Kennedy Graham

Closing the gap: Australia vs. NZ on climate change

by Kennedy Graham

The Australian Climate Commission have released a report The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather. Throughout the authors are unequivocal and forthright about the reality of the effects of climate change on Australia. Australia is already experiencing, and is going to experience, extreme weather events more often – because of human-induced (‘anthropogenic’) climate change.

There is no debating the fact that extreme weather events have always occurred, and will always occur. Neither is there any debating the fact that extreme weather events are already occurring more frequently, and will occur far more frequently in the future, unless we start to turn the global economic ship around, fast.

As the Commission writes, ‘there is a high risk that extreme weather events like heat-waves, heavy rainfall, bushfires and cyclones will become even more intense in Australia over the coming decades.’ Though Australia and New Zealand differ in climate, there can be no separating of realities with regard to extreme weather.

As a traditionally warmer climate, Australia has already suffered years of prolonged drought. Climate change is causing the high pressure belt that has traditionally run over Australia to move south towards the pole. This means that the Northern part of New Zealand’s North Island is going to become more like Australia’s hot, dry, drought-prone environment. King tides are going to become far more frequent. Even half a metre to a metre of sea-level rise means that a one-in-ten year high-tide could become weekly.

This is sobering stuff. Yet we must remember that if we accept the consensus of scientists (97% globally), that climate change is human-induced, then it must be able to be halted by humans too. The good news is that as a human-induced change, we have the power to be able to halt it, or at least avert the worst of it.

Australia’s Commission calls for ‘strong preventative action now’, and further, that ‘much more substantial action will be required if we are to stabilise the climate by the second half of the century. Globally emissions must be cut rapidly and deeply to nearly zero by 2050, with Australia playing its part.’

Last year Australia recommitted to the world’s only climate treaty that has binding obligations to cut emissions – that is, the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. For its inglorious part, New Zealand has refused to join Kyoto-2, much to the distaste of the international community, and earning us several embarrassing ‘fossil awards’.  We now tie with Canada for the worst climate policy in the world – no easy task.

Yet National Government Ministers still refuse to acknowledge that there is a link between human-induced climate change and the drought that is currently devastating New Zealand.  Bravo! That takes ostrich-like courage and prescience.

It is time for New Zealand to ‘close the gap’ with Australia. It is a waste of time to debate the link between human-induced climate change, and more frequent extreme weather events (as per my take on Newstalk ZB yesterday). As the Australian Climate Commission says, we need to act now to reduce emissions.

All of us, including New Zealand.