New report shows significant changes to New Zealand’s climate

Climate change is already happening in New Zealand and could have a profound impact on future generations of New Zealanders, a new report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ says.

Our atmosphere and climate 2020, released today, includes analysis of temperature data from 30 sites around New Zealand that shows our climate is warming. Every site recorded increasing average temperatures in winter.

More extreme weather events are also starting to be seen – extreme rainfall, heatwave days, and dry spell days increased and frost days decreased at some places. Changes to seasons are becoming apparent.

Glacier ice volumes have also decreased and a rise in sea levels have been recorded.

Significant changes to New Zealand’s climate are documented in the report, mirroring the changes being observed around the world.

“This report points to profound changes to New Zealand’s climate, and greater impacts on our wellbeing in the future, unless there is both local and global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” say Ministry for the Environment Chief Executive Vicky Robertson and Government Statistician Mark Sowden. 

Robertson says the report shows the serious challenges climate change poses. It should be used to inform discussions and choices by whānau, schools, businesses, and communities about the legacy we leave for all those who come after us.

“COVID reminded us that large-scale disruption to our lives can be abrupt, unwanted and unforeseen, and that some people, places and sectors are likely to be disproportionately affected. 

“Climate change is here to stay, but the window to create the best possible future for our young people and their children’s children is closing,” Robertson says. 

The report is the latest in the joint MfE/Stats NZ Environmental Reporting series. The reports are produced under the requirements of the Environmental Reporting Act to provide fair, accurate and independent information on the state of New Zealand’s environment.

The report draws together national and local examples of climate change and its effects including:

  • New Zealand’s climate is warming. Annual average temperature increased at 28 of 30 sites across the country and at all 30 during winter. Eighteen of the 30 sites had a very likely increasing trend in the number of heatwave days, while 12 of 30 had a very likely decreasing number of frost days. Thirteen of the 30 sites had an increase in the frequency of drought (both short-term and long-term). (pages 29,34,35, and 40)
  • The number of warm days, where the maximum temperature is above 25 degrees Celsius very likely increased at 19 of 30 sites, and very likely decreased at one between 1972 and 2019. Among the sites with the largest average increases were Masterton (which gained an extra week of warm days per decade on average from 1972 to 2019), Reefton (+5.0 days per decade), and Tauranga (+4.8 days per decade). A decrease was observed at Taumarunui, which recorded an average of 4.1 fewer warm days per decade. (page 34)
  • Between 1972 and 2019, 18 of 30 sites across the country had a very likely increasing number of annual heatwave days.  For this same period, 12 of 30 sites had very likely decreasing number of frost days. Among the fastest decreases in frost days were Nelson and Tara Hills, which each lost an average of five frost days per decade. Some sites that already rarely experienced frost days no longer experience them at all. Whangārei, which never recorded more than two frost days in a year, has not recorded a temperature below zero since 1994. Two sites very likely had an increased number of frost days per year: Lake Tekapo and Timaru. (pages 34 and 35)
  • In Horowhenua, Ngāti Raukawa ki te tonga have noticed a decline in tuna (eels), one of their most prized taonga.  Research points to climate change impacts on ocean currents and the tuna’s food chain, as well as changes to its habitat, as affecting the species’ sensitive life cycle. (page 54)
  • New Zealand’s mean relative sea-level has risen by 1.81 (±0.05) millimetres per year on average since records began more than 100 years ago. (page 43)
  • New Zealand’s net emissions have increased by 57 percent from 1990 to 2018. (page 14)
  • By 2040, days with very high or extreme fire danger are projected to increase by an average of 70 percent, due to hotter, drier, and windier conditions. The largest increases are projected for areas that are not accustomed to fire. Wellington would experience a doubling to 30 days a year and coastal Otago a tripling to 20 days a year. (page 64)
  •  If global emissions continue to increase, by 2090 warm days – where the maximum temperature is 25 degrees Celsius or higher – are projected to occur four times as often in Auckland. If emissions are reduced to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, these days would still increase by 55 percent. (page 65)
  • If the temperature continues to warm, it is likely that the cooler areas where some species can live will be reduced. Large birds like kiwi, whio (blue duck) and North Island kōkako are particularly at risk because of their limited ability to move into new areas. Smaller cavity-nesting birds like kākā, kea, and kākāriki may be threatened too. (page 52)

You can visit the New Zealand’s environmental reporting series HERE

Source:  Statistics NZ

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

Leave a Reply