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Our atmosphere and climate 2017 – Expert Reaction

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The Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ have released an updated report on the state of New Zealand’s atmosphere and climate.

The report documents trends in global and local conditions, including a 1°C temperature increase in New Zealand since 1909. Sea levels have risen between 14 and 22 centimetres at four main New Zealand ports since 1916, while in more promising news, the global production of ozone-depleting substances dropped 98 per cent between 1986 and 2015.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the report, please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Dr Jim Salinger, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Otago, comments:

“Perhaps the most noteworthy climate trends, which are symptomatic of a warming climate are:

• huge loss in glacier ice volume;
• trend to a more drought-prone climate.

“For the first, most of the approx 25% loss in ice volume has occurred in the last two decades. It should be noted that New Zealand now has only about 15% left of the estimated ice volume of the 1890s.

“The report confirms trends from earlier research of mine which shows that from the mid-1940s it has been getting droughtier.

“This confirms global warming is alive and well, and that the next parliament must accelerate action on climate change.”

Associate Professor Simon Hales, environmental epidemiologist, University of Otago, comments:

“The main message from this report is that New Zealand is not living up to its international obligations on climate change. We need to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, not increase them.

“Well designed policies to reduce emissions can have important short-term health benefits, by reducing health risks (e.g. air pollution and cold, damp housing) and by promoting healthy lifestyles (active transportation modes and healthier diets).

“Mitigating climate change will have long-term health benefits in New Zealand and globally, by reducing extreme climate events, sea level rise, food and water insecurity and the spread of communicable diseases. This is especially important for vulnerable Pacific island nations that expect and require New Zealand to support their own efforts to address climate change.

“We require a much better, more quantitative understanding of the likely adverse impacts of climate change on human health than the brief, vague statements in the MfE report.”

Dr Richard McKenzie, Emeritus Researcher – Atmospheric Radiation, Niwa, comments:

“The news about ozone recovery is very heartening. It shows that it is possible, with global agreement, to halt and even reverse large-scale environmental problems caused by man. The Montreal Protocol on protection of the ozone layer continues to be hugely successful, and could be thought of as a blueprint for action on climate change. In fact, changes due to the Montreal Protocol have already had a significant effect on climate, as the now-banned CFCs that led to ozone depletion, are also potent greenhouse gases.

“Although ozone appears to be on a path towards recovery, we need to remain vigilant. The situation is delicate at present, and we remain at risk from possible effects from future volcanic eruptions, or non-compliance to the terms of the Montreal Protocol.  And some of the atmospheric processes are not yet fully understood.

“As far as UV radiation is concerned, we need to be especially vigilant. New Zealand is the melanoma capital of the world, and any change in UV expected from future recovery in ozone will not change that. Changes to personal behaviour are needed.

“These UV questions will be addressed at an upcoming UV Workshop to be held in Wellington next April.”

Note: Dr McKenzie was on the Technical Advisory Group for the MfE/Stats NZ report.

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