Climate change impacts accelerating in the Wellington region

  • Published Date 16 Dec 2019

A new report on emerging climate extremes points to a potential future for the region of increasingly warmer days and nights, more drought driven by extreme heatwaves and more frequent downpours, potentially leading to severe social and environmental impacts.

NIWA's Wellington Region climate change extremes and implications (PDF 11 MB) , commissioned by Greater Wellington Regional Council, updates its 2017 view on the ongoing effects of climate change, focusing on how several extreme, high impact climate indicators are changing.

The report clearly shows that the higher the greenhouse gas emissions, the more extreme and disruptive our climate will become.

"Climate change is happening now. Climate extremes, in particular, will have a high impact in our region, with the Wairarapa being a hot spot for droughts and heatwaves, and the west coast being a hot spot for wind storms and floods," says Greater Wellington Climate Committee chair Cr Thomas Nash.

"This report shows that the more we do to reduce our emissions now - and persuade others to do the same - the better we'll be able to manage the effects of warmer weather, more dry spells, a warmer ocean and, as we've just experienced, more intense rainfall events."

For the Wellington Region, many of the projections made in the first NIWA report are starting to materialise, giving us a taste of how and where we will need to be better prepared.

"As well as reducing emissions, we need to plan for these changes, especially in relation to our water supply, our food production and our buildings", says Cr. Nash.

The new report uses the same models and similar methodology as in the original 2017, but explores further how several extreme climate indicators are changing. These include warm and cold nights, hot and cold days, rainfall above different thresholds, extreme rainfall events, wet and dry spells, droughts and extreme sea level rise caused by storms. 

It also introduces extreme heatwaves (three or more consecutive days with maximum temperature above 30 degrees), showing that such events may start to occur in the future in our region. In the Wairarapa, 10 or more consecutive days of extreme heat (greater than 30 degrees) are predicted to become part of the new climate.

But as Cr. Nash emphasises, "the good news is that right here in the Wellington region we have some of the world's leading climate thinkers: scientists, farmers, ecologists, experts in Mātauranga Māori, as well as planners, economists and innovators. With this in mind, our Council has set up a dedicated climate committee and, having just adopted an ambitious terms of reference for it last week, our works start now."

Over the next three years Greater Wellington will set out detailed plans to reach net zero emissions as a council by 2030. Greater Wellington will also assist the wider region to reduce overall emissions, plan for a resilient future and transition to a low emissions economy.

"People often mention that we're too small to make a difference. However, we can lead by example, providing a roadmap for others to follow, and preparing for a climate safe future. It's only through this leadership that we can expect others around the world to reduce their emissions so that we can all flourish in the 21st century," says Cr Nash.

The report launching by Greater Wellington, and the terms of reference of the council's new Climate Committee, coincide with the conclusion of the COP25 meeting in Madrid.

"But as we've seen with the lacklustre outcome of the latest global climate change meeting, leadership in climate change is in short supply. The question before us then is if we don't provide that leadership, who will? It's up to us," says Cr Nash.

Updated April 27, 2022 at 2:23 PM

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