US, New Zealand teaming up on climate

By SCOTT R. BURNELL, UPI Science News  |  Oct. 25, 2002 at 5:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The governments of New Zealand and the United States, although maintaining separate positions on the Kyoto global warming treaty, will work together more closely on research related to global climate change, officials of both countries said Friday.

Pete Hodgson, New Zealand's minister for energy, research, science and technology, said the two nations' scientific partnerships touch on a number of issues. An example is an imminent New Zealand trip by the head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will include climate discussions, Hodgson told a gathering at his country's embassy.

"Unless we are able to measure (climate effects) accurately, whether in trees or in chemical factories, it is quite hard to get measured responses," Hodgson said. "Further science work is needed on that."

Hodgson said his country continues to support the Kyoto accords, which call for cutbacks in emissions thought to contribute to an improper rise in the Earth's temperature. The Bush administration refuses to take part in the treaty and White House officials have insisted the agreement would have too many unintended consequences, such as lost jobs, and its initial goals are largely unreachable.

The strong U.S.-N.Z. relationship is highlighted by the countries' ability to agree to disagree on Kyoto while maintaining strong joint research efforts related to the controversy, said Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs.

"There are a number of issues (Hodgson and I) discussed (during his visit)," Dobriansky said at the embassy. "We would look very much forward to forging a coalition effort; there are a number of stakeholders, not only government but businesses and the nonprofit community."

Although New Zealand has largely avoided the industrial development thought to lead to greater emissions, it still has a large stake in preventing global warming, Hodgson told reporters after the event. In particular, relatively small increases in ocean levels could prompt an influx of immigrants forced off shrinking nearby South Pacific islands, he said.

One area of climate science New Zealand is focusing on involves biological greenhouse gases; literally, the methane belching from cattle and sheep. Such emissions make up 54 percent of New Zealand's overall greenhouse gas output, Hodgson said.

Researchers hope to develop either a vaccine against methane-producing bacteria that live in cow stomachs, or perhaps bio-engineer grasses less likely to be broken down into the gas, Hodgson said. Other projects are examining reducing the nitrous oxide generated in animal urine, he said.

The two countries might also combine forces in developing renewable energy sources such as wind power, Hodgson said. American companies are creating advanced windmill turbines, while New Zealand scientists have created carbon-fiber materials that could support the massive blades needed to power the turbines, he said.

This sort of research could be folded into the Climate Change Research Initiative and the National Climate Change Technology Initiative, two items in the White House's 2003 budget plan that could affect the ongoing U.S. Global Change Research Program. Several members of Congress, as well as environmental groups, have complained the CCRI and NCCTI would divert support from programs known to reduce emissions.

The countries' increased cooperation would build on existing links such as the U.S./New Zealand Science and Technology Treaty, including programs such as assistance to developing countries, particularly Pacific Island states, and technology development aimed at preventing carbon from accumulating in the atmosphere.

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