Climate change will increase existing social inequalities - James Shaw

11:37 am on 1 March 2022

The Climate Change Minister says New Zealanders will need to make major changes to how they live to keep climate emissions in check.

Roads around Buller are impassable after heavy rains.

Canterbury University professor of politics Bronywn Hayward, who contributed to the latest IPCC report, said the repeated recent flooding on the West Coast was one example of the world's changing climate. Photo: Supplied / Civil Defence

James Shaw said the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report showed more floods, droughts, storms and wildfires would hit this country in the coming years.

He said the next 10 years would be make-or-break for whether or not global warming could be limited to 1.5C - a rise which would still cause major effects.

"This latest report is unequivocal about the adverse impacts of climate change and how we'll need to adapt the way we live in a warmer world."

Shaw told Morning Report the report focussed primarily on how humans needed to adapt to the effects of climate change that were already happening.

"Most of the previous reports have dealt primarily with stopping us from putting the pollution into the atmosphere in the first place."

The report, which has been has been signed off by 200 governments globally, found report found human-induced climate change was causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting people's lives - despite efforts to reduce the risks.

Shaw said the report was the first to have a specific chapter addressing the effects of climate change in New Zealand and Australia, which he summarised as falling into two categories: Geological and weather-related events, and impacts on people.

Examples of the first included more severe droughts and cyclones as well as glacier retreat, he said, while the second was related to the increased social inequalities climate change would bring into starker relief.

"It is, I guess, what you might describe as a threat multiplier, so all of these conditions already exist but it's just making them much, much worse."

Canterbury University professor of politics Bronywn Hayward was one of the New Zealand researchers involved, and co-led the report's chapter on Cities and Infrastructure.

She told Morning Report the report found about 40 percent of the world's population - or 3.5 billion people - were now "highly-vulnerable" to climate change.

"In the middle of war and pandemics it's yet more bad news."

Hayward said while a lot of countries and cities had begun developing climate change adaption or mitigation plans, not many of them had put those plans into practice.

"The science evidence is telling us that we're moving much more quickly than we expected to reach the limits of what we can adapt to, certainly as individuals."

She cited the repeated flooding on the South Island's West Coast and the current weather on Queensland's east coast as examples of effects being seen locally.

"It's really significant now that we take action to protect our communities and that's one of the big focuses of this particular report."

Building seawalls and planting large blocks of forest wasn't enough, Hayward said.

New Zealand needed to think about the "social infrastructure" it would need to support its population from the worst effects of climate change and to ensure "that every new build that we do is now focused on a rapidly-changing climate, so that we're not locking in problems of the past".

It was also important to work "with nature" she said: "So thinking about how we can plant and design communities and cities right now to start absorbing water, keeping the cities cool."

Hayward said that work needed to be done immediately as a lot of nature-based solutions would become less effective if global warming exceeded 2C.

"We really need to spend the money now, to take the action now to protect our communities and we can't put it off any longer."

Shaw said the draft Emissions Reduction Plan, which will outline how the government intends to curb emissions, would soon be released for the public to comment on.

A separate draft national adaptation plan, which aimed to help New Zealand adapt to climate change, was due out in August, he said.

"It'll be the first of its kind in New Zealand ... it builds on the risk assessment that we did in 2020."

He said New Zealand had been slow to get started on addressing the social infrastructure it would need to deal with climate change, so laying down that legislative and institutional infrastructure needed to be prioritised.

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