Budget 2024: Scientists disappointed but not surprised in lack of new research funding

"Disappointed" but "not surprised" is how scientists have described a lack of new funding for scientific research in Budget 2024.

Leaders of the scientific community say it will lead to scientists taking their expertise overseas, and important research into how New Zealand adapts to a changing planet simply will not get done.

The Government was very clear on what it prioritises on Friday - and what it doesn't.

"Hardworking New Zealanders will get to keep more of their own money," said Finance Minister Nicola Willis in her Budget speech.

But the word 'science' wasn't even mentioned once in Willis' speech.

"The signals had been there since we had our change of Government that this was going to be a very difficult period for science. Disappointed? Certainly. Surprised? Unfortunately not," said Jenny Webster-Brown, director of Our Land and Water.

Scientists say contestable funding for science has seen a net decrease, while areas of scientific funding that have increased are not in line with inflation.

"No new money for any new initiatives, there was some new money for GeoNet but that's not really new it's just stopping GeoNet essentially having to shut down," said Lucy Stewart, co-president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists.

"Everything else was flat or it was cuts," she added.

Stewart told Newshub the result will be New Zealand falling behind and losing scientific talent.

"They will take their expertise overseas, we will see the end of relationships and communities that have been built by science funding over the past 10 or 20 or 30 years," she said.

It was National that introduced the National Science Challenges a decade ago, which brought together researchers from different organisations to tackle some of the major problems New Zealand faces. It was funded to the tune of about $70 million annually.

That funding ends this year and there is no sign of anything replacing it.

"That disappears and we see a lot of researchers in New Zealand that will now not have funding," said Webster-Brown.

She told Newshub research is critical to help us adapt to a quickly changing world.

"Our food system for a start, our health system, environmental systems are starting to show massive impacts of degradation, all of those issues need science to inform their solutions," she said.

When it comes to climate funding, the Government is injecting $200 million into rail and investing in resilience.

"[We're investing in] flood protection and resilience projects across the country, this will include upgrades to stopbanks and flood walls, the kind of infrastructure that will help build resilience to our changing climate," said Willis during her Budget speech.

But climate advocates say that's spending for the disasters we've had, not those that are still to come.

"What we really need to see now is forward planning for how we're going to cope - not just with flooding - but with the big risks we can see coming, which are fires and drought in particular," said political scientist Bronwyn Hayward.

She told Newshub National is in a difficult position on climate.

"They're working with two small parties who've got quite extreme views and at the same time they risk losing their conservative particularly female vote, who are concerned about climate," she said.

And those concerned about whether 2024 will be remembered as the year science wasn't even a footnote.