Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Gases

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.

35 Comments Posted

  1. I assume they are trying to do industrial style mono-culture by hand? That would be difficult. We need to change the idea that everyone needs to be fed by a few huge farms growing fields of the same plant. Nature does it better, with variety, no overt tilling and no bare land.

  2. sofistek, I too wouldn’t expect people to change their ways of doing things. Its always far easier to move the technology side in New Zealand rather trying to adapt Kiwi lifestyle to suit the purpose.

    Now as I’m visiting the south east Asia (currently in Vietnam, I can just see how harder it is here for framers to do everything – people simply do not have any equipments or any machines. Many laborious tasks are all done by hand!)

  3. sofistek – of course, you are correct. Easy now, to say that we’re doing our bit, carry on as you were good farmers of New Zealand, we’ll get back to you with some Very Good Ideas. You anti-dairy crowd can just stfu.

  4. I heard an interview with a scientist about the Global Alliance and fear that the focus will be on trying to find the technology to keep emissions down (like introducing combating substances into ruminants). That is, the focus will be to maintain or increase output, whilst using technology to reduce emissions.

    Technology is always assumed to be the answer, never lifestyle changes.

  5. The Danes are massive pig farmers and farm them in factories.
    We are grass farmers.

    Now now, I know a few Danes and they aren’t all that big.

    But to get back to the topic on hand:

    I think commenters above expecting such research to have goals of reducing overall carbon emissions as opposed to carbon emission intensity are being a bit unrealistic. It’s extraordinarily hard to propose R&D that does anything but reduce intensity.

    R&D provide the tools, via ways to reduce emission intensity. Whether we will take any such intensity reductions and deploy them to reduce emissions while maintaining production, or whether we will use them as an excuse to up production, or whether (as is the case now) we’ll simply ignore any such technologies because farmers have no market incentives to use them isn’t something the science can tell you.

    I do applaud Key for this. It’s a valuable way of building a toolkit to fight global warming. Now if he’d just do a bit more work on getting those tools used…

  6. Owen,

    with every respect..

    You have explained yourself. The relevant paragraph appears to state what I, in my own experience, realised many many moons ago: as to why I then no longer drove the very first japanese automobile—that being because later models are so much better and in so very many ways.

    You are so correct, things improve. Including science’s need of specialism.. and humanity’s need of generalism. Its products an adequate partnership of both. Though not exclusively you will understand.

    Should you need further assistance please allow me to suggest that your response’s to my requests do not commence from a presumption of my position being, like yours, of holding the answer. My question you see arose out of genuine curiosity. Which knows no answer until it receives it.

    If I shouldn’t come across you prior Season’s Greetings.

  7. Salsy,

    thanks for the swedish environment ministry’s press release. Further query led to the following:
    whereupon a bar chart breaking down emissions’ output 1990-through -present. Useful would be an enzed version. Is their one.. something similar..?
    They also made the point of nitrous oxide being some 11 percent of total emissions.. and this I presume after a stock reduction to effect significant overall cattle emissions.

    Elsewhere, Ms Fitzsimons also makes this point on stock reduction. Not exactly fontera-speak or, for that matter Minister Groser-speak (for those surmised or projected food production global growth markets). Still, we begin with a major global problem and mebbe first things come first.. in the balance of things to come.

  8. hj 🙂 Ya reckon?
    I’m betting that the organisms that are present in the present-day cow’s rumen are different from those an auroch lugged around. I’d like to see the development moving toward a more suitable diet – something more than rye grass, fescue and palm kernel.

  9. Grenfly says:

    “Took millions of years to evolve the symbiotic relationship between the whenua here and its fauna. We changed all that in the geological blink of an eye. A cow will be a cinch. ”

    Killing off the flightless birds doesn’t compare with altering a relationship such as a cow has with organisms inhabiting it’s rumen.

  10. Owen

    The current government has acted under urgency without necessity and without apparently listening to anyone far too often for us to ignore the arrogance that the corruption of power has imbued in it. I think they take what they actually hear on board, but they do not listen well and they give others very very little time to talk.


  11. That swedish biogas train sounds good but electric trains are a better idea if there are no technological obstacles – like low tunnels. Keep the biogas for buses, trucks and other road vehicles which need longer range than is feasible for electric vehicles and for which trains are unsuitable.

    More research on producing biogas from agricultural waste could reduce the agricultural emissions and help with our transport emissions and impending shortage of transport fuels.


  12. Tomfarmer
    RE: The uncertainties continue.
    I am quite sure what you are saying.
    I have many times experienced the way a new theory or technology sounds simple and straightforward but uncertainties develop as related scientists and technologists become involved and look at their own fields.
    Genetic Engineering is a good example. As we worked on the extreme thermophyles we found a whole lot of new uncertainties or fields of ignorance which made our first budgets look naive.
    However, if you read the submission I think Freeman Dyson says it very well.
    Think too about how Chaos theory effectively put paid to macro economic modelling – and my opinion to climate modelling.
    We have focused on atmospheric exchanges and have paid little attention to all the other exchanges that take place in the biosphere with the result that most of the assumptions about agriculture are based on belief rather than on science. As Dyson has said time and time again “Its roots not shoots”. Yet how much attention have any of our climate scientists paid to the shoots – and the bacteria underground?
    Speak to soil scientists and biologists and there is a heap of uncertainty about the role of pastures, trees, wetlands, bacteria, ruminants and so on. We have never had to focus on these before so why would a whole body of knowledge suddenly leap into our texts without someone doing the work.

  13. frog
    One never claims full credit for anything that Governments do. That would be foolish and unrealistic.
    But there is a certain cynicism about Select Committees and I believe there is enough connection between what the Centre submitted and what has become Government Policy to indicate that it was worth making the submission. My intention was only to encourage others not to give up on the Select Committee process.
    Political parties in government should not be denigrating the Select Committee process. It is an important part of our process of government and since Select Committees have played a greater role Governance has been improved. What is your motive?
    Also, the Centre’s original submissions included a passing reference to the need to join such an alliance and the Committee asked for a further and more substantial submission. I was also invited to have breakfast with Dr Hutchinson the next morning to discuss it further. Simon and I share many thoughts. Remember he invited me to write the first Think Piece on the RMA.
    Your assertion that it was given zilch attention is contradicted by the request for a furtther submission ≠ which is unusual to say the least.

  14. How convenient of you Owen, to claim credit for this. Pity Simon Upton has been working on it for far longer. (Years in fact) Full credit and full marks to former National Minister Simon Upton. I am sure that your submission was given the same amount of time and attention that everyone elses was under this National Government. Zilch.

    I really must try and get back to sleep…

  15. This is fine, but there needs to be more.

    We need a source of funding for this and for maintaining forest sinks and for the transfer of clean energy tech and renewable energy finance – a Tobin tax does this.

  16. Took millions of years to evolve the symbiotic relationship between the whenua here and its fauna. We changed all that in the geological blink of an eye. A cow will be a cinch.

  17. As Fed Farmers said it has taken millions of years to evolve the symbiotic relationship between the cow and microbes in its rumen. Easier said than done?

  18. What is really weird, is that Andreas Carlgren, looks like a younger, happier version of Nick Smith… I wonder if Sweden would mind if we swapped?

  19. “We have strengthened instruments so that the polluter pays, leading to a dramatic changeover from dependence on fossil fuels to green investments and emissions reductions. One such strengthened instrument is the carbon dioxide tax,”

    If this is true,

  20. Great news from Sweden, where clearly money spent in research and development actually makes for a better economy and a greener planet!

    “The new emissions figures are very pleasing. Adapting and renewing our climate policy has produced results. The Alliance Government is delivering. This major reduction in emissions confirms that Sweden is at the forefront and that we more than fulfil our Kyoto commitments,” says Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren.

    “We have strengthened instruments so that the polluter pays, leading to a dramatic changeover from dependence on fossil fuels to green investments and emissions reductions. One such strengthened instrument is the carbon dioxide tax,” says Mr Carlgren.

  21. Else (to the above question of Owen) I would be more assured of the measure for global research alliance/s on agricultural gases if some intelligent risk potential existed between capital input and scientific attainment. Or is it in pertinent state of knowledge terms, open-ended funding.?

  22. Owen,

    the uncertainties continue to expand.

    Could you elaborate please. As used above uncertainty appears to be a fulcrum about which the submitters’ build a case. I should appreciate knowing the basis of that case.

    I use this wording so as to remain neutral in respect of your own interpretations. And for no other, including, preconceived notion.

  23. This is evidence that Submissions to Select Committees are not always a waste of time.

    John Key might have first mentioned the idea of a global Research Alliance in September but the idea was first mooted by the Centre in its first submission to the ETS select Committee.
    Here are the key points in the summary of the submission:

    “9. Punching Above our Weight where it Does Most Good.

    While some claim “the science is settled” no one can claim that “all the sciences are settled” and as more scientists from more disciplines bring their research and analysis to bear on the issue of Climate Change the uncertainties continue to expand. Consequently we need to consider the need to manage the risks that the current presumptions of dangerous Anthropogenic Climate Change may be overturned.

    New Zealand can do little to change the climate but has a major role in feeding the world and in developing the sciences that will enable other developing economies to feed their own people. Hence we should be developing a ‘no regrets’ policy that can deal with any developments in climate science that may transpire.

    If it finally transpires that the threat of dangerous Anthropogenic Global Warming proves to be yet another false alarm we shall still have reaped the benefits of an increased depth of understanding of top-soil management and both crop and animal husbandry.

    10. A New Brand for New Zealand.

    Instead of being apologetic, our exporters could supply UK supermarkets with pastoral scenes captioned “Food from the world’s greenest greenhouse sinks!” We could also remind our tourists, viewing our green and verdant land, that these may be the most effective greenhouse sinks in the world.

    This counter to potential trade threats could be branded “Greening Grass” and draw attention to:

    · the carbon-sink capacity of our perennial grasses, which not only absorb CO2 
but help convert it to food for the world;

    · our scientific and practical experience and expertise in developing 
pasture grasses; and

    · our willingness be a leader in imparting this 
knowledge to countries who need it, with emphasis on India, China and 
northerly African states.

    In projecting this message to the world, New Zealand could say that whatever we do to try to 
limit emissions of GHGs will have no effect on the global climate, will 
limit our ability to export food, and divert our science from further 
improvements in pasture grass and soil management to less effective areas or to areas where other nations are already concentrating far more resources.

    New Zealanders could offer, or sell, this ‘Greening Grass’ technology and know-how to help feed all the people of the world – a problem that will never go away.

    The government could adopt this policy as a precursor to any final decisions on emissions trading or taxes, without being accused of ‘doing nothing’ while waiting for the outcome of the Copenhagen Conference and the Australian decisions. Such a policy might even getcsupport from the Green Party for whom topsoil enhancement is a long-standing issue.”

    You can read the whole submission at our web site here:

  24. Good so far as it goes, though not having emissions reduction as a goal seems a real problem. I hope this isn’t just an attempt at green wash. NZ’s announced $45m for the fund can only be seen as a first drop in the bucket next to the $110b ETS subsidy for polluters.

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