A landmark report warning that the world has little more than a decade to try to limit global warming to 1.5C has prompted 150 Kiwi academics to issue an urgent call to the Government for bold action on climate change.

The report, released last month by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made it clear that climate change was already being felt - but the picture could be dramatically worse if nations were unable to make "unprecedented" cuts.

If warming continued at the current rate - heating up the planet by 0.2C each decade, and having already pushed temperatures 1C above pre-industrial averages - the 1.5C threshold would be crossed at some point between 2030 and 2052.

To keep within that mark, CO2 emissions would need to be halved over the next decade, while other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide would also need to be forced down.


If the 1.5C threshold could be held, the world could escape an extra 10cm of sea level rise, over and above what's already been locked in for this century.

The 150 Kiwi researchers – including emeriti professors and several fellows of the Royal Society – have responded by signing a strongly-worded open letter to the Government

"There's a big gap between the severity of the warnings from the world's most authoritative scientific body on climate change and the actions of our government," said senior lecturer Cordelia Lockett, who wrote and co-ordinated the letter.

"The letter received huge support in a very short time. Clearly, academics and researchers around the country are deeply concerned about climate breakdown and want the government to act swiftly and decisively.

"But it's the wider New Zealand public as well. A survey from earlier this year showed that 79 per cent of people believed climate action needs to start immediately.

"A large majority also said we need to meet or exceed our international commitments, and that we should act even if other countries don't. The message is clear.

"New Zealand has a track record of bold actions which have had historic influence on the global stage. We need similar courage and leadership now."

Among the signatories were Dr Niki Harre, Professor Jane Kelsey and Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond of the University of Auckland; Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark of Otago University; and Dr Mike Joy of Victoria University.

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said the Government had shown a commitment to addressing climate change through its proposed Zero Carbon Act and steps to limit fossil fuel prospecting.

But it needed to ensure that its policies produced the deep and lasting emissions reductions required, especially in the transport, industry and agriculture sectors, he said.

In an interview with the Herald last month, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the Government was still working through the shape of the Zero Carbon Bill.

Shaw argued that the Government's stance on climate change had shifted "quite remarkably" in a short period of time, adding that New Zealand was "rapidly becoming one of the leading lights" in the international effort.

Of the IPCC report, he said: "We have to read a very careful line between, on the one hand, facing the facts that the world has left this very late, that the challenge is immense and that the consequences of failure are catastrophic; and on the other hand, that we have it within our grasp to fix this and that, in fact, things are starting to move very rapidly.

"I don't want to be Pollyanna here, but once we pass the Zero Carbon Bill I think there will be a great unleashing of investment and innovation in New Zealand and that'll create new industries, jobs and opportunities."