New Zealand won't dodge climate impacts

Climate change is already affecting New Zealand.

Our towns, our farms, and our unique ecosystems will all face significant climate impacts.

© Kevin Schafer / WWF

The national average temperature has risen 1.1˚C between 1920 to 2020

The effects that have already been measured by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) include:

  • Retreat of South Island glaciers, with the ice volume in the Southern Alps down 11% in the past 30 years

  • A rise in sea level by 16cm on average across New Zealand's four major ports in the past 100 years

  • A rise in insurance industry levies to cover the costs of increased incidence of extreme weather events such as floods

  • Fewer frosts in areas like Canterbury and Marlborough

© PHIL REID/The Dominion Post
© WWF / Bob Zuur

And there's more to come

Over the next 30 – 100 years, temperatures will continue to rise. In the future, projected impacts include:

  • More droughts for areas like the East Cape and Northland

  • More floods for other areas, particularly the West Coast

  • Worse erosion – and possibly inundation – of coastal areas

  • Introduction of new pests and diseases, affecting both health and agriculture

It’s also likely that our lives and livelihoods will be significantly affected by global impacts such as immigration, food shortages, and political instability.

ARE WE PREPARED?

Local councils are responsible for preparing our cities and towns for these impacts

They are advised by the Ministry for the Environment.

Some New Zealand councils are already planning ahead for sea level rise of at least 50cm by 2100 because it will affect where to position new houses, roads, waste and stormwater pipes.

Does your council have a plan? Ask them!

© WWF

Both public and private institutions and the international community have begun to seriously consider Nature-based Solutions for climate change as a key component in addressing the climate emergency, alongside the needed transformations in our energy, urban, and industrial systems as pointed out by IPCC 1.5°C report.

Read about our region

Figure 1. An illustration of WWF’s definition of Nature-based Solutions to climate with some examples 
Source: WWF, 2019. 
Note that it is an illustration using some examples. Key ecosystems such as seagrasses and coral reefs are missing
 

The science is clear. Climate change is caused by human activities.

When we burn fossil fuels, we release carbon pollution into the air. Forests and the oceans help to absorb this carbon dioxide, while deforestation and deep-sea mining contributes to the planet's warming because they release stored carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide isn't the only greenhouse gas. Other gases, like methane and nitrous oxide also trap heat in the atmosphere. Animal agriculture is a big emitter of these gases because of the unsustainable way we farm and what artificial fossil fuel based fertilisers we are putting onto the land.

New Zealanders produce a lot of greenhouse gases, though we're a small country, our emissions per person are big. If you add up all the small countries emissions like ours, it is well over 20% of all global emissions. Per person, we're one of the thirty biggest emitters worldwide - and agriculture is responsible for around half of those emissions.

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The climate crisis is already affecting New Zealand. Our people and ecosystems are already feeling the heat.

Already, the national average temperature has risen by 1.1˚C since 1900. South Island glaciers are retreating, and we're recording fewer frosts. We are already paying more for insurance to deal with extreme weather, like floods and droughts.

We can expect a lot more to come. Climate change will almost certainly cause more droughts and water shortages. It will mean increased heavy rainfall in other areas and an increased risk of flooding. Coastal areas will face greater erosion, and possible inundation.

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People around the world are already feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. Water supplies are shrinking, crop yields are dropping, forests are burning, and our oceans are becoming more acidic with larger and larger dead zones. This has huge implications for our livelihoods and human security.

Fragile ecosystems, like coral reefs and fish stocks, are also already succumbing to climate change impacts. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and new and more frequent weather extremes will leave no continent untouched. 

If we let the warming continue unchecked, we run a real risk of hitting catastrophic tipping points. That's where the warming triggers positive feedback loops that lead to even more warming.
 

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To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, scientists warn that average global temperatures should not be allowed to rise more than 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels. 

We will hit 1.5˚C within the next two decades, whatever happens to emissions. The good news is that keeping to that 1.5C is not yet impossible. However, we need to significantly reduce emissions and we need to do that NOW.

A rise in temperature above 1.5˚C could lead to a significant rise in sea levels, potentially displacing tens of millions of people, especially in the Pacific), a dramatic reduction in global food supplies, water shortages affecting hundreds of millions of people, and an increased risk of extinction for up to 30% of the world’s species.

Unless there are immediate rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be beyond reach.
 

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The good news is that we have most of the solutions to reduce emissions and keep warming to below 1.5˚C. 

At WWF we are working on how we can reduce emissions through nature-based solutions such as:

 - Regenerative farming, food system approach and the blue economy.

 - Prioritise domestic emissions reductions 

 - Partnering with businesses to drive their emissions towards net zero though Science Based Nature Targets and Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi)

You can make a difference too. While not everyone owns a house or can install solar panels on their roofs. There are so many things you can do to reduce your own footprint and have a big impact.

Take your first step with our environmental footprint calculator.  Once you have measured your footprint using this tool – you can start to talk positive action now.

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