Climate change in New Zealand

Atmospheric carbon dioxide record from Baring Head, Wellington from 1977 to 2007.[1]

Climate change in New Zealand, in the sense of anthropogenic global warming during the 20th century, is apparent in the instrumental record, in New Zealand's participation in international treaties and in social and political debates. Climate change is being responded to in a variety of ways by civil society and the government of New Zealand. An emissions trading scheme has been established and from 1 July 2010, the energy and liquid fossil fuel sectors have obligations to report emissions and to obtain and surrender emissions units (carbon credits).

Contents

Instrumental records and effects

Temperature

New Zealand annual average temperature from 1871 to 2008 with linear and locally weighted ('Lowess') trend lines. Source: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Since instrumental measurements began in the late 19th century, New Zealand's average air temperatures have fluctuated substantially year to year,[2] and a number of studies indicate that New Zealand's average temperature has increased.

A significant upward trend in national average air temperature was detected of 0.11°C per decade (for the period from 1896 to 1994) with a 95% confidence interval ± 0.035°C. This is roughly twice the trend reported for global data, which may be due to the relative absence of sulfate aerosols in the South Pacific.[3]

The Royal Society of New Zealand's statement on climate change notes that between 1908 and 2006, there has been a clear upward linear trend in the country-wide average air temperature of 0.9°Celsius.[2]

Carbon dioxide

New Zealand has a long-term record of atmospheric carbon dioxide similar to the Keeling Curve. In 1970, Charles Keeling asked David Lowe, a physics graduate from Victoria University of Wellington to establish continuous atmospheric measurements at a New Zealand site. The south-facing Baring Head, on the eastern entrance to Wellington Harbour, was chosen as being representative of the atmosphere of the southern hemisphere. Lowe initially built an automatic air-sampling machine using parts from a used telephone exchange.[4]

Modelled wind directions indicated that air flows were originating from 55 degrees south. The Baring Head data shows about the same overall rate of increase in CO2 as the measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory, but with a smaller seasonal variation. The Baring Head CO2 concentrations have increased by 50 parts per million between first records in the early 1970s and 2005. The rate of increase in 2005 was 2.5 parts per million per year.[5] The Baring Head record is the longest continuous record of atmospheric CO2 in the Southern Hemisphere and it featured in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 in conjunction with the better-known Mauna Loa record.[6]

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has also recorded atmospheric concentrations of methane (from 1989) and nitrous oxide (from 1997) at Baring Head.[7]

Glaciers

Measured variations in the position of the termini of the Fox, Franz Josef, and Ivory Glaciers, 1870 to 1988.[8]

Since 1977 , the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has been using aerial surveys of late summer snowline to estimate the mass balance of 50 index glaciers. The snowline marks the equilibrium line of a glacier; above the line the glacier is accumulating snow and below the line the glacier is melting. The mass balance is the net gain or loss of snow and ice. [9] The latest survey, in 2009, indicated two years of decline in the overall mass of the index glaciers. The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research considers that the volume of ice in New Zealand's glaciers has declined by about 50% in the last century, while New Zealand’s average temperature increased by about 1 °Celsius.[10]

New Zealand's largest glacier, the Tasman Glacier has retreated about 180 metres a year on average since the 1990s and the glacier's terminal lake, Tasman Lake, is expanding at the expense of the glacier. Massey University scientists expect that Lake Tasman will stabilise at a maximum size in about 10 to 19 years, and eventually the Tasman Glacier will disappear completely. In 1973 the Tasman Glacier had no terminal lake and by 2008 Tasman Lake was 7 km long, 2 km wide and 245m deep.[11]

Sea level

An analysis of long term records from four New Zealand tide gauges indicates an average rate of increase in sea level of 1.6 mm a year for the 100 years to 2000, which is considered to be relatively consistent with other regional and global sea level rise calculations when corrected for glacial-isostatic effects.[12] One global average rate of sea-level rise is 1.7 ± 0.3 mm per year for the 20th century (Church and White (2006).[13] Another global average rate of sea-level rise is 1.8 mm/yr ± 0.1 for the period 1880–1980.[14]

A 2008 study of cores from salt-marshes near Pounawea indicated that the rate of sea level rise in the 20th century, 2.8 ± 0.5 mm per year, had been greater than rate of change in earlier centuries (0.3 ± 0.3 mm per year from AD 1500 to AD 1900) and that the 20th century sea level rise was consistent with instrumental measurements recorded since 1924.[15]

International treaties

New Zealand ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC) in September 1993.[16]

New Zealand signed the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC on 22 May 1998 and ratified it on 19 December 2002. As an Annex B party, New Zealand has a responsibility target to limit greenhouse gas emissions for the five-year 2008-2012 commitment period (CP1) to five times the 1990 volume. New Zealand may meet this target by either reducing emissions or by obtaining carbon credits from the international market or from domestic carbon sinks.[17] The credits may be any of the Kyoto units; Assigned amount units (AAU), removal units (RMU), Emission Reduction Units (ERU) and Certified Emission Reduction (CER) units.[18]

New Zealand's responsibility target is expressed as an “assigned amount” of allowed emissions over the 2008-2012 commitment period. The allowed emissions are divided into tradeable Assigned amount units (AAUs) and each Annex I Party issues to itself Assigned amount units (denominated as 1 metric tonne of CO2 equivalent) up to its "assigned amount" under Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol.[19] In December 2007, New Zealand's 309,564,733 Assigned amount units were recorded in the NZ Emission Unit Register.[20]

In June 2005, a financial liability under the Kyoto Protocol for a shortfall of emission units of 36.2 million tonnes of CO2-e was first recognised in the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand. It was estimated as a liability of $NZ310 million.[21]

Emissions intensity

New Zealand Carbon Dioxide emissions per capita 1971-2007 compared to United Kingdom, Europe, World average, Africa and China

The Ministry for the Environment considers that the energy intensity of New Zealand's economic output has to some degree decreased since 1990.[22]

According to estimates from the International Energy Association, New Zealand's per capita carbon dioxide emissions roughly doubled from 1970 to 2000 and then exceeded the per capita carbon dioxide emissions of both the United Kingdom and the European Union.[23]

In 2005, New Zealand’s per capita emissions of the six greenhouse gases were 18.5 tonnes CO2 equivalents per head of population. New Zealand GHG emissions were 12th highest in the world per capita.[24] The Ministry for the Environment's 2007 State of the Environment report noted that New Zealand's per capita GHG emissions were high and were exceeded in the OECD only by countries such as Australia and Canada.[25] Bertram and Terry (2010, p 164) state that on a per capita basis, New Zealand's GHG emissions are unambiguously a significant contribution.[26]

Greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions by sector in New Zealand in 2007 expressed as Mt CO2-e (megatonnes Carbon Dioxide equivalent).[27]
Greenhouse gas emissions by gas in New Zealand in 2007 expressed as Mt CO2-e (megatonnes Carbon Dioxide equivalent).[27]
Changes in levels of New Zealand’s sectoral greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2009.[28]

New Zealand has a relatively unique emissions profile. In 2007, agriculture contributed 48.2% of total emissions, energy (including transport); 43.2%, industry; 6.1%, waste; 2.4%. In other Kyoto Protocol Annex 1 countries, agriculture typically contributes about 11% of total emissions.[27]

From 1990 to 2007, total greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand increased by 22.1%. Emission increases by sector were - agriculture; 12.1%, energy; 39.2%, industry; 35.0%. Only the small waste sector reduced emissions, by 25.3%.[27]

N2O emissions originate from animal excrement and from the use of nitrogenous fertiliser. Livestock produce methane from rumination. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide as it can trap twenty times the heat of an equivalent volume of carbon dioxide. Since New Zealand has large stock numbers these emissions are significant. In 2003, the Government proposed an Agricultural emissions research levy to fund research into reducing ruminant emissions. The proposal, popularly called a "fart tax", was strongly opposed by Federated Farmers and was later abandoned.[29] The Livestock Emissions and Abatement Research Network (LEARN) was launched in 2007 to address livestock emissions.[30] The Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium between the New Zealand government and industry groups seeks to reduce agricultural emissions through the funding of research.

At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the New Zealand government announced the formation of the Global Research Alliance involving 20 other countries. New Zealand will contribute NZ$45 million over four years towards research on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.[31]

Carbon tax policy

From 2002, the policy of the Labour-led Clark Government was to implement a carbon tax in 2007. The proposed carbon tax would apply to the whole economy, except for emissions of agricultural methane and nitrous oxide. The tax would initially be $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent, based on approximating the international price of emissions. It would be capped at $25 per tonne. The carbon tax policy was intended to be precursor to emissions trading when it became internationally established.[32]

However, in December 2005, the Government announced that following a review of climate change policy it would not implement the proposed carbon tax.[33] The political parties New Zealand First and United Future, who were support parties of the Labour-led Government, opposed the tax.[34]

The Green Party described the withdrawal the carbon tax as 'giving up on climate change' and 'capitulating' to the Anti-Kyoto lobby.[35]

The Environmental Defence Society described the withdrawal of the carbon tax as "pathetic" and a result of the NZ Government Climate Change Office being 'captured' by vested interests such as energy intensive businesses and the Greenhouse Policy Coalition.[36]

Emissions trading scheme

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) is a national all-sectors all-greenhouse gases uncapped emissions trading scheme first legislated in September 2008 by the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand[37][38] and amended in November 2009 by the Fifth National Government of New Zealand.[39]

Although the NZ ETS is 'all-sectors', individual sectors of the economy have different 'entry dates' when their obligations to report emissions and surrender emission units have effect. Forestry entered on 1 January 2008.[40] Stationary energy, industrial processes and liquid fossil fuel emissions enter the NZ ETS on 1 July 2010. Agriculture does not enter the scheme until 1 January 2015.[41]

Tradable emission units will be issued by free allocation to emitters, with no auctions in the short term.[42] The fishing sector, which does not have a direct obligation under the NZ ETS, will receive free units on a historic basis, 90 per cent of their 2005 emissions (bullet points 9 & 10 MfE Sept 2009[41]). Pre-1990 forests will receive a fixed free allocation of 60 emissions units per hectare.[40] Allocation to emissions-intensive industry,[43] and agriculture[44] will be provided on an output-intensity basis. Output-based allocation will be based on the industry average emissions per unit of output and will be uncapped.[45] Bertram and Terry (2010, p 16 ) state that as there is no 'cap' on emissions, the NZ ETS is not a cap and trade scheme as understood in the economics literature.[26]

A transition period will operate from 1 July 2010 until 31 December 2012. During this period the price of New Zealand Emissions Units (NZUs) will be capped at NZ$25. Also, one unit will only need to be surrendered for every two tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, effectively reducing the cost of emissions to NZ$12.50 per tonne (MfE 2009, second bullet point).[41]

Section 3 of the Climate Change Response Act 2002 (the Act) defines the purpose of the Act as to reduce emissions from business-as-usual-levels and to fulfill New Zealand's international obligations under the United Nations Frame Work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol.[46] Some stakeholders have criticized the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme for its generous free allocations of emission units and the lack of a carbon price signal (the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment),[47] and being ineffective in reducing emissions (Greenpeace NZ).[48]

Political parties stance on climate change

Prior to the 2008 election, the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand had committed itself to addressing climate change and had declared a goal for New Zealand of carbon neutrality. To achieve this, two objectives were set: generating 90 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025; and, halving per capita transport emissions by 2040.[49] The Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill was introduced into Parliament by the Fifth Labour Government on December 4, 2007.[50] On 10 September 2008, the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2008 had its third reading in Parliament and was adopted 63 votes to 57 with support from the Green Party and New Zealand First.[37]

For the 2008 election, the policy of the National Party was to honour New Zealand's Kyoto Protocol obligations and to set a goal of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. The Labour ETS would be amended by 1 January 2010 to better balance environmental and economic concerns, and to make it fiscally neutral, flexible, aligned with the Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and not disadvantageous to consumers and small business.[51]

The Green Party support lowering carbon emissions, exposing the economy to the externalities of carbon emissions and using income from a carbon tax to achieve a low carbon economy and to protect those on low incomes from the economic consequences of climate change.[52]

The ACT Party went into the 2008 election with a policy that in part stated "New Zealand is not warming" and that their policy goal was to ensure "That no New Zealand government will ever impose needless and unjustified taxation or regulation on its citizens in a misguided attempt to reduce global warming or become a world leader in carbon neutrality"[53] In September 2008, ACT Party Leader Rodney Hide stated "that the entire climate change - global warming hypothesis is a hoax, that the data and the hypothesis do not hold together, that Al Gore is a phoney and a fraud on this issue, and that the emissions trading scheme is a worldwide scam and swindle".[54]

Civil society and non-governmental organisations

A number of civil society groupings and NGOs have formed to lobby in favour of and against a variety of climate change policies. Individuals also express policy preferences through forums such as the Internet, Letters to the Editor and talkback radio.

Forest and Bird, New Zealand's largest conservation organisation, campaigns on climate change by increasing public awareness. Climate has an effect on ecosystems and therefore on species. New Zealand has a number of endangered species that may be affected by climate change.[55]

The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition has the goal of refuting what it believes are unfounded claims about anthropogenic global warming.[56] It was formed in May 2006 by Vincent Gray and Augie Auer among others.[57] In August 2010, the Coalition announced it had commenced legal action against the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), asking the High Court to invalidate its official temperature record, to prevent it using the temperature record when advising Government and to require NIWA to produce a "full and accurate" temperature record.[58]

The Greenhouse Policy Coalition, describes itself as representing the energy-intensive sector[59] (aluminium, steel, forestry, coal, dairy processing and gas sectors). It was set up in 1996 to allow the New Zealand business sector to grow and to be profitable and sustainable. The Coalition accepts anthropogenic climate change and sees a need for public policy to mitigate its effects, as long as that policy is 'moderate and measured'.[60]

OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health is a group of senior doctors and other health professionals concerned about the effect of climate change on population health [61]. It was formed to lead the New Zealand medical advocacy response, in light of recognition of the importance of this topic by the World Medical Association and leading medical journals [62].

Grassroots activism also plays a part. Climate Camp Aotearoa, part of the Camps for Climate Action held an event in Wellington in December 2009.[63] On 21 December 2009, members of the Camp for Climate Action disrupted the New Zealand stock exchange as a protest against the failure of the Copenhagen climate change talks and 'to confront the profiteers of climate change'.[64] 350.org have also organised various events around New Zealand.[65]

A coalition called Climaction were active in Auckland between 2006 and 2008. They advocated system change, not climate change. They held mass direct action blockades of major streets in Auckland City to demand free public transport and a 90% reduction in greenhouse gases by the year 2030.[66][67]

Media reporting and public opinion

A six month study in 1988 on climate change reporting in the media found that 80% of stories were no worse than slightly inaccurate. However, one story in six contained significant misreporting.[68] Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth in conjunction with the Stern Review generated an increase in media interest in 2006.

The popular media in New Zealand often give equal weight to the those supporting anthropogenic climate change and those who deny it. This stance is out of step with the findings of the scientific community where the vast majority support the climate change scenarios. A survey carried out in 2007 on climate change gave the following responses:[69]

Not really a problem 8%
A problem for the future 13%
A problem now 42%
An urgent and immediate problem 35%
Don't know 2%

See also

References

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Further reading

  • Gray, Vincent (2002). The Greenhouse Delusion: A Critique of "Climate Change 2001". Multi-Science Publishing Co. Ltd. ISBN 978-0906522141. 
  • Dorfman, Eric, ed (2008). Melting point: New Zealand and the climate change crisis. Penguin. ISBN 9780143008682. 
  • Morgan, Gareth; John McCrystal (2009). Poles Apart: Beyond the shouting, who’s right about climate change?. Random House. 
  • Wishart, Ian (2009). Air Con: The Seriously Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming. Howling At The Moon Publishing. ISBN 0958240140. 

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