Climate change

The transition to a lower carbon economy has begun.

Governments and organisations around the world are addressing climate change with investments in lower carbon and renewable energy solutions, emission trading schemes, and unprecedented commitments to energy efficiency. In a world with growing energy demand, there is an increased focus on continuing to supply cheap and reliable energy while also working to reduce the impact on the climate.

What is climate change?

What is climate change?

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Earth’s atmosphere is made up of oxygen, a large amount of nitrogen and a small percentage of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around the Earth. They trap warmth from the sun and make life on Earth possible. Without them, too much heat would escape and the surface of the planet would freeze. However, increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causes the Earth to heat more and the climate to change.

This process is called global warming, but it is better to think of it as climate change, because it is likely to change other aspects of the climate as well as the temperature, and result in more extreme climatic events.

Multiple lines of evidence show that the climate is changing, including increasing average temperatures of the world’s atmosphere and oceans over the last 150 years.

A global emissions budget

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It is generally agreed by scientists that to minimise the risks of the worst impacts of climate change, we need to limit global temperature increases to two degrees.

carbon use overlay

In their 2013 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an expert panel of scientists from around the world, estimated approximately 1 trillion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere is the amount that would effect a 2 degree rise in temperature.

From 1870 to 2013, they estimate 565 Gtc (gigatones of carbon) have been released, just over half of that 1 trillion GtC budget.

Current annual global emissions are approaching 10 GtC. While emissions growth rates are slowing in many parts of the world, the remaining 435 GtC budget will be spent around 2060.

Given annual emissions are estimated to continue to rise, a temperature rise of 2 degrees is likely prior to 2060.

When accounting for additional CO2 greenhouse gas emissions (like methane), the temperature rise is further accelerated.

Global action on emissions

Global action on emissions

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What’s been done about it – the Paris story

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP 21 was held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 12 December 2015.

The conference negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change, the text of which represented a consensus of the representatives of the 196 parties attending it.

It was agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

The agreement will enter force when joined by at least 55 countries, which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. On 22 April 2016 (Earth Day), 174 countries signed the agreement in New York, and began adopting it within their own legal systems (through ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.)

Under the agreement, each nation is required to set an emissions target. In advance of the meeting, over 150 countries – representing 90% of global economic activity and nearly 90% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions – have submitted pledges to reduce emissions.

Around half of these submissions include explicitly energy-focused targets, either alongside a greenhouse gas emissions target or as a stand-alone goal. The most common energy-related measures are those that target increased renewables deployment or improved energy efficiency.

China

Peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 or earlier and reduce carbon intensity of GDP by 60-65% below their 2005 levels by 2030

United States

Reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

European Union

Reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030

India

Reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Russia

Reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions by 25-30% below 1990 levels by 2030 subject to the maximum possible account of absorptive capacity of forests.

Japan

Reduce energy related CO2 emissions by 25%, reduce non-energy CO2 emissions by 6.7%, CH4 by 12.3%, N2O by 6.1% and fluorinated gases by 25.1%.

Korea

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with a business-as-usual scenario

Canada

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030

Brazil

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37% compared with 2005 levels by 2025

Mexico

Reduce greenhouse gas and short-lived climate pollutant emissions unconditionally by 25% by 2030 with respect to a business-as-usual scenario.

New Zealand’s pledge:

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030

Some facts and forecasts about emissions

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Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Gas

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector

Top ten global emitters (1990 - 2011)

Figures for the above pie charts are based on the reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Almost half of emissions come from just four countries: the United States, China, the European Union and the Russian Federation.

Total emissions per capita 2014 (selected)

  Kt per capita
Australia 17.3
New Zealand 16.6 (2011)
United States 16.5 
Canada 15.9
Russia 12.4
South Korea 12.3
Japan 10.1
Germany 9.3
Iran 7.9
China 7.6
European Union 6.7

New Zealand's total emissions are low compared with our major trading partners but our emissions per capita are relatively high.

More on New Zealand's emissions situation

 

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