Sir Peter explains human activity impacts on climate and the implications for the future

A new report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, lays out the “current scientific understandings of climate change and the ways in which it is likely to affect New Zealand over coming years and decades.”

The report, New Zealand’s changing climate and oceans: The impact of human activity and implications for the future, summarises the current state of global knowledge on climate change – reiterating that point that “climate change is happening now”.

Focussing on the specifics of how New Zealand will be affected by rising temperatures, the report concisely outlines potential impacts for a number of economically significant sectors, including farming, forestry, fisheries and tourism.

The impacts on human health, biodiversity and energy infrastructure are also explored in the report, which states:

“In the intermediate term (over the next 30-40 years), New Zealand will face significant adaptive requirements to cope with these shifts in climate and there will need to be a consequent readjustment in expectations of frequency of extreme events. The impact of change is likely to be greatest in domains unable to adapt quickly or in those areas already close to limits of tolerance.

“These include natural and farming ecosystems evolved to function in current conditions and infrastructure requiring a long lead-time to plan and build, but also areas with high vulnerability such as those already prone to flooding or drought. The magnitude of environmental changes will depend in part on the global trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions and land use change.”

The report acknowledges the inherent uncertainty in scientifc climate projections, but rejects this as a reason for inaction.

“It would be highly imprudent to ignore such projected scenarios just because they must be expressed in terms of probabilities rather than certainties,” notes the report’s foreword.

The foreword also poses several questions decision makers will need to answer:

– What is an acceptable level of climate-related risk to society?

– What are the costs and benefits of adaptation or mitigation compared with other priorities?

– How are different stakeholders affected – either now or in the future?

“These are among the policy-relevant questions that are, and will need to be, addressed,” writes Sir Peter. “Science can inform these, but cannot alone answer them.”


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