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Submission to the Select Committee on the National Interest in Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol - 2002

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM), founded in 1984, is a national organisation dedicated to sustainable use of the earth's resources. We are concerned about the deterioration of global ecosystems, the rapid depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment, examples being climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, pollution of water systems and natural habitats. Our objectives are to advocate respect for natural processes; conservation of physical resources and integrity of all life forms. We contribute to the establishment of New Zealand as a strong, independent active authority advocating implementation of a world conservation strategy.

PIRM would like to make an oral presentation to the committee on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

The importance of ratification - national and global security - It is crucial that New Zealand ratifies the Kyoto Protocol in a robust manner, as soon as possible. Climate change is a matter of urgent national, regional and global security. If allowed to go unchecked there are serious consequences for life, health, human rights, agriculture, economic viability and for infrastructural support systems that sustain modern societies - roads, railways, bridges etc. Although countries have been negotiating to reduce global warming emissions since the 1990s, to date little has been achieved. Instead, emissions have continued to rise in New Zealand and worldwide. The steep rise in warming emissions occurred in the latter part of the 20th century and is now a serious threat to life and the sustainability of human societies.

The latest report from the IPCC shows that global temperatures are rising faster and higher than experts feared with temperatures projected to increase by between 1.4 and 5.8°C by the end of this century. The fact that 5°C is the difference between an Ice Age and the present, more cosy conditions in which our civilization developed 10,000 years ago makes those 1.4 - 5.8°C figures alarming, as does the speed with which the rise is occurring. (Below is a table which shows the dramatic rise in temperatures and CO2 emissions.)

TIME 40 million years ago 20,000 years ago 6000 years ago to 1800 AD 1900 AD 2000 AD 2100 AD (projected)
CO2 IN AIR c. 600 ppm c. 200 ppm 280 ppm 300 ppm 368 ppm 560 ppm
GLOBAL TEMP SHIFT FROM 1900 c. +4°C c. -5°C 0°C 0°C +0.6°C +1.4°C to 5.8°C
(Source: Greenhouse: coping with climate change: Bouma, Pearson & Manning (eds), CSIRO Publishing, 1996, updated from IPCC 2001, Report of Working Party 1)

It is therefore in the National and International Interests that strong mitigation efforts are entered into and sustained, firstly by ratifying the Kyoto protocol. It is up to every country to ensure that global co-operation over climate change occurs by ratification. Opting out either by faint action in ratifying the protocol, or not ratifying at all, will increase the threats every country faces with climate change an ongoing threat now and over the next centuries.

It is important to note that the 5% cuts in warming emissions initially agreed to in ratification are only a start. Much stronger action - in the realm of 60-80% cuts - are needed to realistically deal with the threats to life bought on by global warming emissions mostly from industrial countries in the late 20th century.

Mitigating climate change - positive, life protecting

Mitigating climate change should be viewed, and eagerly embarked on as a means of ensuring a more viable future for people by protecting the lives, health, habitats and economic viability of citizens nationally and globally. The view held by some economic and business commentators that mitigation is a threat to the economy, ignores the threats to health, life and to economic security that the current economic direction is incurring in destabilising the climate. The financial services initiative of the UN Environment Programme estimates that the extra economic costs of disasters attributable to climate change are running at over $US300 billion annually. The insurance industry is open to looking into what the future might hold. A former director of insurance giant CGNU plotted a graph to see where climate change bankrupted the global economy. He concluded that we have just over half a century. (Environmental Finance May 2000, vol. 1 no. 7, pp 19-21)

If New Zealand does not effectively ratify the protocol then it is endangering the lives of its citizens now and in the future, and our economic security as well as the lives of close neighbours in the Pacific Islands. This would not be in the National Interest.


Health - Already disease-causing mosquitoes, historically not present in New Zealand are now reported to be in Northland, as a consequence of global warming. A report written for Ministry for the Environment states that by 2100, according to a high- range scenario a mosquito capable of transmitting dengue fever to humans could be distributed throughout the North Island and in Canterbury and most coastal areas of the South Island even south of Dunedin. The impacts of this on the health of New Zealanders in the coming years will be great, if mitigation is not effective. The financial costs would also be enormous. Also, rates of food poisoning associated with warmer weather could rise by an additional 179,000 cases per year by 2050. Water-borne infections are likely to increase as a result of heavy rainfall events.

The report written by Drs Simon Hales, and Alistair Woodward of the Wellington School of Medicine and Neil de Wet of the Global Change Institute at Waikato University concludes that: "Natural systems are subject to thresholds and complexities that we understand very poorly." They also say that it is possible that the dangers that climate change pose for human health will not be recognised until it is too late to respond effectively or until a substantial cost has already been incurred. They advise: "In terms of vector-borne disease risk, stabilising greenhouse gas emissions would have quantifiable local benefits for New Zealanders."

Agriculture: According to senior scientist David Wratt of NIWA, Wellington, increasing temperatures and fewer frosts could increase the range of some insect pests and could also impact on fungal diseases. Eastern areas are likely to become significantly drier putting more pressure on water resources; increasing the risk of forest fires; and could also lead to a decrease in pasture quality. For warming beyond a few degrees C, the IPCC expects plant productivity in most parts of the world to decrease. (The affects of this decrease in plant production on food security would be very serious. The precautionary approach calls for ratification of the protocol and effective measures to reduce warming emissions.)

Floods: In other areas in New Zealand there could be increased risks of heavy rain episodes of up to 4 times the current rate by 2080, with increased risk of floods, landslides, avalanche and mudslide damage; and increased risk of soil erosion.

Infrastructure: Increased heavy rainfall and flooding would put pressure on stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, and increase the risk of flood damage to poorly sited residential and industrial areas. In areas that become drier, there is likely to be increasing competition for water for domestic, commercial and irrigation use. Increases in heavy rainfall episodes and floods could also increase damage to structures such as bridges and cause more erosion damage to roads and railways. Such changes could also increase the pressure on government and private flood insurance schemes and disaster relief.

REGIONAL SECURITY - PACIFIC ISLANDS One of the consequences of not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol or not taking effective action on climate change early enough is that New Zealand will, along with Australia, have to accept responsibility for environmental refugees. With Pacific Islands being engulfed by rising oceans or made uninhabitable by increasingly severe storms through continuing rising global warming emissions, many Pacific Islanders (total Pacific Island peoples - 7.9 million) will need to leave their islands for Australia or New Zealand. That would be another economic burden of inaction through not ratifying the Protocol or taking sufficient steps to reduce emissions.

Human rights & the protocol Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol would also help protect the human rights of Pacific Islanders to live on their islands and maintain their cultural identities.


PIRM supports a CO2 tax at an effective level to mitigate climate change. Adopting the wait and see approach with climate change and taking only minimal action to reduce emissions may have disastrous consequences. The search for "robust strategies" based on acting and learning over time rather than acting with perfect foresight will not be able to prevent abrupt climate events if there is no explicit account for threshold-crossing possibilities. (see addendum on Abrupt Climate Change - Report from the Committee on Abrupt Climate change). Abrupt climatic change will be much more costly and difficult to adapt to than slowly changing climate.

However, if there is responsiveness to this potential, the carbon tax, will be increased substantially - starting at $US61/tC in 2000 and rising to $US453/tC in 2200 - preventing such possibilities as a collapse of the ocean circulation system. Such a collapse can occur even when substantial mitigation measures are adopted, if these measures are insufficient to prevent crossing a threshold. So only when the potential damages of an abrupt climate change are internalised into mitigation models and policies is it likely that mitigation measures will increase sufficiently to prevent a collapse.


It is therefore for all these reasons - protection of life, health, human rights, agriculture, infrastructure and economic viability - imperative that New Zealand does ratify the Kyoto protocol and that we sustain strong effective action over many years to reduce warming emissions. It is important that New Zealand does not find itself in the situation where, because of responding too late or ineffectively during the early years of this century, substantial costs to the health of New Zealanders are incurred in the near future, as well as serious threats to economic viability through ecological and infrastructural damages.

Taking effective concerted action on climate change is a matter of national defence and global security. From this position of strength and integrity New Zealand could provide an example to countries such as the U.S. currently threatening global environmental security, and any others who withdraw from the protocol. Additionally, only if sufficient action is taken by industrialised countries to reduce their emissions, will developing countries be encouraged to take action themselves.

Finally, there are many opportunities created through the government's wise move to ratify the Kyoto protocol. And there are many good opportunities for implementing sustainable energy systems in New Zealand and for comparing investment in various systems in terms of the dollar per tonne of carbon avoided. There are also many local business and export opportunities from manufacturing wind turbine components to the designing of smart motors and controls for distributed generation systems. Developing renewable energy and the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy will help New Zealand become more resilient and self-sufficient in the uncertain times of climatic instability we face in the coming years. The sooner we encourage these opportunities the more secure our future will be.


Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
Committee on Abrupt Climate Change

Large abrupt climate changes have repeatedly affected much or all of the Earth, locally reaching as much as 10°C change in 10 years. Available evidence suggests that abrupt climate changes are not only possible but likely in the future, potentially with large impacts on ecosystems and societies.

Recent evidence shows that major and widespread climate changes have occurred with startling speed. For example roughly half the north Atlantic warming since the last Ice Age was achieved in only a decade, and it was accompanied by significant climatic changes across the globe. Similar events, including local warmings as large as 16° C, occurred repeatedly during the slide into and climb out of the last Ice Age. Human civilisations arose after those extreme, global, ice-age climate jumps. Severe droughts and other regional climate events during the current warm periods have shown similar tendencies of abrupt onset and great persistence often with adverse effects on societies.

Abrupt climate changes were especially common when the climate system was being forced to change most rapidly. The more rapid the forcing the more likely it is that the resulting change will be abrupt on the time scale of human economies or global ecosystems. Thus greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the earth system may increase the possibility of large abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events. Although abrupt climate changes have shocked ecosystems and societies over the last few millennia, these climate changes have not been as dramatic as those that occurred during the last Ice Age. It is probably no coincidence that stability of the climate increased when ice-sheet size and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration leveled off at the end of the last Ice Age. The abrupt changes of the past are not fully explained yet and climate models typically underestimate the size, speed and extent of those changes. Hence, further abrupt change cannot be predicted with confidence and climate surprises are to be expected.

A notable aspect of large abrupt global and regional climatic changes is precipitation, which is inherently more variable than temperature. Paleoclimatic records show that extreme and persistent droughts have occurred throughout the last few thousand years in widespread regions. These types of droughts have greatly affected societies. For example, abrupt persistent droughts have been suggested as the cause of societal disruptions of the Maya (Hodell et al, 1997; 1995 Gill 2000). Analogous results have been found for the Tiwanaku cultures (Binford et al 1997), and Brenner et al (2001) pointed out that droughts in the Yucutan in the 9th century may be linked across the equator to warming in Peru. Weiss et al (1993) showed the role of abrupt climate shifts in the collapse of third-millennium north Mesopotamian civilisation. De Vries (1976) examined the impact of the Little Ice Age in Northern Europe and there is growing evidence of the impact of droughts and other features associated with El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in modern times (Kitzberger et al 2001).

While [current] discussions of future climate changes have been dominated by the paradigm of gradual climate warming, we highlight the paleoclimate evidence of Holocene drought because such abrupt changes are likely to be more disruptive to human societies, especially in those parts of the globe that currently have water shortage and marginal rain-fed agriculture.

The new paradigm of an abruptly changing climate system has been well established by research over the last decade, but this new thinking is little known and scarcely appreciated in the wider community of natural and social scientists. At present there is no plan for improving our understanding of the issue. Given these gaps the US Global Change Research program asked the National Research Council to establish the Committee on Abrupt Climate Change with the mission of describing the current state of knowledge in the field and to recommend ways to fill in the gaps.

There is no reason to believe that abrupt climate change will not occur again. Furthermore the paleoclimatic record demonstrates that the most dramatic shifts in climate have occurred when factors controlling the climate system were changing. This has important implications for future climate in that it suggests that increasing human perturbation of the earth system may make abrupt change more likely.

Some sectors of the economy might be more highly sensitive to abrupt climate change. Because the economy is more "managed" than are ecosystems, particularly in the industrial sector of developed societies such as the United States, the major vulnerability to the effects of abrupt climate change is likely to lie at the intersection of human societies and ecosystems, such as for agriculture, forests and water systems.

This is a summary of the pre-publication report "Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises," from the Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, National Academy Press, National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, United States. The full report is available in the web at -

Kay Weir
for Executive committee
Pacific Institute of Resource Management
PO Box 12125, Wellington

- PIRM/Pacific Ecologist, POBox 12125, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand -
fax +64 (0)4 939 4551

Pacific Ecologist