways to manage a farm that prevent that. In the case of phosphorous runoff, which is also really important, we may be closer with ways to trap the sediment. I think we have some promising techniques, but they still need work.

“Coming back to Minister Parker’s comments, they send the signals that may well lead to more rapid development of tools that will really help farmers become more profitable, but with less stock. That signal is needed to accelerate the science, innovation, and discussions that will help us find a path there. That will take time, but management changes under existing farming system could help us move faster than the land-use change to forestry that has dominated progress so far.

“And, it’s important to realise that sending this signal can have much faster effects than the development of new science. For example, Minister Parker’s commentary may go straight to the agricultural property market, and lenders, firmly suggesting a shift in relating land values to profitability, rather than milk solids production. It has largely been the case that land value is correlated with the milk solids production for a number of years, and a shift in the main driver of land value could have immediate effects. Greater milk solids production means more cows, but greater profit allows different thinking, and the kind that will take us on a journey toward both short and long-term solutions.”

Conflict of interest statement: Professor Baisden’s Chair is funded by Bay of Plenty Regional Council and he is a Principal Investigator in Te Pūnaha Matatiti, the Centre of Research Excellence.

Science Media Centre posts expert reaction to EU’s neonicotinoid ban

As AgScience reported at the weekend (HERE), the European Commission has voted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides in EU member states. The decision is expected to come into force by the end of 2018, with only closed greenhouses exempt.

The Science Media Centre notes (HERE) that the decision follows growing evidence the insecticides may be linked to declines in pollinator populations, including honeybees.

New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority has said it would watch the European Commission’s decision, but that the rules around the use of neonicotinoids in New Zealand were working to protect pollinators.

The Science Media Centre has asked experts to comment on the ban.

  • Mark McNeill, scientist, AgResearch, comments:

“The challenge around neonicotinoids is that they are an effective insecticide to control seedling pests in New Zealand such as the Argentine stem weevil, black beetle, springtails, caterpillars and slugs, that can have significant impacts on the establishment of pasture and forage crops. Protection during the seedling stage is critical to the production and persistence of these pastures and crops.

“The neonicotinoids are also less toxic to humans than organophosphate insecticides, and are considered a more environmentally friendly means of crop protection compared to broad-spectrum foliar sprays. This is because they are highly targeted (being buried in the soil with seed) and therefore do not have the same risks of environmental exposure and impact (e.g. through aerial dispersal).

“In addition to reduced weed invasion and improved persistence and yield, the neonicotinoids also allow crops and pastures to be established by direct drilling (where the seed is drilled into unploughed soil), reducing nutrient leaching and carbon emissions.

“While it is early days yet, the withdrawal of neonicotinoids will cause some issues for farmers, as there are no ready alternatives. Irrespective of any future decisions, NZ farmers need to have effective and safe treatments for controlling pests at the seedling stage.”

No conflict of interest.

  • Professor Peter Dearden, Genomics Aotearoa and the Bio-Protection Research Centre, University of Otago, comments:

“Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that are used extensively to protect crops both in New Zealand and overseas. Many neonicotinoids have systemic effects on plants meaning treating the seeds with neonicotinoids can leave a plant protected throughout its life. Neonicotinoids have largely replaced problematic insecticides used in the past, such as organophosphates and DDT.

“In recent years questions have arisen about the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinating insects, especially bees.  A long-term reduction in pollinating insects has occurred, especially in Europe, and even more worrying, studies have shown a similar 70% decline in flying insects in Europe. These declines have been suggested to be due to neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids have been shown to have sublethal effects on bees, and bee colonies have been shown to be negatively affected by neonicotinoid exposure. These findings have led to the recent European ban on neonicotinoid use.

“In New Zealand, neonicotinoids are used extensively, though on a different set of crops and pasture than in Europe. In New Zealand managed honeybees are doing well, and there are no indications of the long-term decline in bees seen in Europe. We do not, however, have good long-term monitoring projects of insects other than bees in New Zealand, and so have no real idea if we have the declines in insects seen in Europe.

“It is important to point out that neonicotinoids are far safer insecticides than those used previously, and that we have very few alternatives if neonicotinoids are banned. Neonicotinoids are also the key ingredients in Vespex, an important way of controlling invasive wasps in New Zealand (a huge benefit to our environment) and important tools in controlling pasture devouring weevils.What is really needed in New Zealand is an understanding of the impacts of our use of insecticides on both agricultural and natural environments, as well as monitoring of residues from insecticides in groundwater and soil. With this data, we could make informed decisions on the costs and benefits of insecticides.

“Alternatives to insecticides exist, many of them researched by New Zealand’s Bio-Protection Research Centre, but to stop the use of insecticides completely would raise challenges for our agricultural productivity.

“The neonicotinoid story, as well as that of organophosphates and DDT, may indicate that our approach to insects generally is wrong. Insects are key parts of our ecosystems and critical to our continued existence on the planet. Perhaps we should be cherishing them, finding ways to avoid agricultural damage without killing them, and ensuring they are not needlessly killed, as a better way to ensure sustainable agriculture.”

No conflict of interest.

Source: Science Media Centre

Tax incentive paper: Nats accuse Govt of planning to cut support for business R&D

The Government’s first practical move in the science and technology sector is to reduce investment rather than increase it, National Party Research, Science and Innovation Spokesperson Parmjeet Parmar says.

She was commenting on the Government’s release of the Research and Development Tax Incentive Discussion Document for public consultation.

The discussion document is available on MBIE’s website HERE.  

It aims to stimulate feedback on a plan to allow qualifying companies to claim back 12.5 per cent of their spending on research and development.

Consultation is open until 1 June.

BusinessNZ has commented on the document (HERE) – it says the Government’s proposals could help raise company R&D investment overall – while the Science Media Centre has published expert reaction HERE.

Ms Parmar drew attention (HERE) to a proposal to cancel R&D growth grants at the same time as R&D tax credits are introduced (“hidden way down the back on page 31”).

Hundreds of New Zealand’s most innovative technology-focused companies will drop from getting 20 per cent of their research and development expenditure re-funded down to 12.5 per cent, she contends.

Start-ups making a loss may have to wait until they are making a profit to cash-in any tax credit, which could take years compared to the current system which provides grant funding immediately.

Ms Parmar says that the change from growth grants to R&D tax credits will also lead to a big boost in business for accountants.

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Experts comment on study showing hotter and longer marine heatwaves over the past century

Marine “heatwaves” like those which stoked New Zealand’s record-hot summer have become longer, stronger and more frequent over the past century, especially in the past four decades, the New Zealand Herald reports (HERE).

With more than 90 per cent of the heat caused by global warming going into our oceans, the scientists behind a new international study say the trend will only continue.

The study is published today in Nature Communications.

The New Zealand Herald’s science writer, Jamie Morton, explains that marine heatwaves happen when sea surface temperatures (SSTs) rise as a result of stronger-than-normal warm ocean currents, or from being forced by the atmosphere.

In the case of summer’s Tasman Sea marine heatwave, it was a case of the latter.

It was a freak combination of persistent highs, a La Nina climate system in the tropics and a positive Southern Annular Mode pattern to our south, all set against a background of climate change.

Over what was our hottest summer ever observed, SSTs around New Zealand climbed to at least 1.5C above average – and in some spots off the West Coast rose as high as 6C above average.

While its effects made for balmy surf at our favourite beaches, it also melted ice caps, pushed warm water fish south and had a big effect on growing conditions in orchards and vineyards.

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Science Media Centre posts expert comment on those pesky Asian stink bugs

brown-stink-bug-fruit

Not in our orchards, if we remain vigilant…

As we have reported (here, here and here) several car shipments were turned away at the border last month because they were infested with Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs.

The bug has spread across the globe from its original home in East Asia and is one of border security’s most wanted.

The agricultural pest is not currently in the country, the Science Media Centre notes in a press release today. But the Ministry for Primary Industries has been asking the public to keep an eye out for the distinctive critter, which is much larger than our native stink bugs.

Biosecurity experts are worried about the impact it might have on both native plants and agricultural exports.

To help inform us about this invasive pest, the Science Media Centre sought answers to a raft of questions from biosecurity experts.

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