21 Mar 2023

New Zealand urged not to drop the climate ball in wake of latest IPCC report

5:40 pm on 21 March 2023
Graphs from the recent IPCC report on climate change seen on a computer monitor.

The report makes for grim reading. Photo: IPCC / RNZ

There is "is much to win by trying" to take action on climate change - that is a key finding in a major new international climate report the UN chief is calling a "survival guide for humanity".

It is something of a mic drop moment for the army of scientists who wrote it - the culmination of seven years' work and three previous lengthy reports.

Thousands of scientific studies and nearly 8000 pages of findings have been boiled down in the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released overnight.

In a nutshell, it said huge changes were needed to stave off the worst climate predictions - but it was not too late.

Pacific Climate Warriors Te Whanganui-a-Tara coordinator Kalo Afeaki agreed there was no time for despair.

"My family live in Tonga, my father has an export business, my brother works with [him], his family depends on that livelihood.

"We do not have the luxury of being able to turn our backs on the climate crisis because we are living with it daily."

The IPCC authors were optimistic significant change can happen fast - pointing to the massive falls in the price of energy from the sun and wind.

New Zealand has seen a big increase in the number of renewable energy projects in the works.

University of Otago Senior Lecturer Dr Daniel Kingston said the world had the tools it needs to reduce emission.

"We can still do something about this problem, and every small change that we make makes a difference and decreases the likelihood of major, abrupt, irreversible changes in the climate system."

Those impacts need to be avoided at all costs - there are tipping points after which comes staggering sea level rise, storms and heat waves that could imperil swathes of humanity.

No country too small

Aotearoa has an important role to play. We are one of the largest emitters per capita in the OECD, and our emissions combined with the other smaller countries adds up to about two-thirds of the world's total.

New Zealand's gross emission peaked in 2005 and have essentially plateaued, while other countries including the UK and US have actually made reductions.

Kingston said Aotearoa finally had comprehensive emissions reduction plans on the books.

"Now's the time to be doubling-down on our climate change policies, not pressing pause or scaling them back in any way."

Action would never be cheaper than it was now, and not making enough cuts would be far more expensive in the long run.

Humans at fault

Meanwhile, the reports showed human activities have unequivocally caused global surface temperatures to rise: No ifs, no buts.

Massey University Emeritus Professor of sustainable energy and climate mitigation Ralph Sims said emissions needed to be slashed in the cities and the countryside alike.

Without a doubt farmers needed to cut methane emissions, but people also needed to eat less meat, he said.

Ralph Sims

Ralph Sims. Photo: Supplied

Sims said cities had a huge role to play.

"Design the cities around… public transport. [Putting] it onto the cities to plan for a more viable future means that local people can get involved locally."

Afeaki said some Pacific nations would not survive unless the world gets real about cutting emissions.

"When people are feeling disheartened they really need to understand the humans on the other side of this crisis.

"It is easy to be deterred by numbers, by the science, which isn't always positive, but you have to also remember that this is happening to someone."

Afeaki said Pacific communities' experience living with climate change means they should be given lead roles in coming up with solutions.

The IPCC scientists have now done their part, there likely will not be another report like this until the end of the decade. It is now time for the government, and for all of us, to act.

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