Opinion: We need to go to war on climate change

OPINION: My generation may not go to war against a hostile foreign nation but it needs to go to war against climate change. 

When our men went to war to fight for the allies we banded together as a country, committed to a common cause. Fighting climate change is no different. 

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 'life altering' special report 'Global Warming of 1.5degC'. It warns that, unless 'heroic' action is taken in the next 10 years, the damage will be irreversible. 

We need to be the heroes. 

We may not have a hostile nation advancing on our border, but we do have the threat of sea level rise licking at our coastline. 

If we do nothing, the global temperature will rise to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. But if we can limit warming to 1.5degC, then we can reduce sea level rise by 10 centimeters.

For low lying communities like South Dunedin and South Brighton in Christchurch, this is crucial to avoid an increased number of devastating floods and storm surges.

We may not have fighter jets threatening us with bombs from the sky but we do have excessive carbon emissions.

If we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, we need to make "deep reductions" in methane emissions worldwide. Methane hangs around in the atmosphere, trapping in heat, contributing to the 0.2 degree temperature rise every decade.

The Environmental Defense Fund says methane is the principal contributor to man-made climate change. Eighty six percent of New Zealand's methane emissions comes from our farming sector. While it is a huge part of our economy, if we don't make major changes now, it will a non-existent economy for our children and grandchildren. 

One of the lead authors, and the only New Zealander on the IPCC panel, Bronwyn Hayward told me, "the Government needs to bite the bullet and tackle the issue of methane emissions with farmers."

Carbon zero by 2050 is a great target, but it doesn't include methane. Considered a "short lived gas", the government proposes "emissions of methane... must be significantly reduced to sustainable levels". 

Based on 2010 levels, the IPCC reports the world needs to cut methane emissions by more than one third. Shouldn't we write that in to legislation as well? Rather than aiming for a flimsy "significant".

We may not be losing people on the battlefield but we could use 400,000 species if we fail to cap the temperature at 1.5degC.

If global warming continues to increase at the current rate, it's predicted to reach 1.5degC between 2030 and 2052.

At that temperature, many species are at risk of extinction - but if the global average temperature rises by another half a degree, about 400,000 species could die out.

At 1.5degC, coral reefs would decline by 70 to 90 percent, whereas nearly all would be lost with 2C.

So what can you do?

  • Arm yourself! 

With knowledge, of course. Figure out where you are going wrong, where you are being wasteful and where your greatest emissions come from.

  • Have a plan of attack! 

Make small, sustainable changes to your life rather than trying to change too much at once. Use reusable plastic bags, catch a bus to work, introduce meat-free Monday or reduce your plastic consumption with bamboo toothbrushes.

  • Enlist your friends!

Everyone needs to do their part and a good word from you could help change someone's perspective. Think little picture. If we don't change our habits now, holidays in the Pacific could be a thing of the past, you could be clearing up from a wild storm a little more often, and that morning coffee could get a whole lot more expensive. 

We are fighting for our country, not against our enemies but against ourselves. 

Shannon Redstall is The AM Show producer and reporter.