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Climate change: Report a 'wake up call' for NZ

A major report into climate change is a wake-up call New Zealand must heed, one of its main authors says.

The second part of the fifth United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report has just been released.

It predicts a 2-4 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures in New Zealand by the end of the century and warns of increased risk of wildfire, storms, floods, landslides and sea level rises.

Professor Tim Naish, director of the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University, was one of the lead authors of the first part of the report released in September.

The second part, including a chapter focused on Australasia, had clear implications for New Zealand, he said.

The country faces a half-metre rise in sea levels by 2100 and increasing storms, with "one in 100 year" events becoming annual occurences by the end of the century, Naish said.

"This report is a wake-up call for New Zealand to take its head out of the sand, to take a longer-term view - at least longer than an electoral cycle - and rise to the challenge of adaptation if we are to future-proof this country for coming generations."

The Australasia chapter lists a series of impacts the country is likely to experience.

"Extreme weather events, such as droughts and flooding will become more frequent as the wet regions in the west of New Zealand can expect more rainfall and the already dry regions of Canterbury, the far North and the East Cape become drier with significant implications for water resources, increased risk for our climate-sensitive primary industries such as agriculture and horticulture and challenges for hydro-electricity generation," Naish said.

Another climate expert, Judy Lawrence, of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria, said there was "a significant adaptation deficit" in the country.

Most of the planning to cope with climate change was only conceptual. To adapt to sea-level rise and flooding risk, New Zealand had to be ready to relocate people, invest in flood protection and control land use in risk areas.

"Institutionally our devolved planning system leaves each local government to fend for themselves, without much in the way of centralised support," Lawrence said.

"Scientifically, there is only a patchy picture of where the highest risks lie and who are the most vulnerable.

"Both these issues need to be addressed to assess, efficiently and comprehensively, what is at risk and what range of options there are for addressing the risks."

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said New Zealand was focused on reducing global emissions. Adaptation was the responsibility of local councils.

"Central government agencies also provide information, guidance and research funding to support adaptation of New Zealand business and infrastructure," he said.

The report's top 10 points:

• IPCC report opens: ''Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.''

• Key risks include: death, injury and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island states from storm surges, sea-level rises.

• Systemic risks to key infrastructure networks, including water and power, from extreme weather events.


• Risks also to food insecurity and breakdown of food systems from extreme weather.

• Impacts seen: ''glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide'', while coral reefs and arctic eco-systems among those already affected.

• Species on the move: while a few recent species extinctions are ''attributed as yet to climate change'', many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted geographic range and abundance.

• Recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wild fires reveal significant vulnerabilities to both human populations and eco-systems.

• Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, particularly for those in poverty.

• Adaptation is mixed where planning for sea-level rises ''remains piecemeal''. Efforts to cope with reduced water availability more common.

• Economic costs are ''more likely than not'' to be greater than the 0.2-2 per cent GDP range cited. That estimate excludes catastrophic changes, tipping points, among other factors.

BY Alex Fensome

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