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As a small nation, with a biologically based economy that relies on a relatively benign climate, we are vulnerable to the environmental and economic impacts of climate change.
As well as reducing greenhouse gases, we also need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. The world is already experiencing changes in mean temperature, shifts in the seasons, and an increasing frequency of extreme weather events. These are set to continue. Adaptation is essential to minimise the risks of climate change and maximise the opportunities.
In its chapter on the New Zealand and Australia region, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability confirmed that the effects of climate change are already being felt in New Zealand. Since 1950 there has been a 0.3-0.7˚C warming across the region as a whole, with more heat waves, fewer frosts, more rain in southwest New Zealand, less rain in north-eastern New Zealand, a rise in sea level of about 70 mm, reduced seasonal snow cover, and ongoing glacial shrinkage.
The IPCC report suggests that the most vulnerable sectors for New Zealand are natural ecosystems, water security, and coastal communities.
The following climate change effects are predicted for New Zealand during the 21st century:
higher temperatures - more in the North Island than the South, but probably still less than the global average
rising sea levels – global sea levels are expected to rise between 18 and 59 cm by 2100, compared with an average rise of 10 to 20 cm in the 20th century
more frequent and intense extreme weather events such as droughts (especially in the eastern parts of New Zealand), landslides, storm surges and floods
a change in rainfall patterns - higher rainfall in the west and less in the east
less frequent frosts, and rising snowlines.
These changes may have both positive and negative impacts. For example:
people are likely to enjoy the benefits of warmer winters with fewer frosts, but hotter summers will bring increased risks of heat stress and subtropical diseases
rising sea levels will increase the risk of erosion and saltwater intrusion, increasing the need for coastal protection
major infrastructure and people’s homes will be at risk from more frequent and intense extreme weather events
agricultural productivity is expected to increase in some areas, but there is the risk of drought and spreading pests and diseases
retreating snowlines and glaciers are expected to change water flows in major South Island rivers, and may also affect the skiing industry
New Zealand’s native flora and fauna may come under threat due to habitat loss, both on land and in our waterways and oceans.