Climate change wake-up call

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 01/04/2014

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New Zealand must take its head out of the sand and adapt to sea-level rises, droughts and storms that will come with climate change, a leading scientist warns.

Professor Tim Naish, speaking after the publication of the second part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report yesterday, said New Zealand had to "future-proof" for coming generations.

"This report is a wake-up call for New Zealand to take its head out of the sand."

The Australasian chapter predicts a rise in temperatures of 2-4 degrees Celsius, more common heavy rainfall, frequent flooding, increasingly common droughts, and heightened bushfire risk in parts of New Zealand.

By 2100, the country could see floods previously regarded as "one in 100 year" events happening annually.

Judy Lawrence, of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University, said not enough work had been done on adaptation. Authorities such as councils had to be ready to relocate people, invest in flood protection and control land use in risk areas, she said.

One of the report's contributors, Niwa scientist Andrew Tait, said it was easier to predict the impact of sea-level rise on roads and coastal areas than it was to forecast where storms and flooding might hit.

However, there was a simple relationship between warmer atmospheres and increased rainfall. Areas that were already flood-prone would clearly be at risk.

"The kind of floods we get now will be at least the same or more frequent in the future . . . would we be able to manage?"

Climate Change Issues Minister Tim Groser said adaptation work was for local authorities, and the Government focused on helping reduce global emissions.

Prime Minister John Key noted New Zealand contributed 0.2 per cent of world emissions. "In the end, we can only do so much and that's actually a pretty small amount on our own."

The country has 0.06 per cent of the world's population of 7 billion, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Wellington City Council launched a climate-change action plan last year. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said low-lying areas of the city such as the CBD, Kilbirnie and the south coast were particularly at risk.

"A lot of buildings in the CBD [already] get seawater pumped out of their basements," she said.

Strengthening of sea walls to protect the Hutt Valley-city road and rail links and the south coast, particularly Island Bay, was being considered. Both were heavily damaged in the June storm last year and could be affected by sea-level rise.

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The council wanted adaptations that had additional benefits, such as improving stormwater systems to cope with heavy rain.

Work to cut city emissions 30 per cent by 2030 and promote energy efficiency remained important, she said.

"We're made up of 7 billion people, and the 200,000 in Wellington should be trying just as hard as 200,000 in Beijing or anywhere else."

The Kapiti Coast District Council has published information on predicted shorelines in 50 and 100 years' time, based on likely sea-level rise and coastal erosion.

And the Hawke's Bay Regional Council has begun work on extensive flood-defence upgrades on the Heretaunga Plains and wants to improve water storage to cope with increased risk of droughts.

THE CHANGING CLIMATE

  • A 2-4 degrees Celsius increase in average temperatures by 2100.
  • Hotter, drier summers will increase the risk of wildfire across more of the year - particularly where homes are close to bush, scrub and forest.
  • More extreme rainfall events, due to increasing moisture in the air as it warms, will lead to more flooding and risk of flooding.
  • Sea levels will rise 0.5m by 2100 and an increase in storms will see ''one in 100 year'' events happen annually by 2100.
  • Water resources in the drier areas of the country - for example, Marlborough and the Canterbury Plains - will dwindle.
  • More rain rather than snow will fall on mountain ranges, boosting the intake of hydro lakes and some river systems such as the Clutha.
  • Winters will be warmer and New Zealanders will use less electricity to keep themselves warm.
  • Snow lines will move higher up mountains.
  • Seas will warm and fish distribution patterns will change.

WHAT IS THE IPCC?

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988 to monitor the effects of climate change and advise governments how to deal with them.

It has published four assessment reports, taking a global look at scientific matters in climate change and making predictions based on observation.

Its fifth report was officially released at 1pm today from Yokohama in Japan.

One chapter covers the effect of climate change on New Zealand and Australia and gives predictions for possible changes during the next century.

Predictions are graded from "low confidence" to "very high confidence".

More than 300 scientists from around the world are lead authors of the report. They assessed more than 9000 peer-reviewed papers to compile it.

- The Dominion Post

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