We need to act now to reverse the devastating consequences of climate change. So what are the solutions?
Climate change can no longer be denied. In fact, a report released in August by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) makes it clear that global warming has been caused by human activity, and that the situation is even more dire than previously predicted.
The report found that it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”, and that this has contributed to many changes in weather and climate extremes – just look at the floods, fires, droughts and heatwaves seen around the world this year alone. It also states that climate change is affecting every inhabited region around the world and that the climate has warmed “at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years”.
In 2019, the New Zealand Government passed the Zero Carbon Act, with a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, in order to contribute to the international effort to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the Paris Agreement. And last year, after pressure from environmental advocates, New Zealand joined over 1800 jurisdictions in 32 countries in declaring a climate emergency.
However, the IPCC report finds that global warming of 1.5°C, and even 2°C, will be exceeded this century unless significant reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur.
Scientists say it’s not too late to stop the temperatures from rising, as long as we can halve global emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. We know what the solutions are: protecting our forests and oceans, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and increasing our use of renewable energy.
Clearly big commitments are needed from governments and corporations around the world. And while it’s important to reduce our individual carbon footprints, advocating for those in power to commit to radical emissions reductions, and working together with the rest of your community, will make the biggest impact.
It’s also worth remembering that not everyone can do everything, and some of these changes can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive – and out of reach for many people. But doing your bit will encourage others to do what they can, which is how individual actions can add up to bigger changes.
10 ways to combat climate change
1 Use your voice! Contact MPs, councillors, and businesses to campaign for change. Protest, sign petitions, use social media for good, and vote with climate and social justice in mind.
2 Eat sustainably Eat less meat and dairy, adopt a vegan diet, or eat sustainably farmed, fished and hunted food. You can also advocate for the Government to invest in regenerative farming (sign the petition at greenpeace.org/aotearoa). This style of farming can involve integrating livestock with a diverse range of crops to encourage soil health and keep carbon in the ground.
3 Fly less Air travel is a big contributor to carbon emissions, and while lockdowns have helped to reduce the amount we fly, we need to be more sustainable with travel and look to other forms of transport when the world opens up again. If you do fly, aim for direct flights, as a significant proportion of emissions are released during take-off and landing.
4 Drive less Cycle, walk or take public transport rather than driving when you can, and if you can afford it, opt for an electric or hybrid car. The Clean Car Discount, introduced by the Government in July, aims to make these cars more affordable. You can also lobby you council to improve public transport systems.
5 Elevate and listen to Māori and Pacific Island perspectives Not only have indigenous people been living in harmony with the earth for thousands of years, but the Pacific Islands will be some of the worst affected nations if sea levels rise. Take the lead from organisations like Pacific Climate Warriors, which is active in 15 Pacific Island nations and has an Aotearoa chapter.
6 Consider having fewer children While this is one of the more controversial recommendations from climate scientists, it’s also the one that makes the biggest impact on your carbon footprint. Some argue however that reproduction is essential for a healthy planet – as well as being a human right – and that by the time a child is older, policy changes will mean their carbon footprint will be lower.
7 Green invest Invest your KiwiSaver or other investments in funds that prioritise clean technology and green businesses rather than fossil fuels.
8 Become a conscious consumer Consume less and try to buy from companies taking sustainability seriously. In particular, keep your devices going strong for as long as possible – the production of computers and phones, including manufacturing and mining for materials, is carbon-intensive.
9 Donate Donate to charities helping to fight climate change, or volunteer your time. If you plan on offsetting your carbon emissions, be sure to choose an organisation which is certified and delivers the reductions it promises – and remember, carbon offsets are a last resort. As Umair Irfan wrote for Vox, “Carbon offsets will not let us buy our way into heaven, but they could slow our descent into hell.”
10 Get planting Plant trees and pollinator-friendly plants or join a community garden or conservation group. You can also mow your lawn less and turn your verge into a wildflower patch.