IPCC climate report: Kiwis need to make 'behavioural changes' to help tackle crisis - expert

A New Zealand professor says even though the latest climate report is grim, there is still hope if Kiwis, along with the rest of the world, take individual responsibility.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on Tuesday morning, which said the world needs to drastically cut fossil fuel use, grow forests and eat less meat over the next decade to contain global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.

Only severe emissions cuts across all sectors, from agriculture and transport to energy and buildings, can turn things around, the report says.

"We are not all going to die"

Ralph Sims, Massey University emeritus professor of renewable energy and climate mitigation, told AM on Tuesday even though the report is grim, it does give solutions on how to tackle the problems the globe is facing.

"We are not all going to die. This report does give us solutions on how we can reduce emissions. But the key message from it is we have to start immediately pushing much harder than we have done before," he said.

Sims said a key part of the report is the focus on individuals needing to make changes.

"This one has put much more emphasis on behavioural change and the co-benefits. So if we try to reduce our carbon footprints personally and New Zealand has one of the highest carbon footprints out of any country in the world [per capita], so we have a commitment to reduce them," he told AM.

"Then you get the co-benefits of improved health, less traffic congestion, better local air pollution. So we do have a responsibility."

Individual changes you can make

The IPCC report said there are 60 actions individuals can take to reduce emissions including changing what they eat and the type of transport they take, which would have the largest potential to reduce carbon footprints.

The report said prioritising car-free travel by walking or cycling and using electric transport options could save carbon dioxide emissions.

Other options include reducing air travel and appliance use, shifting to public transit and changing to a plant-based diet.

The report said tax and fiscal incentives for businesses and individuals could help support behavioural change towards low-carbon choices.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the ICC report made it clear "we need a plan now to cut our emissions".

"The severity with which we will experience climate change can be lessened if we do all we can, right now, to limit warming," Shaw said.

"The challenge ahead may feel daunting, but the report also highlights a number of effective and innovative ways we can lower emissions and limit the effects of climate change. And that is exactly what our Emissions Reduction Plan will do at a national level.
Shaw said New Zealand’s climate targets are not optional, but critical.

"There are those who will try and tell you, when it comes to climate change, New Zealand is too small to be counted - this report should well and truly dispel us of that notion. We are part of the problem and we must be part of the solution."

James Shaw
James Shaw Photo credit: AM

Sims told AM there are different ways New Zealand can reduce carbon emissions.

"It's not just technology, it's already happening as we are growing more trees and they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, so they are a carbon sink and we have relied on them for a long time," he said.

"Soil carbon - if we can increase the content of carbon in the soil and there are various ways of doing that by increasing organic matter that locks up the carbon in the soil.

"As well as that there is the carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies, which is where from a power station we collect it and store it underground in the disused gas field that has been talked about for a long time."

He said the carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies come with risk since New Zealand is earthquake-prone.

"If we put it down a hole and put a cover on the top then an earthquake could release it in theory," he said.

"If a whole lot of carbon dioxide is released at once it could smother any living organism or people nearby so there is a risk."

Sims was asked by AM co-host Ryan Bridge if any of the IPCC reports state how long until we are going to die because of climate change.

"No it doesn't show you that. It's based on science, it brings all the science together to how we can reduce emissions and it's left up to Governments to develop policies.

But he says the signs New Zealand is being affected by climate change are obvious.

"I can tell you that last year in New Zealand alone we spent $340 million on insurance claims against extreme weather events and that doesn't include infrastructure from roading and people who weren't insured, so there is going to be a cost on everybody and there will be a risk in the future of food supplies if there is droughts, floods.

"Those are the sorts of things that will happen over a period of time and it's already started."