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Parker: The global challenge of a changing climate

Hon David Parker
Minister responsible for Climate Change issues

27 May 2008

Speech notes

The global challenge of a changing climate
Address at the launch of Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment
27 May 2008,
Port Nicholson Yacht Club, Wellington

I am pleased to be here this morning for the release of this guidance manual, ‘Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment’. This work enables our key decision makers to plan for the physical impacts of climate change.

This morning you will have heard a lot about how climate change will potentially affect New Zealand, and what we can do to plan for the inevitable changes in our climate that are occurring due to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.

I would like to thank NIWA for their very valuable input on this. Dr David Wratt, along with several other NIWA scientists, has played an important international role in the research that underpins our understanding of climate change and how it will affect us.

These New Zealand scientists, along with several hundred other scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, in recognition of their work.

Tackling climate change is an international challenge; one of the defining challenges for our generation.

This government sees it as such, and that is why we have such a strong focus on making New Zealand a more sustainable nation, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

You will know from the recent debate around the emissions trading scheme that taking action on climate change doesn’t necessarily win you a lot of friends among those whose interests are affected.

But we have stuck with it, because we believe it is the right thing to do, environmentally and economically, and we are confident history will prove us to be correct.

This morning you have learned of the some of the challenges a changing climate will bring for New Zealand – this document outlines the expected changes in temperature and rainfall, for example.

These are of particular interest to our farmers, engineers, and local authorities.

You have heard Sue Powell talk about how the manual provides practical tools to enable local government to better take into account and plan for climate change.

I note that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has also released today its latest EcoClimate report on the likely implications for primary production. This report provides valuable information for planning and adapting to the physical impacts of climate change for New Zealand.

With forethought and preparation, we can maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks associated with climate change. The opportunities include, for example, enhanced growing conditions, longer and warmer growing seasons, and less frost risk. Some of that can be planned for through choosing the right crops and species, some can be accommodated through developing infrastructure such as irrigation and winter storage. Decisions like this will be key to New Zealand adapting well to these climate change impacts.

Many of the effects of climate change will be negative. Good planning can minimise some of the financial costs by preventing communities building infrastructure in the wrong place or to the wrong standard, thereby avoiding future remedial costs or property losses.

Compared to many countries, we are lucky.

We are a country that’s well-equipped to plan for these changes and make the best of them.

Others are not so fortunate. We see with the recent tragedy in Myanmar, how storm surges can cause terrible destruction to low lying countries, and how a government that is slow to respond can exacerbate the misery of the people affected.

Sadly, this kind of event will become more common as climate change brings sea level rises and more extreme weather events.

We cannot stand by and watch poor, low-lying countries bear the brunt of climate change. If a country as wealthy as New Zealand, with our skilled people and renewable resources, cannot get it right, who can?

If we don’t, we can’t expect others will.

At one level it is that simple. If New Zealand does not properly control its emissions, then there is not much change the world will, collectively.

That is why the United Nations looks to countries like New Zealand. We in New Zealand can either be a source of despair or a beacon of hope. The Labour-led government is determined to do the right thing. We are leading New Zealand to reduce emissions. The vast majority of New Zealanders are behind us, even if our political opponents are not. And we are doing so in a way that is not going to cause excessive cost to the economy generally, or to consumers.

We must also assist less well off countries to adapt to climate change.

In our own backyard, some Pacific nations will be at risk of rising sea levels, threats to coral reefs from rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, new diseases, and fresh water scarcity.

New Zealand is taking climate change into consideration through our assistance programmes to Pacific nations. NZAID support for addressing climate change issues in the Pacific is focussed on responding to Pacific-identified priorities. NZAID supports the Pacific Framework for Action on Climate Change (2005-2015) which sets out the region’s priorities. This is used as a guide for donor engagement.

So the issue of climate change must be considered in a broad context, but returning to our national context, I welcome the information being published today. Its timing is good, given that next week, New Zealand has the privilege of hosting World Environment Day.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is ‘kick the carbon habit’ and will focus on opportunities for countries, companies and communities to make the transition to a low carbon economy and lifestyle.

In choosing New Zealand to host this event, the UN recognises the government’s commitment to make New Zealand a more sustainable nation.

We already have strategies in place to reduce emissions in our electricity sector, to find solutions to agricultural emissions and to make the whole of our energy sector, including transport, carbon neutral. We have an emissions trading scheme proceeding through Parliament that will put the right incentives in place to make it all happen faster and at the lowest possible cost.

World Environment Day, along with this manual, reminds us once again of what is at stake with climate change and how we can play our part in lessening that threat.

I hope you will put the information in this manual to good use, and once again I thank those who have been involved in compiling the material.


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