Independent Research Organisations sustainability and climate change initiatives

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The Government has an ambitious agenda for New Zealand to transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050, to grow our regions, and at the same time preserve and protect our environment, create fulfilling and high-value jobs, and increase our wellbeing. The critical role that science and research plays is outlined in the Government’s recently released draft RS&I strategy. Independent Research Associations throughout New Zealand undertake ongoing research that directly addresses these goals and are also adjusting the way they do business to embrace sustainability and render their own operations carbon neutral.

In recent research, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research has delved deeply into the social cost of carbon as well as developing the ETS Cap Explorer – an app that allows users to simulate Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) dynamics under different scenarios and assess their implications. The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is one of New Zealand's main tools in reducing and accounting for greenhouse gas emissions.

They’ve also recently undertaken research quantifying the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in trees; understanding the linkages between freshwater quality and greenhouse gas emissions; understanding barriers to uptake of environmentally friendly, and profitable, farming practices in New Zealand; understanding the implications of climate change for the agricultural sector and rural land values; and how climate change will affect New Zealand's public disaster insurance.

Members of the Motu team have also been working with people in developing countries to reduce their emissions; and in December last year, Motu Policy Fellow Catherine Leining was appointed as a New Zealand Climate Change Commissioner.

The building and construction industry needs to be at the forefront of innovation to combat climate change. To support the transition to a net zero carbon economy, BRANZ has been working with researchers and stakeholders from across New Zealand on a national programme of work to drive a transition to a zero-carbon built environment. The programme goal is that by 2050 the building and construction industry is delivering net-zero carbon buildings in an affordable way. The programme has now been designed and work is well underway on a number of key projects. A recently published study from this programme introduces a science-based approach for setting carbon emission limits for individual buildings using a whole-of-life cycle perspective. Based on the Paris climate accord, it involves assigning a share of the 2°C global carbon budget for 2018-2050 to a country, its construction sector, and finally to each life cycle stage of a building. The researchers say that similar carbon budgeting methods can also be applied to other sectors, such as food production and transport, to help people grasp what committing to 2ºC might look like. BRANZ is also accelerating work in this area and will be publishing a Research Prospectus to support further collaboration and action on low carbon building in the near future (contact for further information).

Down in Nelson, the Cawthron Institute continues its research into native red seaweed – a potential game changer for the agricultural sector, as, added to feedstock, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock by up to 80 percent. The research is now attracting attention from around the globe.

In the Transport Sector Mackie Research has been working with the NZ Transport Agency on a project called Innovating Streets for People, a project that aims to make street innovation projects around New Zealand easier to implement. Encouraging cycling and walking by street designs, gives a shift in direction towards transport that is more environmentally friendly and safer, and gives communities better access to opportunities.

Projects by both Lincoln Agritech and Aqualinc aim to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions represent over 10% of New Zealand’s GHG emissions.

In addition, Aqualinc recently modelled the effects on irrigation demand, drainage, and groundwater recharge of projected future climates out to 2100. The analysis covered all of New Zealand’s potentially irrigable area and used weather data produced by multiple global climate models for each of a range of emissions scenarios. The work was contracted by NIWA as an input to a project investigating the potential effects of climate change on water supply and demand.

The newly established Bragato Research Institute for grape and wine research, which officially opened its new research facilities on 27 February, is in the process of integrating sustainability principles, from planning through to operation, to truly minimise their use of crucial resources like energy, water, and raw materials. They aim to be the first building in Marlborough to be built with 5-star certification from the New Zealand Green Building Council’s Greenstar building sustainability programme. In practice, this has seen the installation of solar panels from a local company, iGenerate solar, which will generate 30% of Bragato’s energy needs. Their world-first research fermentation tanks are also being manufactured in Marlborough by Crown Sheetmetal, Renwick-based VinWizard are providing the fermentation control technology, and the students in the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology carpentry unit are creating upcycled furniture for the building using old tōtara cuves.

Last year, BRI modelled climatic conditions in all nine wine regions out to 2040 and 2090 under different emissions scenarios. Using these climate scenarios, BRI is commissioning research into the impacts on grape growing, and what they would mean for the wine industry, and has started the first of several projects researching adaptation options, as well as ways to measure and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, research scientist Wayne Hennessy from Verum Group, specialists in environmental quality matters in the minerals and energy sectors, has for the past 15 years provided the Ministry for the Environment with synthetic greenhouse gas accounting as part of the New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which is published every year. The programme requires detailed information gathering, gap-filling for equipment retirement models, and a close relationship with a range of industries in order to develop the quality dataset required by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The synthetic greenhouse gas accounting project is part of Verum Group’s commitment to the field of greenhouse gas mitigation, which also includes research into renewable fuels, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and industry consultancy on the impact of Government policy and carbon prices.

HERA, innovators in the heavy engineering and steel fields, are investigating sustainability in steel. They are currently leading two key carbon initiatives in 2020 to investigate the opportunity for zero carbon steel building products in Aotearoa, and accounting for and offsetting HERA’s own carbon emissions.

“. . . there is no denying that steel is a carbon contributor. And we need a strategy to address this that is transparent and understood by our Government, shareholders, the media and our community.

“We need to understand the longer-term options for replacing carbon as the reductant in steel making. And, we need to understand what we can do in the meantime to improve our performance.

“The steel industry, like many others, has its sustainability challenges and we are keen to improve our performance,” writes HERA CEO Troy Coyle.

Supporting a transition to a clean, green, carbon neutral New Zealand is a large part of the research efforts of our Independent Research Organisations. Their research covers an amazing gamut from the molecular make-up of medicines to satellite imagery of the Earth.

Date posted: 28 February 2020

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