Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Keen interest in gas research

At the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009 Prime Minister John Key proposed a global group for greenhouse gas research. Only three months later the Global Research Alliance was launched on the margins of a UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Tim Fulton reports on one of those partnerships. Interest in greenhouse gas research has far exceeded the $2 million budget, as New Zealand scientists nudge alongside their Australian colleagues. Some of these scientists and their employers will soon be linked to the dusty country’s six-year, $244m Filling the Gap programme. Successful applicants will be paid out of $2m set aside by the locally driven Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

Nearing a deadline about three weeks ago the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was expecting four or five large applications, mostly from Crown Research Institutes.

However, the ministry ended up with 14 proposals at a total value of $5.5m.

The winning bids haven’t been advised but applications were from AgResearch (which leads the NZ centre), Landcare, NIWA, GNS and Scion. The areas covered included soil carbon, biochar, reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions and decision support tools, a ministry spokesperson said.

MPI’s Andrea Pickering keeps watch over New Zealand funding for greenhouse gas research, including international projects like Filling the Gaps.

Asked about NZ’s progress in the field she said the next challenge would be delivering gains to farmers.

The government has pledged $45m until June 2016 for the Global Research Alliance and has often pointed to the body as evidence our pastoral industry is serious about reducing the intensity of its GhG emissions.

NZ already has a formal global link through AgResearch, which hosts the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

Australia’s priorities differed from NZ in areas like soil carbon and nitrous oxide but offering some of the research to NZ scientists would be good for both countries, Pickering said.

“It was very just helping the Australians out, because with their assessment criteria and the way their panel works they needed to confirm co-funding before they would even consider an application. So this is a way of helping not only our scientists but also the Australians in the process.”

Pickering didn’t expect the applicants would be short of useful endeavour.

New Zealanders involved in GhG research were known for their amazing relationships with peers in the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands, while the global alliance itself had also generated some good success stories, she said.

MPI contracts the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium to co-chair the alliance’s livestock research group on NZ’s behalf alongside the Netherlands.

Pickering said this sort of research had a political and trade aspect, as countries like NZ tried to show they were serious about reducing GhG emissions.

But the work is also important for farming nations that produce proportionally less GhG from farming but emit more than NZ in absolute terms.

She felt pastoral GHG research would continue regardless of deadlines and policy shifts for the Emissions Trading Scheme. Mitigation efforts were so closely linked to trade and even if NZ didn’t have an ETS it would be important for trade partners to see us making an effort to reduce emissions.

While there was no way of knowing how long the current GhG research would continue it was important in the meantime for NZ to protect farmers and export markets, she said.

The ministry says it works closely on the alliance with the environment and climate change groups from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry for the Environment.

Agriculture’s role in greenhouse gases

About 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural activities.

However, in New Zealand agriculture accounts for almost half of the country’s total GhH emissions.

In June 2011 Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser reported about 30 member countries had signed up to the Global Research Alliance.

“Agriculture plays a vital role in food security, poverty reduction and sustainable development. But the sector is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as well as facing the challenge of increasing global food demand while reducing global greenhouse gas emissions”, he said at a ministerial conference in Rome.

Globally, not enough research had been focused on reducing agricultural greenhouse gases, compared to other sectors such as energy and transport. The alliance would change this, he said.

NZ is currently the alliance’s secretariat and chaired the council from June 2011 to June 2012, when Canada took over.

The body has three main research groups – croplands, livestock and paddy rice – as well as two “cross-cutting groups” responsible for inventories and measurement and soil carbon and nitrogen cycling. 

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