James Shaw on national climate change risk assessment: 'Forewarned is forearmed'

9:17 pm on 3 August 2020

The first national climate change risk assessment provides a specific snapshot of the risk, and now New Zealand must respond, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw at a press conference announcing the Government's reforms to clean up our  waterways, Beehive Theatrette, Wellington.

Photo: Pool / Stuff / Kevin Stent

The first national climate change risk assessment out today paints a grim picture of the long list of risks New Zealand faces as a result of climate change.

Extreme weather events such as storms, heatwaves and heavy rainfall are likely to be more frequent and intense.

Large increases in extreme rainfall are expected everywhere in the country and the number of frost and snow days are projected to decrease, the report said.

It's the first time all the risks have been in one place - and shows how communities, ecosystems and businesses will be affected. It also identifies 10 areas that need urgent attention.

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw told Checkpoint the report provided a very specific snapshot which in some ways, was a comfort.

"We have known for many years that New Zealand faces increasing risks from things like floods and fires and droughts and storms due to climate change, but we've never had any specificity around that, so in some ways I actually feel a sense of relief when I look through this report, because forewarned is forearmed."

A lot of scientific rigour had gone into the report, and it painted a 'whole picture', Shaw said.

That meant government agencies, including Treasury, could respond in a much more systemic approach.

"It is going to stimulate response right across government, and I think that is the good news. It feels like we've been playing whack-a-mole up to this point, and now we can actually approach it with some kind of comprehensive view."

The assessment was the foundation for marching orders for the next government, which he hoped he'd be part of, and continue as climate change minister.

"The whole idea behind this is you do need to kind of plan for the worst when it comes to the effects of climate change, because if you don't you leave yourself exposed to greater levels of risk."

International reaction to growing emissions was cause for concern, and suggested the high-end of climate change scenarios were likely, Shaw said.

Climate change adaptation plans get updated every six years, so the time the next one comes out "things could well of changed" and we could lower the risk profile, Shaw said.

"I certainly think based on what we currently know that it is entirely prudent and sensible for us to plan for the worst outcome."

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