He aha te huringa ─ühuarangi?
What is climate change?

Find out what is causing climate change, why everyone's emissions count and the Paris Agreement.

The 'greenhouse effect'

Our atmosphere traps the warmth from the sun and distributes it around the world. This is called the ‘greenhouse effect’. It’s a natural process that helps keep the earth’s temperature stable.

When we burn fossil fuels like coal and gas, we release carbon dioxide into the air, which builds up over time, and like a blanket traps heat under it.

When the blanket becomes thicker, it traps too much heat and creates higher temperatures that add instability to the climate. This leads to a range of physical, environmental, social, and financial impacts that we are already seeing in Aotearoa and globally. For example, floods, bushfires, melting icecaps, and the increased spread of infectious diseases.

Greenhouse gases include:

  • carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels
  • methane and nitrous oxide mostly from animals and agriculture
  • water vapour, which increases as temperatures rise
  • fluorinated gases which are synthetic.
Did you know? Our emissions build up over time and can stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

We're speeding up change

In just a small amount of time, human activity has increased greenhouse gases beyond what our planet and ecosystems can adjust to, and this has disrupted the natural balance we have known for thousands of years.

All greenhouse gases work differently. Some stay in our atmosphere longer, or trap and absorb more heat. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas humans produce and has been used as a way for us to directly measure climate change based on how much is in the atmosphere.

A graph showing the fast increase in CO2 concentration since around 1900. The graph shows before then the CO2 concentrations were between 275 and 300CO2ppm, they are now over 400CO2ppm.

Many changes due to our emissions are irreversible for millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets, and global sea level.

Our emissions will have long-lasting impacts on:

  • seasons and weather patterns
  • water and food availability
  • the air we breathe
  • plant and animal life on our planet.

Where our emissions come from

When we talk about ‘emissions’, we are referring to the greenhouse gases that are created by human activities like burning fossil fuels, livestock and agriculture, and chemical processes.

Our actions contribute to emissions through:

  • what we eat
  • how we travel
  • what we make and buy
  • what we do with our waste
  • the energy we use.
Did you know? 'Global warming refers to the long-term warming of Earth and is just one part of climate change. 'Climate change' refers to a variety of changes that are happening to Earth, including warming, sea level rise, shrinking glaciers and shifts in weather patterns.
 

Why every degree matters

Since the late 1800s, human activity has heated the planet by about 1.2°C above the average temperature. If this rate continues, we could reach 2°C warming as quickly as 2040. By the end of the century, we could see a rise by at least 5°C.

These numbers may not seem like much. For context, the last ice age was when the global temperature was -5°C from today's level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also released a report describing the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming, making it clear that every tenth of a degree is important.

Every degree adds another layer of challenges for people and animals, as land becomes too hot to live and grow food on, areas near the sea and rivers become flooded, and our resources become fewer.

 

The Paris Agreement and 1.5°C

The Paris Agreement is a global agreement signed by 197 countries including New Zealand. The agreement aims to keep global warming below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C.

Thermometer graphic with predicted global temperature rises. Current policies indicate an average temperature increase of between +2.1-3.9 degrees Celsius.

Our past emissions guarantee there will be an increase to at least 1.5°C, which means the extremes we are already seeing in our weather are the new normal, and will happen more frequently even if we manage to stay below 2°C.

To have the best chance at limiting to only a 1.5°C rise, global emissions need to be cut in half by 2030, and then in half again every decade after that to get to net zero by 2050.

Current international policies are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement. Large-scale efforts, like a shift away from fossil fuel travel and energy, are needed at a global level to keep temperature increase from even more dangerous levels.

 

A global community

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini
My strength is not that of a single warrior but that of many

As a member of the global community, our actions and emissions in Aotearoa matter.

Our per capita emissions were the fifth highest in the OECD in 2019. Our emissions increased 26% between 1990-2019, mainly due to dairy cattle and road transport.

We must take action as part of that global community. A quarter of all global emissions come from small country's like New Zealand. By becoming a low-emissions economy, we can become global leaders–and leading the way is what we do best.

 

What the government is doing

The Government declared a climate emergency in December 2020.

New Zealand joined an international programme to reduce emissions and deliver the Paris Agreement targets.

Our government created an independent Climate Change Commission to make recommendations to central government on how and where we need to reduce our emissions.

Find out what else the New Zealand Government is doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change and what the Climate Change Commission advised for a low emissions future for Aotearoa.

 

What we are doing

Explore what Council is doing to take climate change for the future generations of Aotearoa.

What we're doing about climate change

It's going to take action from everybody to reach net zero, so find out what you can do to take climate action.