Nations have drafted a global deal to tackle the climate emergency at the UN's COP26 summit in Glasgow, wrapping up this weekend. But will it be enough to bring down emissions before it's too late? 10 New Zealand scientists and researchers, whose work is intertwined with the crisis, shared their thoughts and hopes with Herald science reporter Jamie Morton.
Dr Nathanael Melia, climate scientist
Kia ora. Ko Nathanael Melia tōku ingoa.
I live in Rotorua with my young family, and I think about their future a lot. I wonder what the ski fields and beaches we play on now will look like when they're my age.
I'm concerned about inequality and risk to stability in our society, and what the increasing stressors of climate change will do to exacerbate these.
I'm a climate scientist, I ask climate models questions about our future because time machines haven't been invented yet.
Specifically, it's untangling the uncertainty and variability in our future that captures my imagination.
My company, Climate Prescience, specialises in delivering this insight to organisations, allowing them to adapt to the challenges of climate change.
"What's the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we're willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?" said Nobel Laureate F. Sherwood Rowland way back in 1996, a pioneer in the field of ozone depletion.
We've reached the 26th iteration of COP yet emissions and temperatures keep rising; that says a lot.
My highlight from COP26 is Māori climate activist India Logan Riley's courageous speech. Climate science is unequivocal, the Earth is warming, and it's us.
• Dr Nathanael Melia is a senior research fellow at Victoria University's New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute.
I didn't particularly like science until I discovered geology in university.
I especially enjoyed the classes learning about past climates, how the climate system works, and how climate might change in the future.
As a scientist, I study how glaciers grow or shrink and what those changes can tell us about climate change.
Glaciers in every region on Earth are melting and losing mass, and in most regions, the melt is getting faster every decade. This ice loss is a symbol of climate change. But melting glaciers also impact us through sea level rise, increases in hazards like landslides and flooding, and decreases in water resources.
I worry about climate change for a lot of reasons. One big reason is that I have friends with young kids who I love, and I think that I would like to have kids too.
But I worry about what the world will be like for them and how inhabitable parts of the world will be if nothing is done to slow climate change.
That's why I desperately hope that more countries will make larger commitments and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions following the Glasgow summit.
• Dr Lauren Vargo is a research fellow at Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre
Dr Shaun Awatere, resource economist and senior Kairangahau Māori
I have been active in climate change research for the past eight years.
My work has primarily explored the options for Māori landowners within the context of a changing climate.
Growing up in Gisborne I experienced Cyclone Bola, a storm that caused major damage to homes, livelihoods, and wāhi tapu. In recent times, we are experiencing more frequent and more severe rain events.
We are seeing more atmospheric rivers or narrow bands of extreme rainfall. During the Tolaga Bay event in 2018, 60mm fell in one hour, resulting in the transport of forestry slash to the beaches of Tolaga Bay causing both infrastructure and environmental damage.
Earlier this year, 200mm fell in Tokomaru Bay resulting in damage to infrastructure, homes and a school. Five months later, Gisborne has just experienced 200mm of rain within 24 hours, an event that has caused widespread surface flooding, damaging homes and livelihoods.
Climate change extremes threaten not only our lives and livelihoods but also our social and cultural connections between people and place.
It's difficult enough already as Māori landowners navigating the various institutional and economic challenges, let alone trying to protect the whenua for future generations from the impacts of erosion, flooding and drought.
My hope for COP26 is that politicians listen to those voices who are often overlooked but who so often are the ones that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change: the increasingly vocal indigenous voices that maintain a critical concern for Mother Earth and recognise the fragility of our ecologies and the disruption that humans can cause.
• Dr Shaun Awatere is a Senior Kairangahau Māori for Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and a Pou Patai Lead for Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga, Aotearoa's centre of Māori research excellence. He was an author on a recent report assessing the climate change risks for Māori.
Dr Joe O'Callaghan, oceanographer
I have been fascinated by the ocean ever since I started sailing dinghies as a child.
Today, I use an observational approach to understand the parts of the ocean where people work and play. Oceans are a vital cog in the climate change machine.
They have absorbed more than 90 per cent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gases since the 1970s, with warming observed by robots as deep as 2000m.
However, the largest temperature increases occur in the upper 100m, which impacts heat exchange with the atmosphere and fuels storms.
Aotearoa New Zealand has stewardship of an ocean 20 times larger than its land area.
It is surrounded by oceans and 75 per cent of our population live within 10km of the coast. Global climate models predict that a 1.5C warmer world will result in stronger and wetter storms, with ocean events like marine heatwaves further amplifying storm intensity.
This will have substantial impacts for people, agriculture and marine economies. Ocean action is therefore climate action, but the role of the ocean in setting climate targets is on the periphery of COP26.
The lack of ocean data and knowledge may thwart climate targets and the transition to a low carbon future.
While the challenges we face are similar to other maritime countries, greater investment in ocean data, knowledge, and a pan-Aotearoa Oceans strategy is urgently needed to ensure preparedness and resilience for New Zealand as we enter a warmer, stormier world in the not-so-distant future.
• Dr Joe O'Callaghan is a physical oceanographer at Niwa.
Professor Iain White, environmental planning expert
I'm a planning academic who researches how the use of land and resources makes climate change worse, and how societies can adapt to the effects, such as from extreme weather events.
So, it might encompass how the design of places influences human behaviour, or how we can consider uncertain future risks in current decision-making to increase resilience. I have low expectations of COP26, to be honest.
The first IPCC Assessment Report was released before I even started university education. Since that time we have seen swathes of global meetings, ever more robust science, and numerous politicians saying we must act urgently - yet global emissions inexorably rise and the timescales and politics of transition become ever more difficult.
If I did have one hope from Glasgow, it's that in the aftermath we will see much more scrutiny on the yawning gap between aspirational political rhetoric and the much less aspirational policy settings that are in place.
It's all about politics now. It's actually a hard area to be a researcher in, as good news is typically in short supply.
I try to remain hopeful but worry about the unfairness of the impacts, the legacy we are leaving for future generations, and things like biodiversity loss as the climate changes too quickly for species to adapt.
Over my career, I have tried to cope by shifting from a researcher to more of a researcher-advocate, and I suspect we will see more of this from scientists as the urgency rises.
• Iain White is a Professor of Environmental Planning at the University of Waikato
Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Pacific health researcher
As a researcher, my background is primarily around health and wellbeing among Pacific peoples and the inequities that most often come with that.
I consider that there is a definite relationship between this and climate change, and one that can't be ignored, so I launched a new study.
We're still in the preliminary, analysis stage – and we already know how climate change can transform the livelihood and wellbeing of people.
If you think about it, having to physically move away from one's homeland as a consequence of climate change, brings with it a disconnect from deep spiritual, emotional and psychological oneness.
This impacts people's mental health, yet we don't hear near enough about these stories.
We need to learn more about what ecological distress and anxiety means for Pacific peoples, who are right in the middle of this climate change emergency.
And while Pacific peoples might be seen as the poster child for those most threatened, if you take a look around the negotiating and decision-making tables, where are we? This is truly laughable and completely wrong.
So, at Glasgow, it has been great to see our young Pacific climate warriors courageously speaking out to prominent world leaders in attendance. This is like a song stuck on repeat.
And what's extremely powerful about all of this is that we have young Pacific leaders who aren't afraid to speak the truth and fight for justice.
And they do so with their ancestors, families and communities right beside them.
• Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath is Co-Head of School, Te Wānanga o Waipapa, School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, University of Auckland. She is of Samoan heritage and has a public and population health background. She was one of six panelists on the New Zealand Government's 2018 Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry and is currently a Board Member for the inaugural Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission.
Dr Suzanne Rosier, climate scientist
Our hearts have gone out to the residents of Sponge Bay, Tairāwhiti, this month, as they face a massive clean-up operation of flooded homes and over a dozen landslips
Yet only a matter of weeks before it was the turn of not just the Buller region, but Canterbury too. Extreme weather is to blame of course. Sponge Bay received more than three months of "normal" rainfall in only two days:
it's clear that our definition of "normal" is changing. As a climate modeller whose research focuses on extreme weather, I'm busy trying to understand what "normal" now means in our world influenced by human emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as what we can expect in future.
Models are not perfect, but they do get a lot of things right, and many of our projections of more severe extremes have indeed been playing out around the globe.
Climate action is important to me because it's hard to see how anyone wants to witness the sort of changes that are in store if we go on polluting the atmosphere.
I'm extremely encouraged to see some very positive commitments coming out of COP26 so far as we seek to decarbonise our economies; acting them out can't come soon enough.
• Dr Suzanne Rosier, climate scientist based with Niwa in Wellington. She played a key part in helping launch weather@home ANZ to the public, and has subsequently analysed the large New Zealand datasets with a particular focus on extreme rainfall.
Dr Nick Cradock-Henry, climate adaptation expert
I have a diverse academic and research background: I started in religious studies, before jumping over to geography for undergrad, Masters and PhD. I've been working on climate change adaptation for over a decade now.
My research looks at both the impacts of higher temperatures, less rainfall, and more storms; as well as the implications for human-environment systems such as agriculture.
I'm increasingly interested in the decisions we need to make – and when – and the actions that may be required to reduce the risks, and realise potential opportunities.
As an exporting nation, 50 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture, and so rightfully there has been a lot of attention on how we reduce that.
However, we have only just begun to have a national conversation about adapting to climate change. Some of those changes are already happening, and it's only going to accelerate.
Adaptation is a complex issue, especially in terms of productive land management.
Climate change isn't the only issue that farmers, mana whenua and rural communities are dealing with. Commodity prices, policy change and regulatory settings, an aging workforce; all interact in dynamic and unexpected ways.
I'm interested then in how we can connect the dots on things and widen the availability of choices in the face of this uncertainty.
I see an important role for scientists to be "honest brokers", to work with policymakers, communities and others on decision-making, and to highlight options for better policies for inclusive social development, sustainability and resilience.
One of my professors once referred to herself, when discussing the possibility of an afterlife, as a "hopeful agnostic".
It stuck with me, but I think I'm more of a "pragmatic optimist".
As a pragmatist, I tend to deal with things sensibly and realistically based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.
As an optimist, I remain stubbornly hopeful and confident about the future. I believe hope can be an act of communal, unconditional grace.
Something we do for others. Put one foot in front of the next, keep going, keep connecting, keep looking for solutions, encouraging and supporting change.
Yes, it's here. It's bad. It's us. It's going to get worse, but we can do something about it.
The science is clear, and has been for a long time. We need to act on it – sooner, not later.
• Dr Nick Cradock-Henry is senior scientist at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research. He co-leads the Resilience in Practice Model programme, Resilience to Nature's Challenges National Science Challenge and is a Contributing Author, Working Group 2, for the IPCC's forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report.
Dr Andre Mazzetto, AgResearch scientist
As a life cycle assessment scientist here in New Zealand, I estimate and report the environmental impacts of the products we export to the world.
Whether it be milk, meat or wool, every product affects our climate from its production on the farm through to it reaching the consumer.
The good news is our research consistently tells us New Zealand is among the most efficient producers of food and animal products in the world.
What we cannot lose sight of is that agriculture is still our largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and every kilogram of methane, nitrous oxide or carbon dioxide emitted from our food production contributes to a changing climate.
Methane is the main greenhouse gas from farmed ruminant animals such as cows and sheep.
It is a short-lived gas, which means that reducing methane emissions now will allow benefits to be seen within our lifetimes.
The most important thing is maintaining a trajectory of reductions and providing the tools to support farmers to help meet our climate targets.
My hope is that the shared experience from the COP26 summit will serve to keep us all focused on the thing that matters most, and that is reducing our emissions from all sectors.
• Dr Andre Mazzetto is a biologist and life cycle scientist, with a background in agronomy, at AgResearch.
Associate Professor Nancy Bertler, Antarctic researcher
I have been working in Antarctica for over 20 years, drilling ice cores to understand how the climate, ocean, and ice sheets change and why.
When you step on to the continent, its remoteness, immensity, timelessness, and fierce conditions make you feel quietly insignificant with a deep sense of awe.
Yet this mighty continent is cracking under the pressure of a warming world. Its ice shelves are thinning and its most vulnerable ice sheets are shrinking, the ocean is warming and warmer currents, driven by changing winds, reach the sensitive underbelly of ice shelves.
In some areas, the ocean around Antarctica is getting fresher and colder – a sign that water from melting ice cascades into the ocean.
This could also change the ability of the ocean to uptake CO2 and heat from the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming. From rising seas on our shores, to more variable and extreme climate events such as floods, droughts and fires, these changes do and will impact every aspect of our society, livelihood, and environment.
Something that keeps me awake at night is that some of these changes are irreversible on human timescales.
And with that, the risk to future generations lays on our shoulders for centuries to come.
The stakes for the COP26 negotiations could not be higher.
The science is very clear, unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be beyond reach by 2030 and some of these irreversible thresholds will be passed.
New Zealand is a small nation, but we can divide the world's population into the teams of five million to see that each and every one of us will need to rise to the challenge starting today.
A more sustainable future has many additional benefits, from better lifestyles to healthier communities and environments.
We are at a crossroads to treat the future as the biggest threat or greatest opportunity. It is up to us to choose.
• Associate Professor Nancy Bertler has been jointly appointed by Victoria University of Wellington and GNS Science to lead the National Ice Core Research programme, to manage the National Ice Core Research Facility, and to lead Antarctic field deployments for ice core research.