Climate change isn’t everything

Whilst in the middle of the busy kiwifruit harvest season, there have been a couple of items which have given me pause for thought as they passed rapidly across my computer screen. Particularly so given that my area of work and research is postharvest – the transfer of fresh produce from the producer to consumer, also coupled with my previous work in international development.
The first was an item on long time climate change community member Mike Hulme’s (Mike Hulme – Wikipedia) 2023 book ‘Climate Change isn’t Everything: Liberating Climate Politics from Alarmism’ (Why climate change ISN’T going to end the world and why we need to stop obsessing about net-zero, according to Cambridge University professor | Daily Mail Online) – it may not be everyone’s favourite topic, or more specifically, his take on that topic, but raises questions about the wider impacts on, for example, development goals.
The second was a Fairmiles Roundtable discussion reported in the fresh produce press under the title ‘Banning airfreighted fresh produce puts millions of livelihoods at risk and does not help Net Zero’ (‘Banning airfreighted fresh produce puts millions of livelihoods at risk and does not help Net Zero’ (
The titles are self-explanatory and I’m thinking that these fall into a general category of ‘careful what you wish for’ – looking at unintended negative consequences of a strict adherence to a single goal.
Certainly, they are a good reminder of a couple of things. Firstly, that we should be questioning and open to alternative ideas, and secondly, and this is often on my mind when conducting commercially funded research, to be as aware as possible of the full range of consequences that might arise from the implementation of new concepts.
Anyway, just a couple of items that got me thinking – and provided a distraction from the routine workload.
In the meantime, here in New Zealand we are still waiting the outcomes of the political shift and reviewing of the country’s science sector.


Concerns about policy direction

NZIAHS members may share the concerns expressed by the New Zealand Association of Scientists about signals being sent by the government over the future shape of the science sector.  Those signals are amplified when the Science System Advisory Group’s consultations and Terms of Reference are combined with reported comments from the Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology, Judith Collins.
Ms Collins was interviewed for an article headed Judith Collins: Counting on commercialisation, published by the British-based Research Professional News. The article (not publicly available) notes that during last year’s election campaign her pitch on science and technology favoured a far greater focus on commercialisation of scientific discoveries. That stance underpinned her scrapping of Labour’s Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways reform programme, which had been designed to overhaul government research funding in New Zealand.
Interviewed after attending a meeting in Paris of science ministers from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Ms Collins was asked about the latest available figures for the New Zealand spend on science. These show that in 2021, New Zealand (government, business, higher education and non-profit organisations) spent 1.45% of GDP on research and development compared with the OECD average of 2.72%.
While acknowledging the country must invest more in R&D, Ms Collins said: “What I’m seeing in a country of our size is that we have an enormous amount of research going on…the issue is how are we commercialising it.” She also said the government expects “more of a role for the private sector” in research funding and is looking for international investment in New Zealand science and technology.
The article reflects Ms Collins’ particular interest in space science, as Minister of Space, but she also mentioned the ag/hort sector. Highlighting how New Zealand’s strong agriculture and horticulture sectors are based on science and research, she said “we know what needs to get done, and I think the big thing is [that] there’s got to be a change of focus. We just need to make sure that we start thinking like that again and start doing some things a bit differently.”
Ms Collins did not specify the nature of the change she envisions. But, questioned about ditching the Ardern Government’s reform programme, she said: “When I saw the Future Pathways document … there was almost nothing in there about commercialisation, and there was nothing in there about biotech.” The plan contained “no real commitment” around AI and did not mention the long-running moratorium on using genetic techniques outside the lab—something the Luxon government has promised to end.
The Futures Pathway programme was replaced by a science advisory group chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman to advise the government on science reforms. Ms Collins says the group will have a “deep focus on commercialisation and how we can actually do that better” and she has asked Sir Peter to consider emerging technologies.
Sir Peter has committed to having the first report to the government in the next two months, and then another report probably by October or November.
Asked if she worried that the country could lose research talent, when jobs are being cut at Crown Research Institutes and only limited academic positions are available at New Zealand’s eight universities, Ms Collins replied: “There will be some scientists who will leave, [and] there will be many other scientists who will come to New Zealand. We’re seeing that in the space sector, for instance, which 10 years ago wasn’t even on the radar and now it’s quite a fast-growing sector of the economy.”
She is optimistic that her vision for a more commercialised science sector will act as a magnet for researchers. “People will come and go — I think we’re going to get a lot more coming to be with us.”
Troy Baisden, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, expressed his disquiet in a press release, dated May 3, headed Science System Advisory Group Can’t Address The Biggest Threats. He described the Minister’s remarks as “a flashback to failed thinking from the 1990s, aimed at ‘efficiencies’ and commercialisation, that keeps recreating the same problem”.
Professor Jon Hickford, Past President of the NZIAHS, agrees the Government should be aiming to get the biggest bang from every buck it invests in the science sector. But he says the Coalition Government’s hopes of increasing productivity in the agricultural and horticultural sectors calls for a significantly greater investment in agricultural and horticultural science research – so long as it is spent on delivering science, not on administering it. He has drawn attention to a Treasury Working Paper, by Julia Hall and Grant M Scobie, titled The Role of R&D in Productivity Growth: The Case of Agriculture in New Zealand: 1927 to 2001.
Published 18 years ago, the paper contends:
“Based on our preferred model we estimate that investment in domestic R&D has generated an annual rate of return of 17%.”
Agricultural and horticultural scientists can provide guidance on the development of mechanisms to ensure a larger proportion of the R&D spend on agricultural and horticultural science research gets through to the researchers in the orchards, paddocks or laboratories.
At the same time, the institutional beneficiaries of taxpayer-provided R&D investment should be audited to ensure this funding is spent on achieving research outcomes of benefit to the nation, and is not lost into black holes of administrative bureaucracy.

Jeremy Burdon
NZIAHS President

Note your diaries

(XIII International Symposium on Integrating Canopy,
Rootstock and Environmental Physiology in Orchard Systems 2025)

19-24 January 2025

Venue:  War Memorial Centre, Napier

Abstract deadline extended to 28th May 2024

Wednesday 23rd October 2024 at Lincoln University, Canterbury