A strong stance on climate change by New Zealand could inspire and "occasionally embarrass" other nations into following our lead, says a world-renowned climatologist coming here for a global science summit.
Professor Gordon McBean, the Canadian president elect of the International Council for Science, yesterday spoke to the Herald ahead of the organisation's general assembly in Auckland at the end of the month.
The four-day ICSU summit, one of several high-level conferences bringing hundreds of international researchers here this month, covers a wide range of collaborative work by the world's top scientists, including programmes on global sustainability.
Professor McBean, a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, said better understanding climate change and how we might adapt to it was another mass effort in which scientists were working together.
Last year, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that without new policies to combat climate change, the globe could have a mean temperature several degrees warmer by the end of the century.
Asked what headway nations were making in trying to mitigate this, Professor McBean said: "It's unfortunately very mixed."
"The greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere are now over 400 parts per millions and emissions are still going up along the lines of, quite frankly, what the IPCC says was their most pessimistic scenario," he said.
"That's because many countries, and I'd have to say Canada is one of them, are not reducing their emissions."
In 2006, Professor McBean co-wrote an open letter, signed by 90 scientists, to Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for an effective strategy.
"I would not say at this point, it had any particular impact."
Meanwhile, the country had been recently devastated by flooding, causing about $6 billion in damage to the province of Alberta alone.
"In Burlington, Ontario, there were people literally swimming to get out of their cars."
The frequency of this extreme weather would increase under climate change scenarios, amid other major problems like sea level rise.
"The reality is, that for the next 30 years or so, climate change is built in and it's going to happen - and that means we have to adapt to it.
While focusing on disaster risk reduction, governments could also do more to curb their emissions, including "re-greening" their economies and energy systems.
"[New Zealand] is a nation that is surrounded by water, and is going to be exposed to storms and sea level rise, so those kind of things are going to make climate change a big issue for you," he said.
"I think it's important that countries like yours, and other, take the initiative to lead and occasionally embarrass others into following your leadership.
"It's interesting how many things - like sports, science and theatre - that to some extent we love to be inspired by few people, so why not have politicians who inspire us with their leadership?"
Paul Young, a spokesman of youth group Generation Zero, said the "absolute bottom line" was New Zealand needed to act with integrity on climate change.
"The current Government is not doing that - its policies and actions simply don't line up with the emissions reduction targets it has committed to on the international stage."
Earlier this year, the group published a report called The Big Ask, setting out ways that New Zealand's emission reduction goals could be enforced.
"But we also believe New Zealand can be much more than that, and we'd actually benefit from taking a leadership position here alongside countries such as Denmark.
"It's about leading by example and showing that reducing carbon emissions and improving wellbeing can go hand in hand.
"And if a country as well-off and rich in natural resources as New Zealand says 'we can't', what kind of message does that send to the rest of the world
World Science Week: Lectures to catch
Wizards on Ice: On organisations supporting scientific research in Antarctica. Auckland Museum, 11am, Sunday, August 24.
New Zealand's Place in the World: New Zealand-led initiatives are providing a blueprint for international collaboration in science. University of Auckland AMRF Auditorium, 7.30pm, Monday, August 25.
Melting Ice, Rising Sea: The impact melting ice caps can have on sea level rise, and how it could affect our coast. AUT University, Art and Design School Building, 7pm, Tuesday, August 26.
From the Big Bang to Tomorrow: Astronomical observations are revealing echoes of the Big Bang, providing clues about the future of our planet. University of Auckland, AMRF Auditorium, 7pm, Wednesday, August 27.
Thin Ice - the Inside Story of Climate Science: A special screening of the internationally awarded New Zealand documentary. Victoria Theatre, Devonport, 7.30pm, Thursday, August 28.
Pandemics and Climate Change: Climate change can have a significant impact on the incidence and severity of pandemics in the future. With Professor Nils Stenseth, one of the world's foremost experts on climate change. University of Auckland, AMRF Auditorium, 7pm, Friday, August 29.
Future Food for the Planet: The soil literally feeds the world, but is itself being depleted. Food security is essential at a time of climatic change. Sir Paul Reeves Building, AUT University, Saturday, August 30.
* For more detail and booking information, visit www.worldscienceweek.org.nz
Climate Policy Recap
• An unconditional target of five per cent below New Zealand's 1990 GHG emissions levels by 2020, a long-term target of a 50 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050, and an unconditional target range of 10 to 20 per cent reduction below 1990 GHG emissions levels by 2020 if there is a comprehensive global agreement.
• New Zealand would meet these targets through a mix of domestic emission reductions, the storage of carbon in forests and the purchase of emission reduction units from other countries.
• Maintains the Emissions Trading Scheme, whereby companies have to buy a carbon unit to cover each tonne of pollution they emit, and the Government gives trade exposed businesses up to 90 per cent of their units free of charge.
• 90 per cent of New Zealand's electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2025.
• Will determine the emission reduction targets it will set in Government when it has "access to all the information", but says will adopt more ambitious targets than the present Government.
• Will maintain a climate change strategy that includes strengthening the emissions trading scheme, requiring transparency around carbon pricing, and restricting cheap international units.
• Will retain its commitment to reach at least 90 percent renewable electricity generation by 2025.
• Will begin the transition away to an economy "based on clean energy, green technology, and that is low-carbon".
• Set New Zealand on the path to be carbon neutral by 2050.
• Establish a Climate Commission to provide expert and independent advice to the government on: carbon prices, carbon budgets, and complementary measures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
• Phase out the Emissions Trading Scheme and set an initial price on carbon: $25 per tonne on CO2 equivalent emissions for all sectors except agriculture. Dairy emissions will pay $12.50 per tonne. Forest carbon sequestration will be credited at $12.50 per tonne; carbon emissions from deforestation charged at the same level.
• Recycle all revenues raised from a carbon charge back to families and businesses through a $2,000 income tax-free band and a one percent company tax cut.
• Introduce a suite of complementary measures to support the rapid transition to a carbon neutral economy.
• Continues to oppose the ETS, which the party argues has failed to deliver significant emissions reductions and bring about industry transition.
• Supports the establishment of a formal planning process to develop strategies, plans, research programmes and targets to achieve fossil carbon reduction relevant to New Zealand.
• Supports "net metering"whereby electricity retailers will be required to purchase power generated by customers at the price it is normally sold to the customer, which the party believes would promote electricity generation from renewable sources.
• Abolish the Emissions Trading Scheme and introduce no other measures aimed at reducing emissions.
• Believes imposing taxes or other costs on greenhouse gas emitters will "damage New Zealand's economy while having no effect on global emissions".
• The Government must invest in energy infrastructure and increase renewables in preparation for an oil-less world.
• Increasing grid efficiency and reducing energy use, more efficient water pipelines, sewerage systems, wind farms, and the rail system will also generate employment and training opportunities (labouring, manufacturing).
• Implement a renewable energy strategy to address our reliance on fossil fuels; to be developed in consultation with iwi; and which establishes a cross-party inquiry to investigate our response to the peak oil crisis.
• Investigate minimum pricing to ensure the pricing of carbon on the ETS remains at a level high enough to reduce emissions.
• Continue to encourage more riparian planting with a move towards requirements to have river and stream banks planted, in order to act as carbon sinks, limit soil erosion and reduce agricultural runoff.
• Require all new homes to be given a standardised energy efficiency rating based on insulation, double-glazing, heating methods, use of solar energy and other factors.
• Remove regulatory barriers, including legislative barriers to encourage new electricity generation using hydro, geothermal, wind and tide, where economically sustainable.
• Support moves to a more sustainable transport infrastructure.
• Emission reductions to see the country carbon neutral by 2050.
• Establishment of a Climate Commission and adoption of a carbon budget process to properly plan for carbon emission reduction.
• Repeal of the ETS; replace with policies and regulations to reduce carbon emissions in "a fair and just way", and immediately regulate the flow of cheap foreign carbon credits in the mean time.
• Regeneration of native forests.
• Set a target of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025, with an immediate ban on oil and gas drilling on land and deep sea; work towards a coal-free Aotearoa; investment in widespread small scale sustainable energy generation such as solar, wind and micro-hydro by households and communities and subsidise home installations.