Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest assessment report.
This report is the second in a three-part series. Where the first outlines the physical basis of climate change, this report assesses the impacts on humans, biodiversity, and ecosystems. The final report will address mitigation opportunities.
The report bore a grim warning for coastal nations like Aotearoa New Zealand: we will be on the frontline of climate change.
“As reported by NIWA, seven of the last nine years were Aotearoa’s warmest, with 2021 being the hottest on record,” says Our Seas Our Future (OSOF) policy coordinator, Gemma Coutts. “With these rising temperatures, we will continue to see more cases of extreme weather events – floods, droughts, fires and storms.”
“Small island nations are at risk of coastal hazards, like tropical cyclones, sea level rises and storm surges,” says Coutts. “Many of these island communities are already seeing the effects of climate change. In 2017, almost all of Dominica’s infrastructure was destroyed by tropical cyclone Maria and right now, parts of New South Wales and Queensland in Australia have seen a year’s worth of rain over one week.”
Globally, at least one billion people living in coastal cities are at risk from climate induced coastal hazards. For Aotearoa, which possesses the ninth longest coastline in the world, the projected sea level rise will displace a population the size of Nelson by the end of the century.
The report makes clear that vulnerable communities will be disproportionately impacted. An estimated 3.3 – 3.6 billion people are considered highly vulnerable, which is in part driven by inequality and social and economic marginalisation. This is of particular importance for Aotearoa where the potential impacts of climate change will severely impact Māori culture and wellbeing by 2100.
Significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems are also projected. There will be greater reef erosion, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and introduction of invasive species. This will have flow-on impacts for the communities that rely on the services provided by these ecosystems, such as fisheries and storm protection.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is now a matter of urgency,” says Coutts. “OSOF calls on the government to take immediate action. We must establish Aotearoa’s Emissions Reduction Plan and National Adaptation Plan now so that meaningful steps can be taken to manage emissions and respond to the very real risks posed by climate change.”
“Collaborative action will be critical in achieving this. The government must engage and listen to all communities across Aotearoa, and work collaboratively with Māori and local communities to formulate an inclusive and proactive climate adaptation plan.”
“As the IPCC has clearly directed, this is the decade where we make it or break it,” says Coutts.