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Responding to climate change


A letter writer today asks what we should be doing about climate change, and what would likely happen if the council was to declare a climate emergency.

They should really have attended the Tairawhiti Climate Summit on Wednesday to hear from experts, and certainly should read our coverage from this important hui in yesterday and today's papers, but here goes from your editor:

At the district level, the most important actions to take are around how we prepare for (ie mitigate and adapt to) the predicted impacts of climate change on our infrastructure and production-based economy.

Major change is under way that will affect the kinds of crops we can and should be growing here, and our water conservation and water storage requirements. Sea level rise will have increasing impacts on our coastal infrastructure and environments. To support and protect our ecosystems, we will need to expand our kaitiakitanga/guardianship responsibilities.

These are the key issues the council will investigate and prioritise staged responses to, alongside regional partners such as iwi, Trust Tairawhiti, the business community and state and non-government agencies, if and when it declares a climate emergency. It will also step up its regional leadership role in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and seek to help guide increased afforestation of the right trees in the right places.

Individually, there are a number of ways to reduce our own net emissions, such as switching to an electric vehicle when able and, until then, driving less; planting trees; eating less red meat and more plant-based food; using power efficiently; and avoiding plastic.

Yes, plastic minimisation efforts are good for the climate as well as our oceans and ecosystems. A report by the Center for International Environment Law last year concluded that the impact of current annual global production of about 100m tonnes of plastic — derived from materials like ethylene and propylene, made from fossil fuels — equates to the impact of 189 coal-fired power stations. Further large quantities of greenhouse gases are emitted as plastic breaks down over long periods in landfills or the environment.

How we respond to climate change is most critical at the global level, and New Zealand has a role to play in helping to lead this effort. We can all assist in this through insisting on strong action (or simply accepting, rather than fighting it), and applying pressure on our politicians.