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Gluckman says genetic modification key to emissions-reducing innovation

Tuesday 11th September 2018

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New Zealand needs to consider its moratorium on genetic modification techniques to access the most promising innovations that would reduce agricultural emissions, says Peter Gluckman in his final report as the Prime Minister's chief science advisor. 

The July paper to the PM says farmers can take a number of immediate steps to start reducing agricultural emissions, but for New Zealand to make meaningful steps it will need to embrace technological innovations. That's problematic because the most promising technologies rely on genetic engineering or genetic modification methods, which face restrictions in New Zealand.

Those technologies include transgenic forage plants which reduce livestock emissions, transgenic endophytes which inhibit nitrogen, and GE forestry to accelerate tree growth for afforestation. 

"Clearly all social license for these technologies does not exist in New Zealand," Gluckman's report said. "However, given the progression of science on one hand and a broader understanding of the crisis of climate change on the other, not having a further discussion of these technologies at some point may limit our options." 

The Productivity Commission report into achieving a low carbon economy last week recommended special treatment for methane under an emissions trading scheme, saying it wasn't suitable for a single-cap system. The Labour-led government wants to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and is attempting to reach a bipartisan approach to climate change. National Party spokesman Todd Muller has said climate target revisions need to account for evolving science. 

Gluckman's report said immediate action farmers can take to reduce emissions is affected by the limitations of the Overseer measurement tool. He said a feasible option for early reductions is a farm plan approach where a farmer relies on expert advice and science-based input to develop mitigation strategies that are auditable. 

"I endorse consideration of this latter approach as being both practical and amenable to integrating multiple farm objectives for both environmental and economic sustainability," the report said. 

To work, Gluckman's report said the plans would need to identify priority emissions sources, allow reporting of trends in emissions intensity as well as absolute emissions, allow for a wide range of mitigation actions to be captured, and link to other criteria farmers have to meet. The Biological Emissions Reference Group modelling suggests changes in farm management could cut biological emissions from individual farms by between 2 and 10 percent, possibly without eroding profit. 

(BusinessDesk)

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