Newsletter Digest: Water issues, food insecurity, NZ’s energy strategy and IPCC review results

Wrangling over water issues

Polluted rivers, dirty dairying, greening the MacKenzie Country, dams for hydro-power and water allocation — these are just some of the big water issues that have been in the headlines in recent months.

Although freshwater is relatively abundant in New Zealand, uneven distribution of water resources and increasingly intensive use have led to a growing crisis for existing water management regimes.

Next week, the Land and Water Forum‘s highly-anticipated recommendations are due out. The forum, created to draw consensus recommendations from across industry, agriculture, iwi, NGOs and other stakeholder groups, has already pushed back its report date. Barring further delays, the forum will report to government 31 August, and a public consultation on proposed water management options will likely follow.

This week, the Science Media Centre hosted a media briefing on an often neglected aspect of water management: groundwater quality. Speakers included the Director of the newly-launched Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management at Canterbury and Lincoln Universities, and experts on a diverse range of groundwater issues from GNS Science, ESR and NIWA.

You can listen back to audio from the briefing on our website, and we’ve posted up the speakers’ slides as well, for all to access.

Food insecurity: who is suffering?

With journal papers dwelling on the problem of obesity in society coming thick and fast, its easy to forget that a sizeable segment of the population struggles to afford a decent diet.

The issue of food insecurity will be lead topic for discussion at the Dietitians New Zealand conference taking place in Dunedin next week. Professor John Coveney from Flinders University, Adelaide headlines the list of speakers and will bring New Zealand dietitians up to speed on the research he carried out in South Australia looking at the affordability of healthy foods.

He found a big disparity in the proportion of a family’s income access to a “healthy food basket” consumes – 9% of income for high-income families and between 28 and 34% for households on a low income.

So what’s the situation like in New Zealand? University of Otago research Claire Smith has been looking at exactly that issue and will give journalists an overview of her findings in an SMC Online Briefing featuring her and Professor Coveney at 11am, Tuesday August 31.

As usual, you don’t need to leave your desk to participate in an SMC Online Briefing – dial in and log onto the conference website to watch the experts’ slide show. Registered journalists have received log-in details. For further information, contact the SMC.

Is our Energy Strategy realistic?

The Developing our Energy Potential – Draft New Zealand Energy Strategy and Draft New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy consultation document is currently open for submission, and lays out government’s plans for the direction and role energy will have in the coming years.

But how realistic and achievable are the goals set out in the Strategy? The SMC will be holding a briefing at 11:15am, Wednesday 1 September in which experts will will look more closely at the document.

How to improve the IPCC?

Public scrutiny of the inner workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reached unprecedented levels following the highly-publicised revelation of minor errors in the group’s most recent assessment report.

Capping off several official reviews into climate science integrity, the UN itself requested a thorough audit of the IPCC’s procedures from independent science body the InterAcademy Council (IAC). The IAC is the multinational peak body for academies of science from countries throughout the world.

Results of the review are due out 31 August. Any changes recommended will need to be rapidly put in place — work on the IPCC’s forthcoming fifth assessment report is already underway.

The Science Media Centres of the world will be rounding up comment from scientists on the IAC report’s findings, so keep an eye out in the coming week.