The solution is to cut greenhouse gas emissions and focus on nature-based solutions both on land and in the oceans.
1. Raise ambition and urgently deliver stronger and sustained mitigation and adaptation actions
To meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C, we need to use every tool at our disposal. The ocean provides enormous opportunities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions at scale. New Zealand has not begun to capture this potential in our climate change plans — particularly our nationally determined contributions NDCs need ocean-related measures.
At the same time as building ocean considerations into climate action, we need to bring climate into ambitious actions to restore the health of our ocean — from stopping overfishing and destructive fishing practices to ecosystem-based marine spatial planning and climate-smart marine protected area networks.
Ambition must also address threats like overfishing that further undermine the resilience of the ocean and its potential to provide solutions. Our response to the issues of plastic pollution and deep seabed mining includes pushing for systemic changes and shifting to a circular economy are crucial to tackling climate change.
2. Make nature a key part of the solution
Countries have grasped the idea that planting trees and restoring soils are part of the solution to both climate change and the wider nature crisis — but we’re nowhere close to making the most of these nature-based solutions when it comes to the ocean. Based on systematic blue accounting assessments, mangroves, seagrass meadows, salt marshes, kelp forests, mussel beds and other marine ecosystems have incredible carbon sequestration power but have been under siege over the past 50 years. With proper protection and management informed by community needs and aspirations, these ecosystems can pay their way — delivering food security, livelihoods, and climate benefits.
Natural climate solutions (NCS) have become a buzzword, with many governments and all levels of organisations seeking to implement them. NCS is a relatively simple concept that nature is good for our climate. By absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, forests and other high-carbon ecosystems can help forestall climate change. Therefore, a Natural Climate Solution is any action that conserves, restores, or improves the use or management of these ecosystems while increasing carbon storage and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions can be considered a “natural” climate solution.
Developing green infrastructure, including natural climate solutions, has become a focal point for government policy and spending to boost economies for post-pandemic recovery. However, infrastructure that balances economic needs and natural capital in the face of a changing climate requires an integrated approach to ensure benefits for ecosystem services and human well-being.
WWF has identified 5 key principles for Nature-based Solutions for climate change.
3. Put people at the centre
A healthy, resilient ocean sustains people whether we live close to the shoreline or far removed. But coastal communities have an especially important role to play in the design and delivery of successful conservation efforts. An inclusive, equitable and transparent approach that includes local, indigenous and traditional knowledge is critical. Whether its restoring wetlands, managing marine protected areas, communities have to lead and own conservation strategies if those strategies are going to be effective. Putting people at the centre isn’t just the right thing to do — it has the power to unleash the transformative change needed.
4. Join up the climate and ocean finance agendas
Climate finance still falls far short of what’s needed — and only a tiny fraction of that goes to nature-positive ocean-based solutions. We must invest more, and we have to invest smarter, getting more impact from every dollar. And ocean-climate solutions provide incredible value for money: when we restore mangroves, for example, we’re drawing down carbon, protecting biodiversity, coastlines and building food security and jobs. That’s an impressive triple-bottom-line return.
At the United Nations climate talks in Paris in December 2015, governments acknowledged the growing threat of climate change and agreed to work towards keeping warming to 1.5°C.
Almost every country in the world has taken on emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. The global shift to a clean energy future has begun.
But the job's not done yet. If every country does only what it has pledged to date, we are on track for between 2.7°C and 3.5°C of warming. If our governments don't step it up, we'll lose the chance to limit warming to 2°C - let alone 1.5°C - by the mid-2030s.
Aotearoa New Zealand needs to do its fair share to reduce emissions at home. It's 100% possible for our country to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 - and that's what doing our fair share requires.
The problem is greenhouse gas net emissions in New Zealand have increased by over 57% between 1990-2018 and are expected to grow to 208% above 1990 levels by the middle of the decade. Current action by government won’t deliver the significant reductions we need. We have pledged to reduce our emissions by only 21% by 2030 are one of the world’s works performers.
International scientists have described New Zealand's 21% target as "inadequate". Other governments, including traditional allies, have spoken out calling for more action from New Zealand.
Our gross emissions, although not growing, are also not declining. The Ministry for the Environment projects, on currently policy settings, that 2050 will be the first year that our gross emissions will be lower than they were in 1990. That's the year we've pledged to have net zero emissions.
Smart countries and businesses all over the world are acting now to secure the benefits of an early transition for their people, economies, and bottom-lines. Others are lagging behind and suffering the costs.
IEA modelling shows current carbon pledges by global governments as covering only 20% of the emissions reductions needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Closing this gap would require annual investment of nearly $4tn by 2030, with 70% of this coming in developing countries.
We don't want Aotearoa New Zealand to lag behind. As well as meeting our moral obligation to the world, and helping to reducing the potential threats from climate change such a sea-level rise, there are huge benefits to New Zealand from taking action to reduce carbon emissions, like:
securing our domestic energy supply through renewables and bioenergy
enabling a more sustainable economy and new jobs through growth in ‘green technology’ industries
ensuring our export products are competitive in a global market that is increasingly carbon-aware
reinforcing our ‘clean, green’ reputation, supporting existing industries such as agriculture and tourism that rely on that brand
health improvements from lower air pollution and warmer and drier homes, and increased fitness from walking and cycling
social justice and equity by protecting the vulnerable from rising fossil fuel, energy, and food prices
Our carbon emissions are 78.9 million tonnes per annum, with agriculture contributing 48% of this!
Climate change poses a fundamental threat to everything we love. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and new and more frequent weather extremes will leave no continent untouched.
Impacts are already being felt by many communities and ecosystems worldwide. Water supplies are shrinking, crop yields are dropping, forests are burning, and our oceans are becoming more acidic. This has huge implications for our livelihoods and human security.
The task at hand is managing the unavoidable impacts and, at the same time, mitigating the impact of future climate impacts.
The world still has a chance to avoid catastrophic climate change. Limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5⁰C is widely accepted as the threshold below which the most devastating impacts of climate change are avoided. The international community has committed to make efforts to stay below this threshold and models suggest that achieving this will require global greenhouse gas emissions to reduce to net zero by 2050 or sooner.
Critical to avoiding dangerous climate change will be an immediate end to investment in all fossil fuels and a full phase out of fossil-fuelled electricity by 2040.
Climate change is bigger than politics. It matters to people from all walks of life, in all countries - and all countries need to be taking action.
Every country can claim that it faces special circumstances. Some have economies that rely on heavy manufacturing or extractive industries. Some have limited access to technology. New Zealand, on the other hand, has significant advantages in its great renewable energy potential including wind and bio-energy.
Like other industrialised nations, we have supported our living standards for decades by using fossil fuels and growing our carbon emissions and we should do our fair share to reduce them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Prioritise domestic emissions reductions
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.