Mitigating climate change and adapting to a warmer world
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”– Native American Proverb
New Zealand is the 5th highest emitter, per capita among the OECD countries, due to our reliance on primary industry exports. Not where we want to be with our clean, green reputation. Methane and Nitrous Oxide, which are farm-based, comprises 55% of our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
The long shadows of climate change are already here. Australian bushfires last year covered an area as large as Great Britain. The images of the blazes dominated our TV screens, vivid pictures of dying koalas and flaming bush. The fires burned for months, beyond human fire fighting capabilities, we just had to let them burn out. The fire season in 2019 started in the middle of the winter in the southern hemisphere. In California, bushfires are an annual occurrence. Still, the fires of 2020 are the largest ever, sparked by lightning strikes on a tinder-dry bush. Cities of Chennai in India and Johannesburg literally ran out of water.
The arctic ice shelf is melting faster than ever, many fear the decline is irreversible. Antarctic ice is melting. Not exactly good news for rest of us that Siberia is enjoying longer crop seasons and their ships can ply ice-free waters for longer.
In New Zealand last year was the hottest on record. The drought that hit Northland was one of the worst. Water restrictions for a city as wet as Auckland seem surreal.
Our temperate climate means we will be less affected than countries like Australia or the Pacific islands. The severity of impact depends very much on the strength of global efforts and ours. Modelling can only give us an indication or a range of outcomes for what the future holds.
We already have frequent droughts, especially in Northland, Hawkes Bay and Canterbury, these are likely to spread and become more severe. Lower rainfall will affect freshwater sources and impact on irrigation for our farms, threaten exports and food security. Forestry is another area where effects of higher temperature are uncertain, as it is with wines. While some vineyards can move to colder regions, wines are sensitive to the soil, humidity, etc., may not find ideal conditions elsewhere. We could benefit from the addition of crop varieties which thrive in warmer climates and higher production from the likes of wheat.
Our primarily hydro based electricity generation will reduce in the North Island. However, South Island is likely to benefit with more melting of snow and ice. Ski seasons will be shorter, impact our winter tourism, although we might see a displacement from Australian ski fields.
More frequent and extensive bushfires will threaten residential areas. Coastal erosion, flooding and sea level rises threaten coastal housing, roads, rail lines, the attractiveness of beaches.
Biosecurity risks will increase with uncertain effects due to the interlinked nature of the ecosystems. The cooling cost will be higher in summer, heating cost lower in winter.
There will be a disproportionate impact on Maori/ Pacific due to over-representation in primary industries and fewer resources to mitigate the effects of climate change. The elderly will experience more heat-related health issues.
Insurance costs will increase, and we might have to fund a govt scheme as we have for earthquake insurance. We will need financing for climate adaptation and mitigation costs.
Indirect effects of Climate Change have the potential to affect us on many fronts. Meat-less movement could lower beef and lamb consumption in key markets with some relief from growth in fast-developing economies like China and potentially higher prices. Tourism could be affected by the likes of ‘No-fly’ movement and especially from long- haul destinations.
We could see climate refugees from the low-lying Pacific island nations and costs to lend a hand with their climate adaptation efforts.
Threats for New Zealand were detailed in the IPCC report of 2014 on regional risks and the National Climate Risk Assessment released by the Ministry for Environment in August 2020.
Climate Action – Reducing emissions
There are three broad pillars of climate action necessary to decrease carbon emissions and limit the temperature rise.
- decarbonising the electricity system and reducing farm based emissions
- fuel switching
- energy efficiency
Methane and Nitrous Oxide Emissions
The most important and the most challenging issue for New Zealand is reducing farm-based emissions. Methane, which is mainly emitted by our cows, lamb and nitrous oxide, is primarily emitted by nitrogen-based fertiliser. The methane is emitted by insects which reside in cattle and lamb, not by the animals themselves. (Release of Methane is by cows burping not farting!).
The answer lies in better farming practices and technology. The government is funding research into a scientific solution, primarily targeted at feed additives. The solutions can lie in oils and fats, natural supplements like seaweed and tannin or synthetic chemicals.
Electricity generation from wind and solar now costs less than fossil fuel energy. Costs are likely to decrease further as we scale up the use of renewables, and technology keeps improving. We already generate 80% of our electricity from renewables due to our traditional hydropower base.
Stability of renewable power is still an issue. Solar generation stops at dusk and wind could stop blowing anytime (although this is less likely with offshore wind turbines). The government is investigating pumped hydro to stabilise the supply of electricity. We may require fossil fuel power as a backup.
The target date for 100% renewable electricity is now 2030.
Fuel switching is still at an early stage worldwide; a majority of cars manufactured are still petrol-powered, and we have a vast inventory of these cars. NZ government announced a rebate scheme to encourage changeover to Electric Vehicles (on hold at present), in Norway 31% of vehicles are already EVs. Most of our industries also are powered by fossil fuels and will take some time to replace, due to the long lifespans of plant and machinery.
We have been working on this for a while now, direct cost savings being a great incentive. Energy-efficient cars, buildings, equipment, all have boosted energy efficiency and will continue to improve. Our Energy Conservation Authority (EECA) provides funding to industry for energy efficiency improvements.
Adapting to Climate Change
Research on how our agro-industries can cope better will need to be ramped up. Reducing methane output will be critical. Adapt wines/grapes to a warmer climate. Change crop seasons. Trialling new varieties which might thrive in a more temperate climate. Some farms and forestry can relocate to colder southern areas. Research likely changes in fisheries and quotas.
Water conservation efforts will be needed as well as recycling greywater and rainwater harvesting. Strengthening vulnerable coastal areas with shrubs and rock walls etc. to reduce flood damage.
Relocating seaside homes and infrastructure which we can’t protect, also residences at high risk from bushfires. Bush fire protection measures like back burning during winter will need more attention and fire protection efforts strengthened with more helicopters, workforce etc. Bolstering early warning systems and evacuation plans to cope with increasing and more severe extreme weather events.
We will need heat pumps etc. to cool residences in warmer areas and better insulation, especially for the elderly. Assist those on low incomes, from effects like higher food prices. Review protection for those working outdoor in warmer areas- agriculture, forestry, construction in the summertime. Review government and other institutional structures required for Climate Adaptation. Review finance/insurance to support Climate Change Adaptation
Our pacific island neighbours will need support and funding to implement effective Climate Adaptation strategies. We will need to counter the ‘No-fly’ movement and promote tourism from growth markets, short-haul, and local markets.
The National Climate Adaptation report by the Ministry of Environment is due by 2022.
Climate Action– Slow and steady or just slow?
We have set the base for action. The Zero Carbon Act was passed in November 2019 with bipartisan support. Key targets are to achieve Net Zero emissions except for methane by 2050. Reduce methane emissions by between 24 to 47% by 2050. Setting interim 5 yearly emissions budgets. An Interim Climate Commission set up in 2018 has been formalised upon finalisation of the Zero Carbon Act. The commission has issued reports on agriculture and changeover of electricity generation to renewables.
However, action has so far been slow and baby steps, it’s always harder where the rubber meets the road. The current government banned offshore oil exploration, but not onshore. ACC is planning to reduce high carbon investments –but only to 50% of the current value and only by 2030. Government has abandoned the target to make just the public service fleet electric or hybrid by 2025 been. Action has been much slower and softer than the rhetoric, the urgency required by the words ‘climate emergency’ would suggest.
However, action has been slow and baby steps. The current government banned offshore oil exploration, but not onshore. ACC is planning to reduce high carbon investments –but only to 50% of the current value and only by 2030. Government has abandoned the target to make just the public service fleet electric or hybrid by 2025 been. Action has been much slower and softer than the rhetoric, the urgency required by the words ‘climate emergency’ would suggest.
We need to accelerate the pace of change, move faster if we are to avoid emergencies, disasters and the need for rushed, expensive ambulances at the bottom of cliff solutions.
Climate Change – Possible benefits for New Zealand
Renewables – Almost all the electricity required by New Zealand, including for electric-powered vehicles, will be generated in New Zealand. Saving most of the $10Bn we currently spend every year on importing fossil fuels.
|New crops – We might be able to grow food crops that currently grow in warmer climates, increase the production of food crops like wheat.|
|Extended growing seasons – In colder areas|
|Ski resorts and tourism – We could see more visitors from Australia, as their ski resorts become less attractive.|
|Tourism – Tourists who usually go to Australia at hotter times of the year, changing over to New Zealand or increasing time spent here.|
How can you help?
Activism! – Slow Climate Action is mainly due to politics and the fossil fuel lobby groups. Help to keep up pressure on politicians and unfriendly climate businesses. What you can do personally helps, but what the government or companies can do, matters a lot more. Protesting or supporting protests is one of the best things we can do.
|Clothing and shopping – Shop smart, buy less and use longer. Consider buying pre-loved clothing. Buy environment-friendly and durable where possible.|
|Food – Eat less beef and lamb, more fish, vegetables/fruit, and chicken. Meatless Mondays or Vegan Wednesdays, it’s good for your health as well. Buy local produce. Waste less by planning your food purchases.|
|Trees – Plant trees, get involved in community reforestation, coastal protection programs.|
|Holidays -Take more local or short-haul holidays.|
|Home – Use power-saving ideas at home. LED bulbs, air-drying clothes, using energy-efficient equipment, shorter showers, running full laundry loads etc. every little bit helps.|
|Prepare for likely local impacts like flooding and coastal erosion.|
|The 3 Rs – Reuse, Recycle, Repair.|
|Transport -Make your next car an EV. Use more public transportation.|
|Waste – Waste less and use composting. Composting can reduce your food waste by as much as 75% and save on your fertiliser cost.|
|Work – Encourage and support your employer’s efforts on climate action.|