Climate report a ‘wake-up call’

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“It’s a wake-up call and it’s time to do something,” National Institute of Water and Atmosphere emeritus scientist Richard McKenzie said in response to a “damning” report on New Zealand’s atmosphere and climate.

Released last week, the Ministry for the Environment’s Our Atmosphere and Climate Report 2017 revealed New Zealand’s average temperature had increased by 1degC since 1909. The report also found New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions increased by 24% between 1990 and 2015, and predicted far-reaching implications for New Zealand if global emissions continued unabated.

Dr McKenzie, of Alexandra, was on the technical advisory group responsible for providing data for the report, which was then analysed by statisticians.

The report, he said, was “pretty damning towards New Zealand” and highlighted that the country’s commitments to the Paris Agreement were not enough.

“We knew about this problem a long time ago – it’s been getting worse and worse and worse and getting harder and harder to fix. We’re already committed, we know it’s going to get one-point-five degrees warmer than industrial times, probably two.

“There are going to be downsides to that; sea levels will rise and a warmer environment means displaced populations.

“There’s already a cost .. let’s try and minimise that cost.”

Global warming did not necessarily mean a disaster for mankind, he said, but a warming climate would bring widespread consequences.

It would eventually be too expensive to have a ski industry if temperatures continued to increase, he said, and there would also be water storage issues.

He hoped the report would influence the new government to take action and develop policies to mitigate global warming.

“I think it will influence them. They’ll realise just how inadequate New Zealand’s response has been so far.”

Although the report had some “dire” findings, the repair of the ozone layer was a positive takeaway, he said.

“It was only in 1987 that the Montreal Protocol on protecting the ozone layer was signed and since then there has been action.

“The chemicals which produce the problem haven’t been made for the last 20 years or so and the problem is gradually starting to recover.”

The success of the Montreal Protocol was down to two main points, Dr McKenzie said. The chemicals responsible for ozone depletion were man-made, meaning they could be eliminated, and the companies responsible for producing them were prepared to be a part of the solution.

But he said it was a different story when it came to combating global warming, with disinformation campaigns giving governments an excuse to avoid action. A lack of responsibility at an individual level was also a factor, Dr McKenzie said.

“New Zealanders are especially bad. The emissions that we produce are the fifth-worst in the world and so we individually produce about 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, whereas the average Indian or Chinese [citizen] is about five.

“So to say they’ve got to worry about it and not us is really unfair.”

Even so, it was not too late to take action, he said.

“The main message is that although things look dire and New Zealanders are very bad and we’ve been very slow to recover, there is good news in that we do know from the Montreal Protocol and the protection of the ozone layer that we can do it.

“It’s going to be hard but it has been demonstrated that it can be done.”