My submission to the New Zealand Science Challenges

We need to recognise climate change as the most urgent and important issue facing humanity. It is important to direct research funding in accordance with that view. Given the unwillingness of governments worldwide to price and regulate CO2 emissions effectively, we need to make alternative energy generation solutions cheaper, so that they are able to displace fossil fuels even on a non-level playing field where CO2 emissions aren't priced appropriately.

The climate is changing and will continue to change for a long time. In addition to phasing out fossil fuels, we need solutions to mitigate the impact of change, both domestically and globally.

This problem is urgent and critical to solve because of its enormous economic, ecological and social impacts. However, it can also be a huge opportunity for New Zealand to be a leader in finding solutions. It has the potential to boost New Zealand's exports and international reputation.

I have selected research themes and listed the areas of research in each theme which are going to have the most impact and can produce the most practical solutions.

I have not included other areas which in my view aren't going to have sufficient impact on CO2 emissions such as research into energy efficiency or carbon capture and storage.

Goal of the challenge

New Zealand becoming the global leader in climate change solutions

Theme 1: Phase out fossil fuels from electricity generation in order to reduce CO2 emissions

Benefits:

  • Doing our part to stop dangerous climate change and prevent its economic, ecological and social impacts
  • Meeting international obligations for reducing CO2 emissions
  • Safeguarding NZ's clean green image which is a huge marketing asset both for NZ exports such as dairy products and for tourism
  • Opportunity to export new technologies

Research components:

  • Lowering the cost of renewable energy generation (wind, solar, tidal, biomass)
  • Distributed small scale generation and its integration into the national grid
  • Energy storage and demand management (to maximise the benefits of fluctuating generation such as solar)

Theme 2: Phase out fossil fuel use in transport in order to reduce CO2 emissions

Benefits:

Similarly to phasing out fossil fuels from electricity generation, there are many benefits:

  • Doing our part to stop dangerous climate change and prevent its economic, ecological and social impacts
  • Meeting international obligations for reducing CO2 emissions
  • Decreasing and eventually removing the need to import fossil fuels
  • Reducing and eventually eliminating the environmental impacts from fossil fuel production (e.g. deep sea oil drilling and fracking)
  • Safeguarding NZ's clean green image which is a huge marketing asset both for NZ exports such as dairy products and for tourism
  • Opportunity to export new technologies

Research components:

  • More effective public transport solutions and their integration into existing cities
  • Safe & efficient energy storage alternatives to fossil fuels for vehicles
  • Urban design to enhance the usability of public transport and minimise required travel distances

This research can have immediate practical applications in the context of Christchurch rebuild.

Theme 3: Mitigate climate change effects

Benefits:

Like every other country, New Zealand needs to mitigate the effects of climate change. Due to inertia of the climate system and the still increasing global emissions, climate change will continue. Regardless of the local effects of climate change in New Zealand, it's important to keep in mind that New Zealand imports many products from global markets and participates in the global economy. Therefore, finding solutions to mitigate climate change effects around the world is important for preserving the standard of living for New Zealanders. It also presents huge opportunities for exporting solutions.

Research components:

  • Breeding crops which are resistant to higher temperatures
  • Breeding drought resistant crops
  • Mitigation of other effects of droughts on agriculture
  • Flood mitigation, changes to buildings and infrastructure design for flood resilience, and cost effective methods of retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for flood resilience
  • Prediction and mitigation of the effects of rising sea level, including erosion and coastal flooding
  • Mitigation of the effects of ocen acidification on fisheries and aquaculture