New Zealand’s Environmental Commissioner, Dr Jan Wright, warns that climate change is the ‘most serious environmental issue’ we face. ‘It will impact on the health of our sea, land, and freshwater, our unique and precious biodiversity and our economy.’ A paper published by the Department of Conservation (DOC) on the ‘Potential Effects of Climate Change on New Zealand’s Terrestrial Biodiversity’ states that a warming climate will favour introduced mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, and invasive weeds, with mounting impacts on indigenous species.
The 2015 climate conference in Paris intensified international determination to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Their resolve persevered at the Marrakesh 2016 climate conference, despite Trump announcing he would withdraw US support.
NZ climate scientist Jim Salinger states that the world is ‘already at 1.5 degrees’ given atmospheric greenhouse gas stores. Steady methane flows (with more than 23 times the thermal trapping potency of CO2) are now being released from the thawing Siberian permafrost and Arctic sea floor. Scientists warn that potential rapid methane flows would fast-forward feedback systems.
Decisive action to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration requires bold targets. Past government climate mitigation attempts were thwarted by special interests. New Zealand’s modest pledges in Paris matched those of Saudi Arabia and Russia (11 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2030). This would raise temperatures dangerously if adopted by everyone. Yet we still lack policy to achieve 11% cuts, despite Paula Bennett’s efforts. Forest & Bird advocates reducing emissions 40% by 2030 (matching the European Union target). New Zealand’s emissions rose 27% (42%, forestry sinks aside) between 1990 and 2013 (MfE). The ineffectual Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) paid others to do what we must – reduce our emissions.
A government prioritising emissions reduction will stop subsidising fossil fuel industries, including exploration; close coal mines and plants; and invest in locally-sourced sustainable energy infrastructure. The Resource Management Act (RMA) will routinely consider – rather than exclude – potential climate change impacts of decisions. Low or carbon neutral (or low methane/nitrous oxide) alternatives will be supported in energy, transport, construction, financial investment, farming, industry, waste management and tourism. And we will plant more trees than we fell. Independent Climate Commissions, as in the UK, will regularly assess progress towards goals.
North Shore Forest and Bird will focus on climate policy at its May meeting. Read up on the climate policies of all NZ political parties (and those of France, a climate leader) beforehand. We encourage cross-party dialogue toward common goals on climate change policy.
Matt McGlone and Susan Walker (2011). Potential effects of climate change on New Zealand’s terrestrial biodiversity and policy recommendations for mitigation, adaptation and research. Science for Conservation 312.