Both major political parties have acknowledged that climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. Yet Aotearoa New Zealand is currently on track for up to three degrees of warming within the next 60 years which will bring extreme suffering to our whenua, communities and economy.
The science tells us that we must cut emissions by half in the next six years, both nationally and internationally. Anything less than this and we are likely to continue to push devastating warming feedback loops, that no matter what we do in the future will continue to warm our planet for centuries to come. And this warming is what is driving the extreme weather events we are increasingly experiencing and that are devastating communities.
Recently it was suggested that global methane leaks may have pushed our climate to a ‘termination level transition’, while António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, said that humanity has “opened the gates to hell” by allowing the climate crisis to worsen.
Our short term political thinking is continually putting the needs of today over the needs of the future. But this will lead to long term economic devastation and the global collapse of nature. Not acting on climate change now will cost the global economy at least 10% of GDP by 2050. The question is, is the true scale of change required, something any of us are prepared for and willing to make?
New Zealand is already facing severe consequences from climate change such as extreme rainfall events, increasingly severe droughts, unprecedented fires, marine heatwaves, and rising sea levels. However it is the global risks that are just as important. Devastating weather events, desertification, the end of coral reefs, wildfires on a scale never seen before, water wars, the increasing abundance of climate refugees; these are the events that will further impact us by threatening global food supply and security.
We need cross-party consensus on radical systemic change for a climate-positive future, and we need this now in 2023. The cost of living crisis is going to be nothing compared to the impacts of the climate crisis.
We suggest four areas that the next government needs to urgently address if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate crisis.
1 . Urgently enhance the availability of renewable energy and embrace circular economy solutions. Expanding renewable generation (geothermal, hydro, wind and solar) is critical, but we also need more local generation that can help build resilience across Aotearoa.
2 . Radically decarbonise transport and tourism. It’s not just about ‘going electric’, it’s about changing the way we travel and move freight and about being prepared to slow down – taking longer to travel, not expecting goods to arrive overnight. We need to shift freight from roads to rail and sea. And we need to change the nature of tourism away from the current ‘bums of seats’ model to one where tourists stay longer, consume less and support our environment.
3 . Immediately start to transition all New Zealand farming to regenerative lower carbon approaches. It’s clear our reliance on a few bulk export commodities is failing as we have seen recently with decreasing demand from China for milk powder. We need to diversify our agricultural landscapes to become multifunctional and resilient. This needs to include optimising land use based on what land is best for, be it; plant protein production, extensive grazing, sustainable timber forestry or restoration with natives. Diversification at the farm and catchment level will make us resilient in the face of increasing extreme weather events and future volatile demand for exports.
4 . Urgently implement a programme of native reforestation to help build resilience in rural landscapes, enhance native biodiversity and sequester CO2. This programme, called Recloaking Papatūānuku, focuses on both establishing new forest and enhancing the growth of existing forests, especially those that are regenerating or degraded. Stock exclusion and pest control are key to this. Such a programme of native reforestation requires reforms to the ETS including restricting the permanent forest category to native forest and ensuring a high carbon price that incentivises real emissions reductions and nature-based carbon removal, as well as developing a biodiversity payments system.
We are seeing increasing trade restrictions globally for high emitting products. Our ability to maintain an export economy will be severely restricted if we don’t lower our emissions. The four actions outlined here are critical for this and we need to start delivering on them now.
And to do this we must be prepared to make consumption sacrifices now to urgently lower our carbon footprint and we need to do all of the above in a way that is socially equitable.
In order to guarantee a stable and safe planet for our children and grandchildren we must start implementing all four of these actions now, not next year or in three years time, but now. Climate change is impacting us today and its impacts are only going to get worse, much worse, unless we take decisive and immediate action.