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Effects of climate change will be far reaching

Monday, 19 February 2001

Effects of climate change will be far reaching

A new report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global warming will have far reaching impacts on natural and human systems, says Energy Minister Pete Hodgson, the Convenor of the Ministerial Group on Climate Change.

The report, released in Geneva today, focuses on the effects of climate change on water resources, agriculture, human settlements and natural ecosystems.

"This report shows that global warming will affect every country and region on earth," Mr Hodgson said. "In an important new finding, it clearly states that climate changes during the 20th century have already influenced physical and biological systems. This shows, for example, in shifts of plant and animal ranges, earlier flowering of trees and emergence of insects."

Apart from rising temperatures, the report says the greatest effect of climate change on New Zealand is likely to be on water resources. This arises from the possibility of increasing rainfall in the west and decreases in the east, more frequent heavy rainfall events, and a tendency for conditions to become more El Niño-like.

The report explains that in some areas the impacts may not be all bad initially, as agricultural productivity in temperate regions may be improved by a warmer climate. But changes in rainfall patterns and extreme climate events such as droughts, heat waves and floods are also predicted to increase over the 21st century, reducing the potentially beneficial effects of climate change in New Zealand. Mr Hodgson said floods and droughts over the past decade had shown how vulnerable New Zealand was to such disasters.

Mr Hodgson said work was under way to provide an in-depth assessment of climate change impacts in New Zealand. The long-term view was to build an adaptation strategy that would minimise the risks and maximise opportunities arising from expected future changes in global and regional climate.

"The countries that will be hit hardest by climate change are the poorest nations with the least capacity to adapt, while developed nations in temperate regions may even be able to improve their productivity, at least in the short to medium term. This will have major consequences on the world's economy which we as an exporting nation depend on."

A further finding of the report is that the Antarctic and Southern Ocean play important roles in controlling global climate. If substantial climatic changes in these systems were triggered they could continue for centuries, long after greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilised. Such long-term changes would cause irreversible impacts on sea level rise, ocean circulation and fisheries.

"It is important to remember that we cannot "turn off" global warming once the negative impacts on New Zealand begin to outweigh the positive effects, and at some point this will happen," Mr Hodgson said.

"More importantly, we need to remember that New Zealand represents only a small part of the world's economy and that our well-being depends on what happens overseas. The latest IPCC report shows that globally more people will be harmed by climate change than benefit from it, and we won't be able to isolate ourselves from the effects this could have on the world's economy and stability."

The IPCC report is due to be released internationally at 10am GMT (11pm NZ time) and the Summary for Policymakers will be available at http://www.ipcc.ch/

ENDS

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