Issue 521, 10 May 2019


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New from the SMC

Global extinction rates accelerating – Expert Reaction

Freshwater cap-and-trade scheme – Expert Reaction

Zero Carbon Bill splits greenhouse gas targets – Expert Reaction

Details on recreational cannabis referendum – In the News

New from the SMC global network

Split-gas emissions targets

Split emissions targets for different greenhouse gases are among the key climate change levers in the Zero Carbon Bill legislation introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.

The Zero Carbon Bill - a key piece of Green Party legislation agreed upon in the 2017 election confidence and supply deal - lays out the Government's plan to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The Bill creates a legal obligation for the Government to keep climate change under 1.5C over the next 30 years and establishes an independent Climate Change Commission to keep the government on track through five-yearly “emissions budgets”.

The Bill also sets emissions targets to help us meet this goal, with the Government opting for a split gas approach. Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions must be reduced to net-zero by 2050, whereas a staggered target for biological methane emissions has been set, starting with a 10 per cent reduction by 2030 and a 24 to 47 per cent reduction by 2050. The provisional targets will be subject to review by the independent Climate Change Commission in 2024.

The deputy director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, Dr Andy Reisinger, told RNZ it would not have been unreasonable to ask for net zero methane by 2050, but it would have fundamentally changed farming in this country.

"You can't take methane out of the atmosphere faster than it decays naturally, so to get to zero methane, you basically have to have zero livestock, and that transformation is presumably stronger than people could imagine for now," Dr Reisinger said.

University of Canterbury's Bronwyn Hayward said New Zealand would likely struggle to meet even modest, near-term methane targets as "we have done very little to incentivise any real shifts in our behaviour around climate gas emissions and legislation is needed to set a framework for the real action which comes next".

On Thursday, the Government announced it would establish a research centre to explore clean energy options such as offshore wind, solar batteries, hydrogen and new forms of energy storage. It pledged $27 million to set up The National New Energy Development Centre in Taranaki and has set aside $20 million over the next four years for a new energy research fund.

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the announcement.

Quoted: Newshub

"This was the first time I’ve ever done brain surgery and certainly doing first time brain surgery on a kākāpō was fairly intense."

Massey University's Wildbase Hospital director Professor Brett Gartrell describes performing the world's first brain surgery on a bird on Newshub.

One million species on brink

A biodiversity report from the UN paints a grim picture of life on Earth, with one million species threatened with extinction.

Human-led changes including habitat loss, the introduction of invasive species, and climate change have contributed to the decline of species worldwide, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) global assessment report

The report came with some shocking statistics: more than a million species threatened with extinction, three-quarters of the land-based environment and two-thirds of the marine environment significantly altered by humans, global loss of pollinators, over 400 marine dead zones, and soil degradation reducing our capacity to sustain agriculture.

University of Auckland associate professor James Russell told Stuff there is "no longer time to debate or deny the science". He says now is the time for governments and individuals to change our behaviour to protect life on Earth as "our actions and desires are at odds with what the planet can sustainably provide".

Amidst the bleak problems outlined in the report are some solutions. The director of NZ's Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, Dr Andrea Byrom told Mike Hosking "science isn't the only thing that will save us here". She said we can't hold out for a technological fix and the report is quite clear that saving our biodiversity is going to require huge social and economic change.

Hundreds of conservation scientists from around the world convened in Paris last week to discuss the findings that went into the report, including representatives from 109 nations.

The Department of Conservation’s threatened species ambassador, Nicola Toki, was there leading the New Zealand delegation. She told Newsroom: “I felt like I was witnessing a real crossroads in global history. This is our chance. This is our opportunity to make good choices.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Freshwater cap-and-trade

The health of our rivers can be improved by a freshwater trading scheme similar to the one we have for emissions, according to the New Zealand Initiative.

The report said a trading scheme would help address iwi claims, manage contaminants and fairly allocate the freshwater estate. 

The report's author, Eric Crampton, wrote on Newsroom Pro improving freshwater quality has "been politically fraught" as "reducing the burden on our water systems in places where that burden is too great requires some water users to cut back" and can lock out new users who never had a consent. 

Crampton recommends introducing sustainable caps for each catchment and tradeable rights to use that split water between current consent-holders and local iwi. He suggests starting the caps at current usage levels and then using a combination of government buybacks, allocation retirements and built-in reductions of initial allocations over time to bring the water use down to sustainable levels. These levels would be determined by the local communities, iwi, and hapū, and backed by environmental science.  

"Getting the cap right is difficult," Dr Julia Talbot-Jones from Victoria University of Wellington said. "You set it too high and users have no incentive to change their behaviour; you set it too low and the costs imposed on users could be too great."

Dr Viktoria Kahui from the University of Otago said we can draw from experience overseas. "In Australia, the initial over-allocation of water rights due to previously unused rights led to a costly buyback program. In Chile, trading was slow because owners retained their surplus rights."

Kahui said using a trusteeship model that recognised kaitiakitanga would help overcome some of the issues associated with the overexploitation which occur when no one owns a collective resource.

Professor Troy Baisden told RNZ Rural News "it could work if we could get the information and certainty required for farm managers to make good decisions". However, he says while we know how water flows at a catchment level, we don't always know the scale of water flow at an individual farm, so we would need better ways of monitoring that for the system to work.  

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Policy news & developments

Clean energy centre: The Government will establish a $27m clean energy centre in Taranaki and establish a $20m fund for related research as part of the Wellbeing Budget package.

Research grants: MPI is calling for applications for research that would address impacts of climate change and adaptation, and extend climate change research.

Myrtle rust on West Coast: The fungal disease has been found on the coast for the first time - on a pōhutukawa plant in Greymouth.

Cannabis referendum: Details of how New Zealanders will have their say on whether or not to legalise and regulate cannabis have been released in a draft bill. 

Recycling plan: The plan reflects recommendations from a taskforce set up to respond to the Chinese government's ban on importing recycling material.

Research grantsFive children and families research projects will each receive funding in round 3 of the Children and Families Research Fund.

Vaccine feedback: PHARMAC is asking for feedback on proposed changes to the brands, eligibility and dose changes of a range of vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule.

Fungicide feedback: The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for people's views on an application to import the fungicide KUSABI to control powdery mildew.

New name change process: Education Minister Chris Hipkins introduced a Supplementary Order Paper to amend the process for changing the name of New Zealand universities, following Victoria University of Wellington's efforts last year.

Commissioner for DHB: Health Minister Dr David Clark replaced the Board of Waikato DHB with a Commissioner - former Director General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

New Zealand’s well-being approach to budget is not new, but could shift major issues
Arthur Grimes, Victoria University of Wellington

Explainer: how a royal commission will investigate Christchurch shootings
Kris Gledhill, Auckland University of Technology

Apocalypse Now turns 40: rediscovering the genesis of a film classic
Alfio Leotta, Victoria University of Wellington

NZ introduces groundbreaking zero carbon bill, including targets for agricultural methane
Robert McLachlan, Massey Universit

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

New Zealand tried for 20 years to curb its methamphetamine crisis. It failed.
The NZ Herald's Kirsty Johnston and Jared Savage have spent six months in communities ravaged by meth to produce a documentary, Fighting the Demon.

Fonterra changes tanker schedule for #1 fan
Fonterra's milk tankers are Andrew Oliver's favourite thing in the world. RNZ's Indira Stewart speaks to Andrew and the Fonterra tanker drivers who visit him each night after Fonterra decided to change its schedule so Andrew can get to bed on time.

Swine Fever will push pork prices sky high
Newsroom's new daily podcast, The Detail tackles a story that's been big overseas for the past month or so, but hasn't got much of a look-in in NZ. African Swine Fever has reached China who has culled 200 million pigs to contain the disease, pushing the price of pork up 25 per cent.

The Big One: What will an Alpine Fault quake feel like?
One hundred and fifty seconds. That's how long it could take to transform the South Island. Jamie Morton's first NZ Herald Premium piece drills down into the Alpine Fault. 

Wild abandon
Across Australia’s central deserts, floodwaters are filling Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre for the first time in 45 years, reports Dominique Schwartz for the ABC. Those who live in the grip of this natural boom and bust don't want the rivers interfered with for farming or mining interests. Stunning photography by Brendan Esposito.

The Race to Develop the Moon
For science, profit, and pride, China, the US and private companies are hunting for resources on the surface of the Moon, writes Rivka Galchen for The New Yorker.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
The discovery of a Denisovan jaw bone and what it can tell us

Michael Knapp explains why there was so much fuss last week about the reported discovery of a Denisovan jaw bone found in a Tibetan cave.
Guest Work
Imagine an asteroid impact due in 2027: How would you tackle it?  

It’s now scientifically possible to predict potential asteroid impacts years in advance writes Duncan Steel. But even if you know one is coming, what can we do about it?
Out of Space

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Te Taiao: 11 May, Wellington. Te Papa's latest free exhibition about New Zealand's natural environment open to the public on Saturday. Te Taiao Nature replaces Mountains to Sea and Awesome Forces.
  • How plants decide what to do: 13 May, Christchurch: 14 May, Wellington: 15 May, Napier;  16 May, Auckland. Dame Ottoline Leyser from the University of Cambridge is visiting New Zealand to speak about her work on how plants make decisions without a brain.
  • Social media and terrorism: 14 May, Wellington. Media Studies lecturer Kevin Veale will speak about how social media companies profit from racism, abuse and harassment.
  • Countering violent extremism: 15 May, Hamilton. A panel of police, psychologists and political scientists will explore the cognitive and psychological processes involved in radicalisation and how the internet has become a driver and breeding ground for extremism.
  • Māori and the criminal justice system: 15 May, Wellington. Juan Tauri offers a critical review of the Māori-criminal justice relationship in the three decades since the release of Moana Jackson’s groundbreaking report.
  • Future of MedTech: 15 May, Auckland. Virtual pregnancies and gut sensors - hear from local researchers about the future of medical technology.
  • Cryptography after quantum computers: 15 May, Auckland. Quantum computers will be able to break some of the most famous and widely deployed cryptosystems. Stephen Galbraith will discuss whether our private information is secure in a post-quantum world.
  • Fake science or actual science?: 15 May Christchurch. Simon Pollard will talk about science, pseudoscience and junk science and how to tell the difference. 
  • Mobile apps and transactional culture: 16 May, Wellington. Michael Daubs explores how the mobile socialising apps, Snapchat and Instagram, propagate a transactional culture that converts everyday interactions into opportunities for consumption.
  • Food sustainability: 16 May, Auckland. Researchers from the University of Auckland will discuss the latest trend in key sustainability issues of food production and consumption.
  • Ko Matariki e ārau ana: 11 May, New Plymouth: 15 May, Whakatane; 16 May, Rotorua: 17 May, Auckland. Rangi Matamua will give a talk on Matariki and highlighting connections between Matauranga Māori and science.

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