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Political parties on science

Political parties on science
With election season in full swing, the SMC canvassed political parties on 10 science-related issues.

This is the fourth time the SMC has posed science questions to parties running in the general election. The full responses are available on our website, or as a PDF.

From now until the election, we'll be highlighting two policy questions every week. Note: NZ First has not yet responded to the questions; the party's responses will be added to our website when they are available.

Science funding

On the question of science funding and support for business research and development (R&D), the parties all recognised the need for investment but were divided on how and where support should be increased.

The Māori Party said aligning science and innovation with Māori business could lead to 150,000 additional jobs per year by 2060. To achieve this, the party would establish a priority investment fund for Māori R&D.

Labour said it wanted to increase public science spend to bring New Zealand to the OECD average over time, and would strengthen innovation with a 12.5% R&D tax credit.

ACT said it opposed subsidies and grants for R&D, as it resulted in "politicians picking favourites". Instead, it proposed a corporate tax cut to allow businesses to keep more of their profits and reinvest in R&D or other innovation.

National pointed to "significant increased investment in science and innovation" through the latest budget, which added $256 million of new funding over four years. The party said the Government's investment in Callaghan Innovation's Growth Grants had helped increase business spending on R&D.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) said it wanted government science funding to be more long term and free of interference. Any gag clauses should be removed from publicly-funded contracts and funds should not be reliant on co-funding with the private sector, if public good could be demonstrated.

The Green Party said alongside boosting spending on science and R&D, it would reduce organisational complexity and overheads associated with funding and research. A Green Infrastructure Fund would kick-start the green economy by attracting private finance for low-carbon projects.

Natural hazards

We asked the parties whether the country is doing enough to prepare for and respond to major natural hazards.

TOP said the available science wasn't being used to lead public discussions about disaster preparedness - the party proposed Government could provide more guidance through National Policy Statements.

Climate change will create a more unstable environment, the Green Party said, with floods and droughts expected to become harsher and more frequent. Recovery and rehabilitation of affected areas required commitment to local decision-making and appropriate roles for central and local government, the party said.

National said Kiwis had never been better prepared for disasters, according to the latest survey, and a Technical Advisory Group had been set up to identify improvements in disaster response. Labour said recovery planning needed to be embedded in preparedness planning and training and communities empowered to respond to a crisis and lead their own recovery.

The Māori Party said it supported greater education campaigns and had supported legislation that sought to improve the country's response to natural hazards. ACT said its policy was to replace building consenting processes with a mandatory insurance regime, to ensure greater resilience.

Read the full set of policy questions on the SMC website.

Quoted: NZ Herald
"While the lake is now very dilute, it is still as acidic as battery acid, so you wouldn't want to drink it or swim in it."

GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott on
White Island's new crater lake.

$20,000 for journalism projects
Six projects pick up funding in the first round of the Science Journalism Fund.
The successful applicants included:

Climate change: Impacts and implications for New Zealand – funded by the Deep South National Science Challenge ($5000)
$1320 to Yvonne O’Hara to write a series of articles for the Otago Daily Times
$3680 to Eloise Gibson to write an article for Newsroom
Controversial technologies: Should we even go there? – funded by Te Pūnaha Matatini ($10,000)
$4500 to Naomi Arnold to write an article for New Zealand Geographic
$4000 to Simon Morton to support a feature on RNZ’s This Way Up
$1500 to William Ray to support a series on RNZ’s Our Changing World
Election 2017: where science and policy meet – funded by Dr Rebecca Priestley with money from the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize
$5000 to fund a video project by Jamie Morton and Damian Christie to run in association with online features in New Zealand Herald

The Herald's election series is already underway with a video series asking University of Auckland post graduate students to run their ruler over the political parties' conservation policies.

With 20 applications received in the first round, there is clear appetite among journalists to work on important science-related projects, said Fund founder Dr Rebecca Priestley.

Find out more about the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalist Fund here.

The Herald's conservation policy experiment

Methane and fossil fuels
Researchers looking at air trapped within Antarctic ice have found humans are putting more methane into the atmosphere through fossil fuel emissions than previously thought.
Using ice cores from Antarctica’s Taylor Glacier, an international team of researchers – including New Zealand and Australian scientists – measured natural rates of methane in the atmosphere over the last 11,000 years. Their results, published this week in Nature, showed natural levels were much lower than previously estimated, which in turn means methane emissions from human activities are much greater than expected.

It had been thought that global warming would trigger natural methane emissions, but the researchers found no sign of increased emissions at the end of the last ice age. Niwa atmospheric scientist Dr Hinrich Schaefer told Newstalk ZB, “when warming occurs we’re worried that permafrost and marine sediments might release large amounts of methane, and again this methane would have been stored away in reservoirs for thousands of years”.

“Because we also looked at samples that spanned a rapid warming event, we could show that there was no additional old methane coming into the system at the time. So that means for future warming, we’re a little more optimistic that there’s not going to be a big burst of methane coming out of the permafrost or marine sediment that is going to make the whole mess of climate change worse.”

He said that showing fossil fuels were a bigger contributor to human-forcing of climate change “gives us a better understanding of what we can do about mitigating climate change and that we should get to work on it”.


This week on the NZ Conversation.
Antarctic ice reveals that fossil fuel extraction leaks more methane than thought
Hinrich Schaefer, NIWA

Australian census data show collapse in citizenship uptake by New Zealanders
Paul Hamer, Victoria University of Wellington; Andrew Markus, Monash University

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

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