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He says while NZ is a small country, it remains clear about its responsibility to bring about positive changes in this area on a global scale.
O’Connor repeated PM Jacinda Ardern’s claim that the NZ government “regards climate change as the nuclear-free movement of the modern generation”.
“As a global community we need to deliver more food of a higher quality with less environmental impact than ever before. We need to reduce agricultural emissions, while maintaining strong economies and productive and resilient sectors capable of meeting the food demand of an exponentially growing world population,” he told the conference.
O’Connor says NZ has a low population density and a temperate climate, ideal for agricultural production. He says through innovation and impressive productivity gains – helped by the removal of agricultural subsidies and tariffs in the 1980s – NZ can produce more food more efficiently than ever before.
He noted that NZ is the number-one dairy exporter in the world, but only produces 3% of the world’s milk. Also the country ranked number-six beef exporter in the world, but only produces 6% of the world’s beef.
O’Connor told attendees about NZ’s Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change research programme (SLMACC), set up to help NZ meet international greenhouse gas reduction goals and maintain profitable and sustainable agriculture and forestry sectors in the face of a changing climate.
“In the decade since its inception we have funded over 150 projects with $50 million of Government funding – some with returns 10 times the original public investment. As a Government, we have stated clearly that we want clean water and a low emissions economy and we are working through these challenges carefully and pragmatically with the farming sector, whose efforts in these areas are strong and a story worth sharing.
“In the spirit of what we call kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, our work is not just about preservation, but wise utilisation of our natural resources and understanding how to best match land use to different production types and regions.”
O’Connor says NZ has long held the view that more can be achieved through collaboration than alone. This inspired us to lead the set-up of the Global Research Alliance in 2009.
“The GRA’s aim is to bring countries together to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions. It achieves this by increasing international cooperation, collaboration and investment in public and private research by its 50-member countries.”
O’Connor told the conference that NZ has spent $65m over the last nine years to support the GRA to accelerate and expand global research in livestock, soils and measurement.
He says in the livestock sector NZ has found promising leads. “By working with others, we’ve measured thousands of animals and have been able to identify some that emit lower levels of methane.
“We’ve screened hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds and isolated a handful that have large potential to reduce emissions. We’re undertaking world-leading research to try to develop a vaccine to reduce methane from livestock.
“We’ve carried out a global survey of ruminant animals including sheep, cattle, deer, goats, buffalo and even giraffes, and we discovered that the same groups of microorganisms dominate in nearly all rumens across a wide variety of species and animal diets.”
O’Connor says this study involved at least 140 scientists in 73 organisations in 34 countries.