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The key role of science in mitigating global warming

Momentum is building in the climate change space, as politicians and the public alike look to the scientific community for solutions. The past year has seen a rapidly changing international situation with regard to the environment. Governments around the world are placing a priority on the issue of climate change and are ratifying the Paris agreement much earlier than anticipated.

New Zealand ratified the agreement in October 2016 and it came into force on 4 November 2016. The Paris agreement sets a long-term goal to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Achieving this ambitious global goal will require action on all fronts to reduce emissions, while at the same time fostering adaptation to unavoidable climate change and supporting sustainable development. New Zealand’s government has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In New Zealand’s case, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions make up 48 percent of the country’s overall emissions profile. Despite a reduction in emissions intensity of about 1 percent a year since 1990, this has been more than offset by an increase in product generated by the agricultural sector, resulting in a total rise in agricultural emissions by 15 percent. It is clear that actions taken by the sector will have a major influence on whether and how the country will achieve its Paris emissions target and longer-term goals.

With that sense of urgency comes mounting pressure to develop practical tools and strategies to achieve the ambitious emissions reductions targets needed to restrict global warming to well below 2°C. Improving the efficiency of food production is a key first step, but on its own such an approach would only limit the rise in agricultural emissions, it does not reduce them. Developing new and additional mitigation approaches increases flexibility and ensures that efforts to address climate change can also support other environmental or social goals, enable sustainable economic growth and contribute to global food security.

Developing these approaches is the role of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC). It does this in partnership with industry via its joint research programme with the industry/government-backed Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc). A number of key results in the past 12 months demonstrate how close the science teams are getting to achieving viable solutions to reducing agricultural greenhouse gases from New Zealand farm systems, with some at the pilot stage and commercial partners being brought on board. However there is still a lot more work required on these projects to ensure they can become useful at the farm level. The NZAGRC now has less than two years of funding left, and New Zealand’s future approach to research, development and implementation of agricultural greenhouse gas solutions will be critical to see our work make a difference.

Taking a leadership role within New Zealand and internationally through capability building work and active involvement with the Global research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, the NZAGRC is continuing to build on its reputation as an authoritative and important source of clear and unbiased advice on the science behind agricultural greenhouse gases. It is an exciting time to be involved in this area, and the NZAGRC is working hard to contribute to what will be globally applicable mitigation solutions. 

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