Roger Hanson: New Zealand and the impact of climate change
Scientists predict that climate change in New Zealand will bring higher temperatures, rising sea levels, more severe droughts and more intense flooding. There will be increased summer rain in the North and East of the North Island and greater rainfall in parts of the South Island.
How do these consequences and our ability to deal with them compare with other countries?
A team from the University of Notre Dame in the United States has developed a method of quantitatively comparing the vulnerability and readiness of 181 countries to deal with climate change. For each country they have calculated the value of an index, the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-Gain).
The vulnerability of a country is assessed by assigning a score to each of six life-supporting factors that enable measurement of a country's exposure, sensitivity and ability to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change. These include food, infrastructure, water supplies and adaptive capacity.
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For example, how does climate change affect food production in the country and how dependent is the country on food imports? The infrastructure score is based on an assessment of the effect of natural disasters on imported energy supplies, the percentage of the population living in low lying areas and how electricity supply will be affected by climate change events.
In addition to vulnerability, the country's readiness to deal with climate change is assessed. Scores are given to three contributors - economic readiness, governance and social readiness. Economic readiness assesses the capability of the country's business environment to adapt to climate change. The governance score rates political stability, corruption control and the rule of law and social readiness captures factors such as social inequality, education and innovation in the country.
Using a formula devised by the Notre Dame team, the vulnerability and readiness scores are combined to give an overall score, the ND-Gain Index. The good news is that New Zealand scores spectacularly well. In 8 of the last 10 years New Zealand has ranked second best in the world. In 2015 the ranking was, Denmark (1), Norway (2), New Zealand (3), Singapore (4) and the UK (5). Australia was 13th.
Breaking down the score reveals that New Zealand is in 15th place in the vulnerability part of the index calculation - "vulnerability" here means ability to deal with and adapt to climate change – the lower the actual value of the score the less vulnerable a country is and the higher it is placed. The top place is UK which is less vulnerable than, Germany (2) and Denmark (3).
In the "readiness" contributor to the overall index New Zealand is the best in the world, followed by Singapore (2) and Denmark (3).
Digging deeper into the data which makes up the overall score, reveals New Zealand's lowest ratings come from a contributor to the vulnerability score called,"ecosystem service". This assesses the projected change in distribution of large areas to climate change – these areas are defined by soils, vegetation, marine biodiversity and ecological footprint.
New Zealand ranks a rather lowly 125th place in this and also does poorly in its human habitation score – 102nd place. Human habitation captures issues such as vulnerability to flood hazards and how urban development and transport infrastructure will be affected by the consequences of climate change.
Disturbingly, the analysis highlights the huge vulnerability and woeful readiness of the lowest scoring countries, Eritrea (179), Chad (180) and the Central African Republic (181).
These countries have a combination of factors such as geographically being located directly in the firing line of on-going desertification, dire water shortage and fractious government. Climate change will exacerbate these problems and will quickly become a problem for us because the sense of hopelessness experienced by people in countries such as Chad and Eritrea, will drive change.
This will include political radicalism and, understandably, the mass migration of people searching for a better life. Countries less affected by climate change will be put under increasing pressure to accept more climate change refugees.
The most desirable countries will be those highly ranked in the ND-Gain Index – countries in northern Europe, Scandinavia as well as Australia and New Zealand.