The Ardern government wants to lead the world in implementing measures to combat climate change. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put her personal stamp on this by saying it will be her government”s “nuclear-free” moment.
The science on global warming is clear, say both Labour and the Greens. So shouldn’t every kind of science be used to combat it?
Well, no, says the Green Party. It refuses to contemplate genetic modification as an instrument for example in the campaign to make NZ-predator free.
Predator Free 2050 is forbidden from carrying out any research which could lead to the use of genetic modification or gene editing, a letter written by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage shows.
The letter of direction to Predator Free 2050 obtained by lobby group Life Sciences Network said its primary tasks were to invest in breakthrough scientific research, but not to research into genetically modified organisms and technologies or gene editing, and to raise funds for co-investment by other (non-government) parties, in landscape scale projects and breakthrough science, excluding any science involving genetic modification.
This flies in the face of the advice of Sir Peter Gluckman who, in his last major statement as NZ’s chief science advisor said:
“The science is as settled as it will be; that is, it’s safe, that there are no significant ecological or health concerns associated with the use of advanced genetic technologies”.
Some commentators this week detected a change in tune on genetic modification from Green co-leader James Shaw.
Backed into a corner by Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q&A, Shaw conceded he would be led by the science on the issue.
Pressed on how the government would confront the many challenges of meeting the climate change goals the government is facing, he said:
“I want to see what the science says about that and what the Science Ethics Committee would say about that. I would be led by the science on it”.
NB: He didn’t concede what someone as eminent as Sir Peter Gluckman says about the science.
So he has given himself room to back away – but at the same time he’s probably only too well aware that genetic engineering is the key to tackle such problems as developing sustainable food production at the same time as cutting agricultural emissions.
What’s the point of NZ being in the forefront of cutting methane emissions from cattle if the displaced production from a reduced dairy herd in NZ then comes from higher production in other countries desperate to feed rising populations?
NZ agriculture needs the kind of genetically modified feedstocks, including grasses, which can help farmers sustain production and reduce emissions. Vaccines are unlikely to do the trick soon enough.
Shaw is clearly having a political battle on his hands in establishing the Climate Change Commission.
He confirmed the proposed commission won’t be independent of government:
“If you look at the public submissions that came through when we did the consultation last year the overwhelming majority of those said look the issues here, you know there are big scientific issues which the Commission should rightly handle but there are also big economic and political issues and it’s ultimately parliament’s role to make those big calls and so we’re building that principal into the design of the legislation.’
He is adamant that the government has been upfront about the costs of transition:
“I believe that our economy will be stronger as a result of this, not weaker.”
“I do think that we can do it, and it is going to take all of us, and it is going to take everything we’ve got.”
Including, Point of Order believes, the science of genetic modification.