NZ 'way off the scale' for emissions Monday, 14 April 2014

By 3 News online staff

The United Nations has released a new and damning report on global warming, reaffirming that the world must drastically slash its use of fossil fuels and switch to predominantly clean energy by 2050, or face catastrophic climate change.

Yet New Zealand is not doing "particularly well" when it comes to reducing emissions, according to Associate Professor of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University, James Renwick.

Catastrophic climate change could mean average temperature rises of between 3 and 5degC, says Mr Renwick.

"[That's] outside of any human experience - the last time the Earth was that warm, or would have been this warm, was several million years ago," he told Firstline.

"And going along with that we're talking about sea level rise which may reach several metres, big changes in where the rain falls, big changes in the frequency of heat waves, droughts, floods, fires - so really major disruptions to global food production, water availability, and just increasing tensions around the world."

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offers some hope, providing options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And Mr Renwick says it is still possible to avoid the worst case climate change scenario by reducing emissions, but that we're running out of time.

"That's one of the main messages of this report, we really need to get on top of global emissions in the next decade, and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, et cetera, essentially to zero before the end of this century, so that means major commitments by all nations of the globe."

A recent Ministry for the Environment report showed that New Zealand's emissions have grown 25 percent since 1990, and are still growing.

"Per head of population New Zealand emits about 16 tonnes of CO2 equivalent; the sustainable level is about one tonne per person," says Mr Renwick. "We're way off the scale."

Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser says that the "emissions intensity" of the New Zealand economy has reduced by a quarter since 1990.

But Mr Renwick says that's a measure which relates emissions to GDP, and that it's the total amount of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere which is important.

Watch the video for the full interview.

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