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Likely climate change impacts in New Zealand

Our changing climate will affect our economy, environment and way of life. This page has the climate changes we can expect in New Zealand and the likely impacts.  It links to information that local government can use to prepare for climate change and actions you can take. 

What changes can we expect to our climate?

In New Zealand, changes in climate – such as temperature and rainfall – are already occurring. These changes will occur to different extents across New Zealand throughout this century and beyond.

Annual average temperature changes by 2090

Under a low emissions scenario (left) and a high emissions scenario (right) compared to the 1995 baseline

Annual average rainfall changes by 2090

Under a low emissions scenario (left) and a high emissions scenario (right) compared to the 1995 baseline

Based on the latest climate projections for New Zealand, by the end of this century we are likely to experience:

  • higher temperatures
    • greater increases in the North Island than the South, with the greatest warming in the northeast 
    • the amount of warming in New Zealand is likely to be lower than the global average
  • rising sea levels
  • more frequent extreme weather events 
    • droughts (especially in the east of New Zealand)
    • floods
  • a change in rainfall patterns
    • increased summer rainfall in the north and east of the North Island 
    • increased winter rainfall in many parts of the South Island.

Likely impacts of climate change

Higher temperatures

  • There is likely to be an increase in demand for air-conditioning systems and therefore electricity in summer.
  • People are likely to enjoy the benefits of warmer winters with fewer frosts. However hotter summers will bring increased risks of heat stress and subtropical diseases.
  • There may be a reduction in demand for winter heating. This could lead to lower costs and reduced stress on those who cannot afford electricity. 

Flooding

  • More frequent intense winter rainfalls. These are expected to increase the likelihood of rivers flooding, and flash flooding when urban drainage systems become overwhelmed.

Water resources

  • Water demand will increase during hot, dry summers.
  • Longer summers with higher temperatures and lower rainfall will reduce soil moisture and groundwater supplies.
  • Drought intensity will likely increase over time. Drier conditions in some areas are likely to be coupled with more frequent droughts.
  • River flows are likely to be lower in summer and higher in winter.
  • Lower river flows in summer will raise water temperatures and aggravate water quality problems (eg, through increased algae growth).

Sea-level rise

  • Rising sea levels will increase the risk of erosion, coastal flooding and saltwater intrusion, increasing the need for coastal protection.

Health

  • Higher levels of human mortality related to summer heat are expected.
  • Higher winter temperatures may lead to a reduction in winter related human mortality and illnesses such as colds and flu.

Biodiversity

  • Warmer temperatures will alter habitats that are critical to some species, increasing the risk of localised extinction.
  • Warmer temperatures will favour conditions for many exotic species. They will also favour conditions for the spread of disease and pests affecting both fauna and flora.
  • Increased summer drought will put stress onto dry lowland forests.
  • Earlier springs and longer frost-free seasons could affect the timing of bird egg-laying, first flowering and health of leafing or flowering plants.

Built environment

  • Increased temperatures may reduce comfort of people in domestic, commercial and public buildings and could lead to disruptions to business.

Transport

  • Hotter summers may damage elements of transport infrastructure, causing buckled railway lines and damaged roads, with disruption and repair costs.

Agriculture

  • Agricultural productivity is expected to increase in some areas. However there are risks of drought and spreading of pests and diseases.
  • There are likely to be costs associated with changing land-use activities to suit a new climate.

Business and finance

  • Households may find it more difficult to access adequate insurance cover in the face of increased flood risk.
  • Fruit and vegetable growers may find it more expensive to insure against weather related damage (eg, from hail).
  • The risk management of potential climate change impacts may provide opportunities for businesses.

Find out more

To find out about the likely future changes to the climate of your region see:

Map of regional climate impacts

How could climate change affect my region? 

We provide local government with scientific, technical and policy guidance and case studies on how to plan for the potential impacts of climate change see Guidance for local government on preparing for climate change.

Reviewed:
22/03/19