Understanding climate change

Climate change

Climate change is the biggest environmental challenge of our time. It is a long term change in climate due to an increase in greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around the Earth, trapping warmth from the sun and making life possible. Our planet would freeze without greenhouse gases. But too high a concentration in the atmosphere increases Earth’s temperature and causes the climate to change.

After more than 150 years of industrialisation, deforestation and large scale agriculture, along with huge population growth, greenhouse gases have risen to levels not seen in three million years.

Recent years have been the hottest on record and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3 degrees C since 1990.

If temperature rise continues we will see more extreme climate events such as floods, storms, droughts and coastal inundation.

Delaying action will make it harder and more costly to adapt to these changes.

Global commitments

New Zealand has joined other nations in signing up to targets to reduce emissions.

Under the global Paris Agreement on climate change, New Zealand has pledged to reduce emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The longer term goal is to reduce emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Government is working on policies and legislation to support these targets.

 Find out more about NZ Government action - MfE website

The role of energy

The burning of fossil fuels is one of the main contributors to global warming.  Oil used in transport (petrol, diesel, aviation fuel), coal and gas use in industry, and fossil fuels used to create electricity are all ways that greenhouse gas emissions are created.

Using less fossil fuel can be achieved through:

  • better energy efficiency
  • different processes or materials, that avoid energy use
  • switching to renewable energy sources like wind, hydro, solar, or biomass (e.g. wood)

 Find out more about energy and climate change in New Zealand