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Reducing carbon dioxide emissions in Tairawhiti

Make it normal to talk about climate change and what can be done about it, said Victoria University professor of physical geography, James Renwick, at the Tairawhiti Climate Summit last month.

A specialist in large-scale climate variations, Mr Renwick was one of a range of speakers who addressed the impact of climate change on this region, and steps towards adaptation and mitigation.

Addressing the need to lower carbon dioxide emissions, Mr Renwick showed a graph that illustrated a steep J-curve as carbon dioxide emissions increased dramatically in the past 200 years. A brief downward blip occurred during the 2008 financial crisis.

Half of the total carbon dioxide emissions have happened within the past 30 years, he said.

“The atmosphere we have now we have not seen for three million years or so. In the past five years, temperatures have gone up more than one degree than in pre-industrial times.”

The Paris Agreement, an accord that deals with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation and adaptation, aims to stop global warming before it reaches two degrees, he said.

De-carbonising the economy

“Change in temperature is a small part of the story. What is significant is the amount of carbon that goes into the ocean — 90 percent of warming is going into the oceans.

“Given the rate of emission, the world can expect a 1.5 degree increase in warming over the next decade with a rise to two degrees over the next 20 years. In 50 years time, we will have reached an increase of three degrees.”

If we reduce emissions globally by half, we can reach a 100 percent drop by 2050, he said. “We can knock it on the head quite quickly. It is possible.”

The economy will need to be de-carbonised, he said.

Renewable electricity production needs to be at 100 percent and there will need to be a change in land use — “fewer cows”.

We need to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency, he said.

“We need to move away from the growth paradigm. We have to find ways to operate where we are not strip mining and de-afforesting.”

Sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming accounts for more than half of emissions from the agriculture industry, he said.

“We can reduce emissions there hopefully quite quickly.”

People power

On the East Coast, forest fire danger is expected to double or even triple this century, he said.

“We need to be careful where trees are planted. Everyone has a role to play — drive less, make clothes last longer, ride a bike. Talk about the problem; make it normal to talk about it.”

One of the biggest roles people can play is to help the government in a politically active way.”

Established in December, the Climate Change Commission was set up to advise the government about emission reduction.

“A major programme of engagement is starting and we want to hear from as many sectors as possible. If New Zealand could achieve 100 percent reduction by 2050, that would be awesome.”

Globally, New Zealand produces 0.2 percent of emissions but, per capita, the country is in the top 10.

New Zealand is well-placed to achieve zero carbon though, said Mr Renwick.

“We are a small economy that can move quickly. This is an opportunity to lead other countries. New Zealand gets noticed internationally. Let's use that power.”

A voice from the floor said communities in isolated areas have contributed little to climate change, but it comes as an “unintended cost to those of us in the hinterland”.

“Our representation on the Climate Change Commission is not equal at all.”

People who have the least to contribute to climate change are the most affected, said Mr Renwick.

“We have Maori representation on the commission and that is an integral part of the conversation. A major component of the process is to engage with Maori around the country.”