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Future forecast: emissions scaling down, extreme weather ramping up
For the first time, New Zealand’s homegrown climate report assesses our climate outlook.
Kia ora, welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
Aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, Hawke’s Bay. Image credit: Leonie Clough / Unsplash.
The pīpīwharauroa has started calling in my patch: a sign that summer is on its way. But the outlook for this summer is one of extremes: potential cold snaps and rain coupled with spells of record-breaking temperatures. This one could be a rollercoaster.
Another weighty forecast has dropped this morning, as part of the Our atmosphere and climate 2023 report. In the previous two instalments of this series – which comes out every three years – only the past and current states of the climate were analysed. This time, the report also looks ahead, sketching out a picture of what’s likely to come.
The bad news: Extreme weather and unequal impacts
It’s “highly likely” that extreme weather events will become increasingly frequent and severe, with less time to recover in between. Heatwaves and drought will ramp up, while atmospheric rivers – like the one that triggered devastating flooding on Auckland Anniversary Weekend earlier this year – will get bigger and wetter. The frequency of cyclones might dial down a little, but their severity could increase. On our current trajectory, marine heatwave conditions are forecast to become permanent by the end of the century.
The impacts of these predicted changes won’t be felt equally. It’s “highly likely” that climate change will threaten the wellbeing and livelihoods of the most vulnerable communities more and more, the report says. Cost of living and other day-to-day effects will be felt most by lower income communities, while existing health and social inequities could be exacerbated further. “Enduring effects” on kaupapa and tikanga Māori are “highly likely” as climate change disrupts access to taonga species and displaces communities from their whenua. And it’s “almost certain” that severe weather will have significant impacts on primary industries.
Effects won’t just be felt by people, either: the report also recognises that climate change and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin. It’s “almost certain” that climate change will threaten our native species and ecosystems, while creating favourable conditions for existing pests to boom, and new pests to establish.
The good news: Decreasing emissions
Understanding what could be coming is important for helping us prepare. But it’s a pretty bleak picture. There’s one kernel of hope: New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are “likely” to decrease by more than one-quarter between 2020 and 2050, given our current policies and measures.
We must also remember that the future isn’t fixed. This forecast is based on assumptions of limited action – a scenario where social, economic and technological trends don’t shift that much, income inequality persists, and we dawdle on sustainable development. That means, we can change our outlook. We can make decisions that meaningfully and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to shift our world off this trajectory. Every fraction of a degree we limit warming by will help us avoid the worst of it all.
As Dr Nick Craddock-Henry of GNS Science told the Herald: “In sum: Aotearoa is warming; it’s us. We are sure. It’s bad. But we can do something about it.”
What’s happening in the climate election
Some say it’s a cost-of-living election, experts say: why not both? Climate “flows through every part of the economy” so taking climate action can lower grocery and insurance bills as well as reduce pollution, experts and climate groups tell RNZ climate change correspondent Eloise Gibson.
If you’re not yet across different political parties’ climate policy offerings, you can check out Policy.nz, or consider the Hollywood classic Titanic. Nadine Anne Hura asks us to imagine we’re on a giant ocean liner on a collision course with a fatal iceberg (climate change). Who do we want captaining the ship?
For an in-depth look at some of climate policy’s thornier issues, Newsroom’s Marc Daalder speaks to parties about their approaches to adaptation, our next Emissions Reduction Plan, and pricing agricultural emissions.
What happens when the floods come
One in seven of us live in areas prone to flooding. What should we do when flooding is inevitable? Two stories this week explore this question, focusing on two different communities. Shanti Mathias visits South Dunedin, a low-lying part of the city vulnerable to inundation. Here, decision-makers are consulting the community about their future. Newsroom’s Marc Daalder takes us to Westport, a West Coast town that has suffered multiple devastating floods in recent years. It’s “a microcosm of the thorny questions about resilience, funding and managed retreat which will become ever more common in a warming world,” he writes.
Six new marine reserves planned for south-east South Island
A proposed network of six marine reserves, a kelp protection zone, and five other marine protected areas will stretch from Timaru to the Catlins, if implemented. Protecting iconic species such as hoiho yellow-eyed penguins and pakake NZ sea lions, this proposal would boost marine protection around the mainland by two-thirds, the government says. But getting to this point has taken 30 years of advocacy, leading iwi and environmental groups to call for “fit for purpose” marine protection legislation in order to meet our commitment of 30% marine protection by 2030.
Dogs at polling booths is back for 2023
In 2020, we showcased big dogs, small dogs, long dogs, short dogs, hairy dogs, happy dogs, nervy dogs, silly dogs, stylish dogs, sleeping dogs – and we’d be barking mad not to do it all over again. On election day, The Spinoff will again bring you nothing but live pupdates until 7pm. On October 14, send your photos of dogs at voting places around the motu (no humans please) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re focusing on on-the-day dogs, but will consider any particularly fetching advance-voting dogs, especially if they’re voting from abroad.
A wave of anti-greenwashing litigation is targeting the aviation industry for its sensational claims of being sustainable, low-carbon or contributing to net zero.
As Jobs for Nature funding runs out, conservationists are worried predator-free progress will be squandered.
Scientists are mapping urban emissions to make New Zealand the first country with real-time emissions data for every town and city, Jamie Morton reports for the NZ Herald (paywall).
“Gobsmackingly bananas”: last month was the hottest September on record.
The Pope calls out “irresponsible” Western lifestyles in a new piece of writing on the global climate crisis.
An ambitious new project, Recloaking Papatūānuku, aims to replant and restore at least 2.1 million hectares of native forest over the next 10 years.
Southland’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 14.8% in the past five years, largely because of reduced livestock numbers and boiler decarbonisation.
A variety of mammals fluoresce under UV light. (a) polar bear, (b) southern marsupial mole, (c) greater bilby, (d) mountain zebra, (e) bare-nosed wombat, (f) six-banded armadillo, (g) orange leaf-nosed bat, (h) quenda, (i) leopard, (j) Asian palm civet, (k) red fox, (l) dwarf spinner dolphin. Image credit: Travouillon et al. Royal Society Open Science (CC BY 4.0).
To finish this issue, at least 125 mammal species glow under ultraviolet light, Aussie researchers have found. Dr Kenny Travouillon, curator of mammalogy at the Western Australian Museum, was inspired to pick up a UV torch and wander around the museum after reading about platypuses’ fluorescent fur. Whether there’s an evolutionary purpose for this phenomenon remains a mystery. You too have a luminescent feature: human teeth fluoresce under blacklight. And birds also possess glowy features, but they can actually see UV light, as I found while writing this feature for New Zealand Geographic.
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