Here are a few items of interest from over the last three months. (the bold type is my emphasis).
1) A report was presented to the MDC Environment Committee on October 8th titled –
Wairau Offshore Groundwater Geological Assessment.
It was prepared for Council by BECA in March 2020 and is – “a re-examination of the possibility of an ocean outlet for the Wairau Aquifer by an external technical expert showing that, based on recent offshore geophysical surveys, the geological formation hosting the aquifer extends well out into Cloudy Bay/Cook Strait and is exposed at the seabed, potentially allowing drainage of fresh groundwater to the sea.”
In the presentation it states – “An improved understanding of how groundwater exits the Wairau Aquifer was overdue given sea level rise and the declining levels in the Wairau Aquifer providing less throughflow to maintain the seawater interface in its current position.”
If anyone wants to see the full summary you can check it out here under Item 5 –
2) A presentation was also made updating the Committee on the recent Resource Management review undertaken by the Government.
The presentation outlined that key concerns promoting the review were:
First to repeal the RMA and replace it with the Natural and Built Environment Act (NBEA). This would have a substantially different approach but would incorporate some of the key principles of the RMA that are appropriate.
The focus of the NBEA would be on: enhancing the quality of the environment; and
achieving positive outcomes to support the wellbeing of present and future generations.
Introduction of new legislation called the Strategic Planning Act (SPA). The SPA would:
set long-term strategic goals; and facilitate the integration of legislative functions across the resource management system.
The concept of Te Mana o te Taiao (which refers to the importance of maintaining the health of our natural resources, such as air, water, and soil, and their capacity to sustain life) will also be captured in the NBEA.
Recognition of Maori and their rights in our freshwater resources has been reviewed. As a result, the Panel has recommended that the Crown and Māori address and resolve issues sooner rather than later as without such a solution, the allocation and use of water rights will continue to pose significant difficulties for all those involved in the system.
The Panel has emphasized that while the legislative changes proposed are vital, the success of the new resource management system will depend critically on the capacity and capability of all those involved in it. As a result, they have concluded that increased funding and resources need to be provided by both central and local government. The lack of sufficient resources and build capability has been noted as being one of the important reasons for the failure of the RMA to deliver its intended outcomes in the first place.
The Amendment Act also supports the need to improve freshwater management and respond to climate change in New Zealand. This is brought by way of a new freshwater planning process that regional councils and unitary authorities, like Marlborough District Council, must use for proposed freshwater provisions in regional policy statements and regional plans (excluding regional coastal plans). These new freshwater planning process provisions have been introduced to enable regional councils to make changes to their freshwater plans in a robust but more efficient way than those outlined in the current RMA planning process.
The full summary of the presentation can be seen here under Item 13.
3) Here is the summary of the updated report to council on the NZ Biodiversity Strategy.
Te Mana O Te Taiao, the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (the Strategy) was launched in August 2020 and sets out a framework for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity or natural resources.
The document has been developed by the Department of Conservation, with specific input from other agencies, including councils and external experts. It is a compilation of existing data and published information in indigenous biodiversity, supplemented by examples from a matauranga Māori perspective.
The Strategy will guide the way all Aotearoa works to protect and restore nature and supersedes the Action Plan published in 2016.
The Strategy sets out a strategic framework for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity or natural resources in New Zealand and makes direct connection to a thriving nature, ecosystem health and wellbeing of people and sustainable business. In terms of background, despite the importance of biodiversity, it continues to decline. Biodiversity faces a global crisis, as well as New Zealand, and our own region is not immune.
While there are success stories in conservation the main biodiversity pressures come from:
The three pillars are:
Te Mana O Te Taiao - Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 is available here on the Department of Conservation’s website.
Reports such as the three I've highlighted in this newsletter are regularly given by MDC staff to the councillors. These reports are often very useful summaries for the lay person to get their head around particular issues.
4) Here is an interesting graph recently received from James Hansen. It shows an acceleration in global warming. In the past five years global temperature has jumped well above the trend which has been stable at about 0.18°C per decade for the past half century. This deviation is too large to be explained by unforced climate variability. James analyses various possibilities for why this is happening and excludes solar irradiance, ocean heating imbalance, an increase in the magnitude of fast feedbacks and sea ice cover. His conclusion is that it is due to a decrease in atmospheric aerosols. This is the one large unmeasured forcing that climate scientists are aware of. He highlights that it is intentionally unmeasured. I think that is due to inadequate funding and the complexity of the science required to quantify the effect of atmospheric aerosols.
You can find the full analysis here –
5) I listened to an interesting online talk on Pumped Storage organised by “Engineers for Social Responsibility” on October 21st. It was presented by Dr Alastair Barnett who says that recent proposals for pumped hydro storage ignore thorough planning work done in the 1970s. I must say his talk was enlightening and left me wondering whether people with his experience and knowledge are being listened to.
Here is an abstract of his talk for those who are interested.
Until the recent flurry of publicity about the Lake Onslow proposal, pumped hydropower storage had not been seriously considered in New Zealand since the 1970s. At that time the Tekapo canal was under construction to link the two main storage reservoirs (Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki) in the Upper Waitaki power development, and an obvious option was to design the canal to take pumped flow from Pukaki to Tekapo as well as gravity flow from Tekapo to Pukaki. The canal design was duly analysed, constructed and tested to have the required reverse flow capacity, but meanwhile developments of the recently discovered Maui gas field were found to favour use of the gas at a high extraction rate, making a strong case for expanded national reliance on thermal power generation at the new Huntly power station.
Accordingly design and installation of the necessary pumps at each end of the canal (the Tekapo A and B stations) was discontinued until the end of the productive life of Maui gas supplies, then projected to be at least thirty years away.
Subsequently the entire public works hydropower design team was disbanded, leaving no-one with institutional memory of a large scale hydro design team planning for the end of Maui gas supplies, although this continued to occur at close to projected rates. Even if a replacement can now be found for the Maui field, the threat of climate change demands an end to thermal generation. Yet until now a lack of action on hydropower development has forced our generators to resort to desperate measures such as large scale importation of coal for the first time, actually increasing our thermal emissions. Wind power and solar power offer a partial solution as new sustainable energy sources, but these continually fluctuate between surplus and deficit, making the smoothing effect of pumped storage even more critical.
Finally the disastrous outcomes of poor power planning seem to have been recognised this year, but the reaction appears to be one of panic, adopting the first scheme which comes to mind without any comparison with alternatives. In particular, paying to complete the final 10% of the exhaustively studied Tekapo-Pukaki linkage seems not to have been considered.
The contrast between the deliberate, intensively researched power planning of the 1970s and the impulsive gambles of the early 2020s was the subject of the presentation.
Here is a link to his submission to the Zero Carbon Act in 2018 focussed on Pumped Storage.
and here is a link to a very informative and relevant article my Molly Melhuish.
6) The Aussies are planning the largest solar and wind energy project in the world in the Pilbara region of WA with the aim of exporting renewable energy to Asia. It is planned to cover 6,500 square kilometres. The first stage would be capable of generating 100 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity each year. That equates to about 40% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019.
"The project is backed by a consortium of global renewables developers. Most energy from the Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) will be used to produce green hydrogen and ammonia to be used both domestically, and for shipping to export markets. Some energy from AREH will also be exported as electricity, carried by an undersea electrical cable.
Another Australian project is also seeking to export renewable power to Asia. The 10-gigawatt Sun Cable project, backed by tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, involves a solar farm across 15,000 hectares near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory. Power generated will supply Darwin and be exported to Singapore via a 3,800km electrical cable along the sea floor."
It does make me wonder about the impacts on the fragile desert environment in that area. Is this really the solution to our climate disruption problems? I’m sceptical of the whole push for “green” hydrogen production with some of the information available about its limitations. (more in the next item) It raises the whole issue of energy descent and the need to change our consumer lifestyles. (Energy descent is a process whereby a society either voluntarily or involuntarily reduces its total energy consumption.)
You can read more about this project here if interested.
7) I recently heard Susan Krumdieck from Canterbury University talking on National Radio about green hydrogen in the context of the proposed Tiwai Point closure. As usual she didn’t mince her words. Some CKM members are familiar with Susan as we did an online Transition Engineering course that she offered earlier this year.
Here’s a summary of the item.
The government should stop focusing on unproven hydrogen energy technology to tackle climate change, says an expert. Canterbury University professor of mechanical engineering Susan Krumdieck said the government was enthusiastic about the development of green hydrogen, but it was a waste of time and money. Proven technologies could be used to meet New Zealand's zero carbon goal by 2050 - and address transport needs at the same time, she said. Surplus energy from Manapouri should be used to develop a national transport system starting from Invercargill and extending throughout the South Island, before crossing Cook Strait. KiwiRail could be a key part of the development, which would provide thousands of jobs.
"The South Island becomes a net zero (carbon) island, one of the first ones in the world," Krumdieck said. "We have the capability in New Zealand to beef up our rail engineering and our power electric power engineering for transport."
She said it would take about 10 years to electrify the South Island's transport network.
Good to see her getting airtime on National Radio presenting a different view to the popular narrative about “green” hydrogen.
7) I was interested in this analysis of the possible impact of the recent White House action in the US where scientist Michael Kuperberg was removed from his job.
The White House has removed the scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s premier contribution to climate knowledge and the foundation for regulations to combat global warming, in what critics interpreted as the latest sign that the Trump administration intends to use its remaining months in office to continue impeding climate science and policy. Dr. Kuperberg’s dismissal appears to be the latest setback in the Trump administration for the National Climate Assessment, a report from 13 federal agencies and outside scientists that the government is required by law to produce every four years. The most recent report, in 2018, found that climate change poses an imminent and dire threat to the United States and its economy. A biased or diminished climate assessment would have wide-ranging implications.
It could be used in court to bolster the positions of fossil fuel companies being sued for climate damages. It could counter congressional efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. And, ultimately, it could weaken what is known as the “endangerment finding,” a 2009 scientific finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that said carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to human health and therefore are subject to government regulation. Undercutting that finding could make it more difficult to fight climate change under the terms of the Clean Air Act.
Here is a good article about it.
8) Following on from the item in our last newsletter about France's action in this area Belgium has also pledged diplomatic action to halt ecocide crime and Sweden is also discussing the issue. Wouldn't it be good to see our current government getting active in this area and taking some real and effective action.
The pledges follow Green (Ecolo) MP Samuel Cogolati’s proposal in July that the government support the initiative of Vanuatu and the Maldives, which both called last year for serious consideration of amending the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute to include ecocide. Cogolati is pleased with the government’s commitment, underlining the urgency of the global situation: “We must protect nature and future generations in much stronger, more enforceable ways... Because without water, without forests, without clean air, we cannot survive on Earth. The planet is our common home. It’s time for criminal law to urgently come to the rescue.”
Jojo Mehta from Stop Ecocide explains more about Ecocide: “While our working definition is in essence mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, committed with knowledge of the risks, an expert panel of international criminal lawyers, advised by top climate and environmental scientists, is currently being convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation. The panel’s remit is to draft a clear and legally robust definition which can be considered for proposal by states at the International Criminal Court. A full list of panel members will be made available in due course."
Sweden has become the latest European state this year to discuss criminalising ecocide. Two separate motions have been submitted to the Swedish parliament by a combination of three political parties.
MEP (Member of European Parliament) Marie Toussaint has also launched an initiative connecting parliamentarians around the world in a coalition for the recognition of ecocide crime. Beginning with 10 parliamentarians from Brazil to Belgium, this group is set to grow fast, and the Stop Ecocide group is looking forward to working together on progressing ecocide law.
If interested you can see more info here and here.
9) Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr spoke at the Pacific Ocean Pacific Climate Conference recently where he said –
“Climate change is a key risk to the financial stability of the New Zealand economy. There was a need for transformational change and a collective and urgent response to climate risks. There is a lot to do and we are late in leaving port. Climate change is a risk that requires a collective response. Grounding a response in our collective knowledge, data and expertise will strengthen and compound the effects of our actions.”
He said assessing risks to banks and insurers, and the financial system as a whole, was the Reserve Bank’s core business and climate risk would sit within that. That would include the effect of drought and rising sea levels on the value of houses and farms.
“There are also risks associated with the transition to a low carbon economy, such as changing investor appetite and consumer demand. New Zealand being a small island nation with an agricultural-based economy means we will be impacted differently than others. And thus, we must keep our preparations in tune with our environment and resources, for our economy to prosper.”
10) The company Solidia has developed a new low carbon cement which looks promising. In 2016 world cement production generated around 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 - equivalent to 8% of the global total. With current technology for every tonne of cement produced a tonne of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Because the cement is cured by CO2 rather than water the process has the added bonus of saving water resources.
Here’s an extract about it:
By changing the chemistry of cement, Solidia both lowers emissions at the cement plant and consumes CO2 in the production of concrete. Our cement reacts with CO2 instead of water. During curing, the chemical reaction with our cement breaks apart the CO2 molecules and captures the carbon to make limestone that glues the concrete together.
For production of precast concrete that is cured in kilns, when you combine the emissions reduction during cement production with CO2 consumption during curing, we reduce cement’s carbon footprint by up to 70%.
There is a different carbon delivery system developed for ready-mix. Since we can’t use CO2 gas at a construction site, we had to introduce it into our concrete in solid or liquid form. We are partnering with companies that are turning waste CO2 into a family of chemicals, like oxalic or even citric acid – the same one in orange juice. We use these acids to react with our cement and pack in as much as four times more carbon, resulting in carbon-negative concrete.
That means that, in just a few hours, one kilometre of road could permanently consume the same amount of CO2 that nearly 100,000 trees absorb in one year. Thanks to chemistry and waste CO2, we have the potential to transform concrete – the second most utilised material on the planet – into a carbon sink for the planet.
Sounds promising. Let's hope this results in real changes in cement production around the world. It's not clear to me what the economic comparisons are between the new and present technologies and how fast change might happen.
You can read more about this technology here
Did you know 50 – 60% of annual CO2 from fossil fuel emissions adds to atmospheric CO2 increases. 30% goes into the water and the remainder goes to soil and plants.
Nga mihi, Budyong
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.