Climate change's effect on NZ will take 'centuries' to fix

  • 19/10/2017
WOODSTOCK, VERMONT, UNITED STATES - 2015/10/15: Cows feeding on hay. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

A new emissions report showing the effects of greenhouse gases has painted a worrying picture of New Zealand's climate and sea levels.

The country's gross greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 24 percent since 1990, half of which come from agriculture, according to the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand report.

Climate change's effect on NZ will take 'centuries' to fix
Photo credit: Statistics New Zealand / Ministry for the Environment

But it is road transport that's had the largest increase in emissions during that same time period - increasing by 78 percent.

New Zealand's emissions are only half of the global level, but it's already taking a significant toll. The country's glaciers have lost a quarter of their volume since 1977, and sea levels have risen by up to 22cm in the past century throughout our main ports.

The average temperature has increased by 1degC in the last century - on par with the global average. Last year was New Zealand's hottest on record.

Globally, 19 of the 20 warmest years have occurred within the last 20 years. Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson says while New Zealand is "not a large contributor" of that, "we are certainly affected locally and we need to act on what that means for us".

"The future impacts of climate change on our lives all depend on how fast global emissions are reduced and the extent to which our communities can adapt to change.

"Encouragingly, the report shows international efforts have been successful in phasing out the use of ozone-depleting substances. This has led to gradual recovery of the ozone hole."

Climate change's effect on NZ will take 'centuries' to fix
Photo credit: Statistics New Zealand / Ministry for the Environment

But the report says even if we took all possible precautions now, it would take "centuries" before some aspects of climate change levelled off.

"New Zealand's climate will continue to warm in the short term due to the cumulative effect of past emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which can persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

"However, the climate changes that our children and grandchildren will experience depend on the effectiveness of current worldwide actions to reduce emissions."

New Zealand has signed on to the United Nations Paris Agreement, which commits countries to take action on climate change.

Under that agreement New Zealand has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below the 2005 level by 2030.