Green transport with biofuels
A new report from Scion suggests that New Zealand could build a renewable low-carbon transport fuels industry, but only if there is the will to act.
In 2015, nearly a quarter of the country's greenhouse gas emissions were from combustible fuels, so the report suggestedbiofuels could have a major impact on overall reduction of New Zealand's carbon emissions.
University of Waikato senior research fellow Dr Martin Atkins welcomed the study, which he said "should reignite the conversation around the future of low-carbon transportation in New Zealand".
"While there is lots of interest in electric cars, this study clearly shows that liquid biofuels have an important role to play and simply cannot be ignored and put in the too-hard basket."
Massey University's Professor Ralph Sims, director of the Centre for Energy Research, said biofuels would play a role in moving toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions, but cautioned that there was a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' biofuels.
Good biofuels, as identified by Scion, included those produced from crop and forest residues and purpose-grown forests on marginal land, he said.
"Most biofuels cannot compete with an oil price below around US$100 per barrel ... although a high carbon price would help them become more viable. However, the current price of around NZ$ 21/t CO2 under the NZ emissions trading scheme adds only around 5 cents per litre to the retail price of petrol or diesel, so would need to rise significantly to have any major effect."
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the Scion report.
Counting the value of natural capital
Statistics New Zealand released the first report of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts, which is intended to be an annual report that feeds into Treasury’s investment statements.
The report showed that while New Zealand's greenhouse gases rose 24 per cent from 1990 to 2015, the pace was slower than the growth of the economy in general.
Environmental-economic statistics senior manager Michele Lloyd said the country was producing more greenhouse gases, "but is being much more efficient in doing so".
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research policy fellow Catherine Leining wrote in an analysis that "a more complicated story lies behind the aggregate numbers".
"The bottom line is that globally we need to achieve net zero emissions during the second half of the century if we hope to limit temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.
"Gradual improvements in greenhouse gas intensity are not going to deliver the goods if they are outpaced by growth in economic output. Absolute emissions are what matter for climate change."
The report also included an assessment of New Zealand's natural capital - the stock of natural assets like soil, air, water and living things.
University of Otago senior lecturer in environmental economics Dr Viktoria Kahui said the report was a "positive step towards the growing consensus that our environment is a capital asset that provides us with the many things we need to survive and thrive".
"Putting a monetary value on the environment can cause controversy between those who say nature has an intrinsic value that cannot be measured in monetary terms, and those who say it is the very lack of monetary value that makes it all too easy to ignore in business decision making."
Dr Kahui the report avoided much of the controversy by focusing on physical measures such as land cover and timber, but that it left a significant gap relating to ecosystem services.
"If national accounts were to include the value of New Zealand’s ecosystem services then we could see a major shift in view away from the consumption and production of goods and services as a catalyst for economic growth towards maximising the dividends of a well-functioning natural capital stock.
"This necessarily implies the improvement and maintenance of ecosystems, the minimisation of waste and the effective use of natural resources."
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the StatsNZ report.
"While the other contenders to be New Zealand's Volcano Cup representative – Ruapehu, Tongariro and the Auckland Volcanic Field – are more recently active, some would say more pretty, and have some interesting features like lahars and crater lakes, Taupō won out because she is big and bad."
GNS Science volcanologist Brad
on Twitter's Volcano Cup.
You can vote in the final round of Volcano Cup on Twitter: it's Taupō against Indonesia's Krakatau.
This year's seasonal influenza vaccine will include four strains of the flu, including one that has been responsible for a bad northern hemisphere season.
PHARMAC has announced it will fund the quadrivalent vaccine, which should be available in New Zealand from April. The drug-buying agency subsidises the vaccine, which is free for pregnant women, older people and those with certain medical conditions.
Immunisation Advisory Centre director Associate Professor Nikki Turner said there was a strain of Type A flu (AH3N2) that was in New Zealand last season, "though we fortunately still had quite a mild flu season".
"However, its effect was more prominent in Australia, which had a very bad season and the same strain has been seen widely this Northern Hemisphere winter, creating a very heavy flu season."
Dr Turner said it seemed the vaccine had not had a good match to that particular strain and hadn't been very effective in the northern hemisphere, but the vaccine arriving in New Zealand for the coming winter had an update AH3N2 strain "which is a better match and we hope that will give better effectiveness".
ESR public health physician Dr Sarah Jefferies said about 1.2 million New Zealanders opted for influenza immunisation last year.
"One of the challenges with influenza is that there is evidence that influenza infection does not always cause symptoms – so people may spread the virus without realising they are unwell," Dr Jefferies said.
"Research shows about one in four people may be infected with influenza during a moderate flu season, and the majority of those people may not know they have flu. This is one reason why immunisation is a key line of defence."
Dr Turner said, alongside vaccination, it was important to remember basic public health principles - "don't spread your bugs".
"Stay home when you are sick, keep social distance from others and cover your mouth when you cough. This will reduce the spread of flu significantly, however, it will not entirely eliminate it as we know people can carry flu virus and not actually be sick, so vaccination remains important alongside this."
And for those needle-phobes, scientists were working on alternate ways to deliver the influenza vaccine, including a "squirt up the nose" and microarray patches that use microneedles to cross the skin barrier, Dr Turner said. "That will help our needle phobia no end."
The SMC prepared an Expert Q&A on seasonal influenza and this year's vaccine.
Policy news & developments
Fourth stink bug carrier: MPI has turned away a fourth bulk carrier from Japan following the discovery of nearly 600 brown marmorated stink bugs on board, 12 of which were alive.
Foam phase-out urged: The EPA has urged airports that may have fire-fighting foams containing PFOS to begin immediate plans to phase them out.
Myrtle rust ban lifted: MPI has lifted restrictions on the movement of myrtle plants and green waste from Taranaki. Myrtle rust has continued to be detected outside the region despite the controls and has now been discovered for the first time on public conservation land.
Farmers urged to report high-risk purchases: MPI is urging beef and dairy farmers who believe their animals could be at high risk for Mycoplasma bovis infection to make contact with the ministry immediately.
Call for fumigant submissions: The EPA is seeking submissions on a possible new fumigant for logs and timber as an alternative to methyl bromide.