PODCAST: Global Research Alliance opening session

Today marked the beginning of the inaugural meeting of the Global Research Alliance (GRA) in Wellington.  The GRA was launched at the Copenhagen talks last year, and is regarded in some circles as the best thing to come out of the negotiations.

Spearheaded by New Zealand and comprised of some 28 countries, as well as a number of observer countries, the GRA was founded on the acknowledgment that while soil carbon sequestration and food security need to be increased in the coming decades, greenhouse gas intensity of agricultural production must decrease.  The GRA’s aims to establish a robust, international research effort around these priorities. This week’s meeting brings the Alliance countries together to discuss the GRA’s final shape and design –  forming the relevant research groups and getting them started. By the end of the week, a clearer picture of immediate research priorities should emerge.

The majority of the talks will be closed sessions, however this morning’s opening session was open to media. Attendees were welcomed by Minister of Agriculture David Carter and Prime Minister John Key.  In his speech, Key talked about the aims of the GRA, the challenges to be faced if its aims are to succeed, and New Zealand’s place in the effort.

“The mission and purpose of the Global Research Alliance is clear: to allow more food to be produced while reducing the emissions intensity of that process.  I’m not going to tell you that this mission will be easy to achieve, because it won’t be. But by harnessing the collective talents of people in the Alliance countries, I believe there can be success.”

He was followed by Professor M.S. Swaminathan, an internationally acclaimed plant geneticist, ‘Father of the Green Revolution in India’ and one of TIME magazine’s twenty most influential Asians of the 20th century.  Professor Swaminathan spoke of the need for both mitigation and adaptation strategies, from establishing gene banks and preparing for sea level rise to improving the poor carbon content of many tropical soils.  He emphasised the importance of the synergy between technology and public policy if the GRA is to achieve its aims:

“Technology can be developed, but public policy is essential to take that technology to the field and to develop it there… Let us decide that in 15 or 20 years, greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the agricultural sector will be almost nil, because we can use all those gases to good advantage in enhancing the productivity and profitability of major farming systems.”

Timothy D Searchinger, of Princeton University, followed.  His major area of research focuses on addressing the challenges of feeding a growing world population while reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.  Of particular reknown for his work on biofuels and land use, Searchinger emphasized the message given by the other speakers: with a growing population, the challenge of feeding everyone makes the reduction of agricultural emissions both very important, and very challenging.  While his presentation contained some pessimism, including declining crop yield growth, it also contained optimism: significant gains can be made by livestock intensification and closing the yield gap formed by the poor fertility of soils in Africa (amongst other things).  His final thoughts included there being the need for huge technological development, a practical approach to implementing strategies, and the implementation of appropriate policies as soon as possible.  He ended with saying

“I think that what New Zealand is doing bringing you all together is a new beginning and a new hope. And the reason, despite all the pessimistic numbers, I ultimately feel optimistic, is precisely because there’s been so little effort to deal with these problems in the past…That leads me to believe that, while this is as important as rocket science, and we need people as smart as rocket scientists, we can solve it just like we build rockets.  I wish you good luck in making agricultural greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent of rocket science so in the future…”

Listen to the speakers’ talks below:

Part I – Introduction by Minister for Agriculture David Carter


Part II – Opening speech by Prime Minister John Key


Part III – Professor M.S. Swaminathan


Part IV – Timothy D. Searchinger Part I


Part V – Timothy D Searchinger Part II : closing and questions


Timothy Searchinger’s presentation can be seen here.

UPDATE: Tim Searchinger will also be giving a talk on Friday 9 April entitled “The True Consequences of Bioenergy for
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
” at VUW, Wellington.