From our Chair: Climate change and Canterbury

Once upon a time, you could have argued that putting climate change to one side was about putting the urgent ahead of the important. But not now – climate change is urgent, and we need to act now to mitigate its effects.

Jenny Hughey

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

The consequences of dragging the chain for humanity and the ecosystems that support the world’s animal and plant life are too awful to contemplate.

New climate change campaign

That’s why I’m immensely proud that Environment Canterbury is part of a new regionwide campaign to raise awareness of the likely and ongoing impacts of climate change across Canterbury/Waitaha.

It’s time, Canterbury: Our climate change conversation involves all 10 local councils and the regional council, and allows each of us to better inform residents about the challenges, build understanding and bolster community resilience.

Environment Canterbury has shown strong leadership on climate change. We were the first council in New Zealand to declare a climate emergency and we have climate change at the heart of our work programmes.

It is wonderful that this council-wide collaboration gives us a stronger voice to campaign on such a vital issue.

Possible scenarios

Climate change is already affecting local ecosystems and communities in the region, and more severe storms, floods and droughts are expected, as well as rising sea-levels and increasing threats to biodiversity.

The campaign is based on NIWA’s projections for Canterbury. These show average temperatures rising by up to 1.5°C by 2040 and 3.5°C by 2090. The greatest increases are expected in those areas already affected by rising temperatures, drought and wildfire, such as the high country.

Attitudes and views

Despite such scary scenarios, I agree with the views of Erana Riddell, a mana whenua representative on our Youth Rōpū, who says we shouldn’t “freak out”, but rather make plans relative to the facts.

It’s time, Canterbury campaign adviser Dr Jagadish Thaker of Massey University says climate change is still seen as less important by voters than other matters.

In a 2020 survey of election issues, climate change ranked quite low, with only 55% of respondents considering it an important issue, compared with healthcare (86.5%), affordable housing (78%) and reducing water pollution (70%).

Dr Thaker believes the low level of support for climate change action may be because it has traditionally been seen as an issue for “penguins, plants, and polar bears”, which is the way it has been communicated in the past.

It’s important to understand that climate change also creates problems for the economy, health and society more broadly. Its effects are far reaching.

Helpful information

For the It’s time, Canterbury campaign, experts at Environment Canterbury and the region’s councils have collated useful information explaining what we can expect from climate change in the region, and what we can do locally and regionally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change was always important, but now it is very urgent as well, and we all have a part to play in protecting the ecosystems that support our way of life and very survival.