Kennedy Graham

Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Gases

by Kennedy Graham

On first blush and subject to consultation with caucus colleagues, this is something the Green Party should give at least conditional support and help where we can.

The Alliance is an initiative of the NZ Government, largely between Ministers Smith, Groser and Carter.  It reflects considerable cross portfolio and cross-departmental effort and has the prospect of making a major contribution to the fight against climate change. The ministers are to be congratulated.

The Alliance was unveiled today at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, by ministers from New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, the US and France.  At the time of this launch there are 20 countries signed up – in addition to the above, from the North: Australia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK.  From the South: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Uruguay, Vietnam.  It is hoped that others (e.g. Argentina) will also join up.

The Alliance’s objective is to reduce the emissions intensity of agricultural GHG production and increase the potential for soil carbon sequestration, thereby contributing to overall mitigation efforts.  This would be cross-sectoral – involving livestock, crops and rice.

The Alliance will seek to increase international cooperation, collaboration and investment in public and private research activities.  This will include knowledge-sharing, access by farmers to mitigation and carbon sequestration, achieve synergy between mitigation and adaptation and improve measurement through consistent methodologies. 

The political premise underlying the Alliance is the tension between global population growth and food demand, and consequent GHG emissions – and the ‘decoupling’ between agricultural growth and emission growth.  In fact the claim is that agriculture can prove to be a sink rather than a source in due course.  Agriculture currently accounts for 14% of global emissions.

Minister Tim Groser advised that, on Day 1, some US$150 m. had been pledged, and it was hoped that this would leverage private funding as well.  But he stressed that it was not just a question of finance – the essence was coordination, of research already underway and new research yet to be funded.  France, for example, already has some 500 researchers in agriculture and climate change who would form part of the Alliance.  India’s contribution would be immense as well.  Once the political momentum was underway, it was important to turn it over to the scientists. 

Denmark gave the most impressive example of the potential of the Alliance. Since 1990 it had increased agricultural production by 16% yet agricultural emissions had dropped by 23%.   This had been achieved through optimisation of the nutrient chain and improving water management.

The UK spoke of its Low Carbon Transition Plan with a commitment to reduce CO2 equivalent of 3 m. tonnes by 2018-22.

Obviously the participating countries have differing profiles.  Among Annex I countries, New Zealand leads with 48% agriculture while UK is only 7%.  Non-annex I countries (e.g. Uruguay) have a profile similar to ours.

Media asked the obvious question whether the Alliance would actually result in reduced quantitative emissions.  Ministers would not say – just stressed the reduced carbon intensity goal. 

The first meeting of the Alliance will held in New Zealand in March 2010.

We should take a positive view of this initiative.  The only questions are whether the funding is transparently supplementary, and whether there is sufficient sense of purpose to actually reduce emissions by, say, 2020, rather than simply reducing intensity yet allowing emissions to increase.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Thu, December 17th, 2009   

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