Climate change risks to be assessed as New Zealand's emissions labelled 'disturbing'

The Ministry for the Environment has appointed an expert panel to assess climate change amid claims that New Zealand's emission levels are "disturbing". 

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA) will provide a national overview of how climate change is likely to impact New Zealand, and will identify the gaps where improvement is needed. 

"We need to be assessing now what the future risks of climate change will be, and where and how New Zealand needs to adapt," Shaw said. "We also need to be able to anticipate what our most challenging issues are likely to be."

The announcement comes as data released this month by the ministry's Greenhouse Gas Inventory showed that emissions continued to grow rapidly in 2017, which Greenpeace has labelled "disturbing". 

The inventory showed New Zealand's gross emissions increased 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017, and increased by 23 percent between 1990 and 2017. It prompted Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman to criticise the Zero Carbon Act. 

"From what we hear [the Government] will be setting emission reduction targets thirty years away, overseen by a climate commission with no powers to enforce the targets. This is not an approach that is consistent with the urgency of the climate emergency," he said. 

"The world now has just a decade to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid climate catastrophe. We're already feeling the effects here in New Zealand, with extreme weather events like the Nelson fires, the recent storms, floods and droughts." 

Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Photo credit: Newshub

Shaw, co-leader of the Greens, recently said emissions are not likely to start falling significantly until the mid-2020s. It has left Professor Robert McLaughlin of Massey University and New Zealand Centre for Planetary Ecology feeling disappointed.  

"Alas, the forces that contribute to rising emissions are still in place, and although consumers and businesses are starting to look at plans to lower emissions, they will take time to have an impact," he said. 

McLaughlin said the number of vehicles in New Zealand increased by 180,000 in 2017, while transport emissions rose by 930,000 tonnes of CO2 - a 6 percent jump in a single year. He said ways of cutting emissions - such as electrification of bus fleets - "are still missing". 

He said the most staggering sector is international aviation. He pointed to international figures that showed emissions rose 362,000 tonnes - or 11 percent - in a single year, and are now up 178 percent on 1990 levels. 

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has warned that building replacement costs from climate change in New Zealand could total $19 billion. 

And Auckland Council recently released its climate change risk assessment that said nearly one quarter of the region's buildings - over 127,000 buildings - are exposed to flood hazards.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Amanda Larsson said the Government needs to do more. She said the importation of petrol and diesel vehicles should be phased out while electric trains, buses, bikes and cars should be encouraged. 

Shaw said in September last year that the Government would soon offer incentives to New Zealanders looking to purchase electric vehicles, to move people away from traditional cars that burn fossil fuels. 

The new NCCRA produce a framework by the end of June on climate change risks and the first risk assessment will be completed by the middle of next year.