21 Mar 2023

UN report: Countries 'recognise they have to act' on climate change

11:56 am on 21 March 2023
A scene of flooding damage. A stationary car is covered with tufts of muddy grass leftover from high flood waters. It has a large log sitting on top. There is pink spray paint over its number plate, indicating it has been written off. Behind the car is a field of trampled, muddy long grass slicked back and flattened by floodwaters. In the middle of the field is a small white and green house. The windows and doors have been destroyed, and the walls are dirty with mud. There is pink spray paint on the walls, indicating it has been written off.

Cyclone Gabrielle damage in the Esk Valley scientists say climate change played a role in the devastating rainfall in the cyclone, driving the increased rainfall in the disastrous storm. Photo: Tom Kitchin

Governments around the world are having a "serious reality check" on the costs of climate change and recognise they have to act in the next decade, University of Canterbury professor Bronwyn Hayward​ says.

Hayward, a political science professor and IPCC report writer, was part of the team who spent the last week in Switzerland working on the latest major climate change report.

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report summarised findings from three expert assessments published between 2021 and 2022 that looked at the physical science, impacts, and mitigation of climate change.

The summary report is designed to provide clarity for policymakers as they consider further action to slash emissions.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the rate of temperature rise in the last half century was the highest in 2000 years. "Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest in at least two million years. The climate time-bomb is ticking."

"In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts - everything, everywhere, all at once," Guterres said.

According to the IPCC, emissions must be halved by the mid-2030s if the world is to have any chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - a key target enshrined in the Paris accord.

"Climate change has got real now so governments around the world are facing major disasters and they're having a serious reality check of the costs of this," Hayward said.

"There's a real tension between governments wanting to protect their own national interests and their people and also whether they can afford, and how much they can afford, to contribute to actually reducing the problem of of globally cutting emissions."

"Acting together to cut emissions is crucial, but it's really hard to get agreement to do that."

Every country was facing a rising cost of living and had communities at risk, but what the report was saying was it was never going to be cheaper or easier to work together, she said.

Cities were key, as the site of about 70 percent of global emissions.

"What we do in our local cities and our local communities really makes a difference to cut emissions. That's a more manageable thing for people to cope with."

Climate resilient development was easier in cities, such as increasing green spaces and public transport, and thinking about social support for housing and income replacement after disasters.

"Our debate has often been locked in an urban rural divide and we need to get over that.

"We need to be doing both."

Hayward said as a country, New Zealand had encouraged farmers to take on a lot of debt and move into dairy, but now needed to think what else could done that that was high value but emitted less methane.

"Negotiations are getting tough and people are looking really hard at high-polluting countries and unfortunately we're one of them. So if we want to shift some of our methane we have to support farmers to do that and we also have to take some city leadership as well."

"It's not the report that's going to change things, she said. "Its the fact that 196 governments have actually signed up to language that is much stronger - they've recognised that they have to act in this decade,' said Hayward, who had spent the week in Switzerland working on the final summary.

'We need to get on with it immediately'

Climate scientist James Renwick, whose research contributed to the report, said people still had the power to mitigate the impact of climate change.

"Humanity, we're the ones putting all these gases in the air that are causing climate change. Whenever we stop stop climate change will stop. Even if it's five degrees warmer, if we do that then, climate change will still stop.

"It's never too late in that sense.

"When it does become too late is when the warming gets to a level such that we can't adapt ... until the extreme events become so overpowering that we can't do anything to adapt.

"I don't know how many hearts and minds will be won over by this, but I certainly hope that all governments of the world really are listening this time."

The New Zealand government had done a lot of work in recent years, getting the Climate Change Commission, Zero Carbon Act and the Emissions Reduction Plan on the table, but in recent weeks there have been some step backwards from actions that had been proposed, he said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has delayed or scrapped climate change initiatives as part of a second reprioritisation of government programmes, to the frustration of the Green Party which had championed them.

"Those were maybe not helpful moves, but I think the country and the government have been moving in the right direction in the last few years," Renwick said..

"I hope we see actual emissions reductions here ... starting this year actually."

"It can still be done but we need to get on with it immediately."

Hipkins optimistic He Waka Eke Noa can work

Speaking on a tour of the Hutt Valley north of Wellington today, New Zealand's Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the government was still working through a process on He Waka Eke Noa.

"We want to try and keep the farming community, the rural community, on side with the work that we are doiing, we want to get something that's deliverable - something that's actually going to overall make a difference in terms of our targets. I'm still optimistic," he said.

He pointed to the backstop in the Emissions Trading Scheme, which would mean farmers would be forced into the scheme if they were unable to reach agreement on He Waka Eke Noa.

He said climate change had a major impact on the way we live, so it was a major focus for the government.

On emissions reduction, he sad the removal of some of the government's less efficient projects meant there was space to work on some of the things that would make a difference.

Speed up renewable investments - Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon

Christopher Luxon Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National leader Chistopher Luxon said there needed to be changes in the length of time it took for renewable electricity projects to get underway.

"The single biggest thing we can do is accelerate our embracing of renewable electricity. I think we have some major challenges around consenting of renewable investments in this country.

"The time it takes to get consent for renewable energy projects, the cost and processing time is incredibly long."

National was committed to tackling climate change if elected to power. It has joined the government in supporting Net Carbon 2050, signed on to the Paris Agreement and supported the emissions budget last year.

He criticised the government's plan "to take the emissions out of New Zealand and move them to some other country around the world where that [agricultural] production will be picked up to feed 40 million people just makes global greenhouse emissions even worse".

Emissions pricing needed to be worked through with the farming sector.

"It should be technology led. We're not going to get there by putting 20 percent of our sheep and beef farmers out of work in the next seven years and moving all that production to a less efficient farm somewhere else in the world, that doesn't work."

He said there was already some great examples of innovation around the country.

National would not bring agricultural methane emissions into an ETS scheme, Luxon said.

"A split gas model is the way forward but again as I said, we're going to work with the sector to make progress on agricultural emissions."

RNZ / Reuters

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