NZ losing direct benefits: scientist

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YVONNE O’HARA

yvonne.ohara@alliedpress.co.nz

New Zealand is losing an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in international climate sciences, Alexandra scientist Greg Bodeker says.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has decided not to fund the continued role of Dr Bodeker as co-chairman of one of the most prestigious climate monitoring networks in the world.

As a result, he was considering resigning from the position with the Global Climate Observing System reference upper-air network, an “international reference-observing network of sites measuring essential climate variables above Earth’s surface”, Dr Bodeker, of Bodeker Scientific, said.

“It is very disappointing, especially as there are direct benefits to New Zealand,” he said.

“It does not make for a responsible global citizen.”

He had been working with the network community for the past seven years, six of those as co-chairman, he said.

Bodeker Scientific was contracted to provide services to the network through the New Zealand MetService, using funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to cover the costs.

Those costs comprised travel, staff time and the time his co-chairman’s role took.

However, that contract finished last week and as the NOAA funding held by the MetService was now depleted, that jeopardised both the research and his ability to continue in the role.

In April, he requested funding from the MBIE to allow him to continue in the international science leadership role.

Despite support from MetService, his request for $100,000 a year for four years was declined last week.

“I received a phone call from an MBIE official, who advised me the government has decided not to fund my . . . co-chair position because ‘nobody in New Zealand believes it is critical for New Zealand for you to hold this position’,” Dr Bodeker said.

He was looking for alternative sources of funding from overseas, but it was looking likely he would have to resign from the position within the next month or two.

“While I am disappointed, I am not bitter or twisted,” he said.

“MBIE is entitled to make the decision it did.

“They do not consider it a sufficiently high priority.”

His resignation as co-chairman would have reputational and scientific implications for New Zealand, he said.

“No longer being able to fulfil the . . . co-chair role will result in me no longer participating in those international forums, which have brought such value to New Zealand to date.”

However, the biggest negative impact would be reputational as it was considered an honour for a country to have a representative in a leadership role of a global organisation such as the network, he said.

It was expected that country would contribute to support such participation and he thought it was likely the decision would reflect badly on New Zealand.

YVONNE O’HARA

yvonne.ohara@alliedpress.co.nz

ALEXANDRA scientist Greg Bodeker has been co-chairman of the Global Climate Observing System reference upper-air network for the past six years.

Dr Bodeker said while associated costs of his role had previously been covered by funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a United States government agency, that funding had depleted. He had requested funding of $100,000 a year for four years from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, but last week was told his application had been declined, he said.

MBIE acting manager international science partnerships Simon Rae said ad hoc requests such as Dr Bodeker’s were challenging to address, particularly as dedicated funding to support participation in international science organisations was constrained.

“All requests MBIE receives are carefully considered and there were several factors in MBIE’s decision.

“When considering these factors, funding to support Dr Bodeker’s co-chair role did not stand out as a high enough priority to proceed with an investment by MBIE, or any of the other relevant departments with which we consulted.

“Climate science is a significant priority for New Zealand and government provides considerable investment to support this.

Institutions typically supported their scientists to participate in such international science forums, he said.

“MBIE does have limited funding for New Zealand’s membership to international science associations and, on a contestable basis, provides limited funding to support New Zealand delegates to travel to key meetings of such associations.

“MBIE works across government, such as with the Ministry for the Environment, to understand international engagement priorities in this area of research.”

MBIE had informed Dr Bodeker the amount he had requested was significantly higher than the funding it provided for science association memberships.

“We have advised that MBIE may be able to assist with some travel funding for the 2017-18 financial year, but he has not yet been in contact with MBIE about this offer.”