25 Sep 2015

Concern for emissions research after jobs cut

7:59 pm on 25 September 2015

The logic of sacking scientists researching greenhouse gases is being questioned, in light of the government's insistence the solution to rising emissions will be found through scientific innovation.

Organic Jersey cow on a Rongotea farm.

A large proportion of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Crown research institute (CRI) AgResearch is laying off 33 scientists and 50 technicians because it is scaling back research on greenhouse gases, and animal and forage sciences.

Labour MP Megan Woods during caucas run April 2015.

Labour MP Megan Woods Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour climate change spokesperson Megan Woods said the government had always said research and development in that area was the silver bullet to meeting reduced emissions targets.

"So to hear that we're losing jobs in that area is concerning for me, and I want to know what the plan is from here."

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said it was incredibly short sighted to be cutting scientists in an area so crucial to New Zealand's future.

"The government has said that until we've got the technological innovation we can't really address climate change and agriculture.

Eugenie Sage is one of six new Green MPs.

Eugenie Sage Photo: GREEN PARTY

"Given that agriculture constitutes such a large part of New Zealand's emissions, AgResearch scientists are doing that core work, cutting science staff, cutting the technical staff, significantly reduces our capacity."

AgResearch is a key partner in the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, which includes the likes of Fonterra, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and Landcorp.

Its main aim is to find economically viable and practical ways to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson said he was confident the job losses would not affect the institute's work for the consortium.

Ms Sage disagreed. "AgResearch is our largest CRI, to actually understand how our pastoral systems work, which are such an important part of our economy and such a major contributor to Parliament, we need that core expertise.

"The consortium has been doing work in terms of genetics, breeding, how to reduce the emissions from the digestive system, potentially that is at risk."

Prime Minister John Key said AgResearch had already done a lot of work researching greenhouse gas emissions, and it had now moved to the commercial development phase.

"In terms of agricultural research, we are very much committed to finding a scientific answer.

"Half of our emissions come in that area, the only alternative to that would be New Zealand either completely ignoring the emissions from agriculture or de-stocking and certainly ignoring it and de-stocking are not viable options."

He said the government had already spent about $150 million on greenhouse gas emissions research.

The Labour Party said it intended to request more detail from the government on the impact the job cuts would have on AgResearch's ability to carry out its research.

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