Gifting Our Children a Climate Emergency

By Tom Belford
June 2019

Today the HB Regional Council is expected by resolution to declare its view that global warming represents a climate emergency.

A ‘merely’ symbolic gesture to some. But symbols are hugely important in capturing emotions and aspirations and harnessing them to support concrete actions.

Far from tokenism, this declaration will reinforce the current policies and activities of HBRC that address global warming, and drive the Council to expand and intensify its efforts, reaching into the entire Hawke’s Bay community.

The reasons for declaring a climate emergency cannot be responsibly denied.

Even the most moderate projections of escalating greenhouse gas emissions and associated temperature rise – and agreed targets for limiting them – indicate dire impacts on human health, biodiversity, ecosystem viability, food production and water sufficiency, national economies, coastal habitation, and social stability.

And these are merely the impacts of ‘mid-level’ projections of the temperature change that is occurring. Increasingly, observable evidence planet-wide indicates that the commonly-used models are understating the pace and intensity of change.

Expecting temperature to rise only to 1.5C by 2040, and to 3.0C by 2100, as projected by the most-used and ‘authoritative’ IPCC models (assuming full international compliance with the Paris Agreement) is now considered wildly optimistic.

More likely now is that 1.5C will be reached by 2030, and the further 2.0C ‘tipping point’ boundary by 2045. Similarly, sea rise projections, once less than 1 metre by 2100, are now eclipsed by 2.0-2.5 metre projections.

Increasingly, experts are saying governments and other planners need to look beyond statistical modeling of ‘average’ probabilitiesand focus instead on realistic possibilitiessuggested by the full inter-play of compounding ecosystem feedbacks and breakdowns.

For example, a 5.0C rise by 2100 can no longer be discounted, given mediocre levels of government response. What would that mean? According to a new Australian analysis, Existential climate-related security risk, “Scientists warn that warming of 4.0C is incompatible with an organized global community, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable. The World Bank says it may be ‘beyond adaptation’.”

It’s interesting that climate risk assessments prepared over the years by various military sources have been both more accurate and aggressive in their projections … and correspondingly more dire in their forecasting of global societal breakdown, if not chaos.

But, confronted by societal meltdown, let’s travel back to our modest patch in Hawke’s Bay, which is where we can make our personal differences.

Climate resolutions like the one HBRC will adopt are just a rallying point. They must be supported by concrete policies and programmes, a number of which we already have underway.

As when HBRC declared oil and gas development off-limits in Hawke’s Bay. By formulating, with Hastings and Napier councils, a coastal hazards strategy to address the impacts of sea rise and severe weather events. By committing funds to uplifting the stopbanks that protect our growers, other businesses and our residents from the flooding anticipated from more severe weather. By transitioning our own vehicle use to EVs where they are fit for purpose, and promoting EV use generally. By maintaining a public transport and cycleway system. And restoring a more energy-efficient rail link to Wairoa.

By substantially stepping up tree planting. Supporting residential solar uptake. Excluding fossil fuels from our investment portfolio. Launching a Future Farming Initiative aimed at increasing the resilience of our food producing regional economy. By advocating on behalf of the Government’s climate policy. And winning $30m to develop environmentally appropriate water security options for the region.

Some of these steps aim to reduce or mitigate our climate impact; others are prudent steps to adapt to the unavoidable threats ahead.

These and other steps are wrapped into a commitment to make Hawke’s Bay carbon neutral by 2040. HBRC intends to develop additional initiatives, including engagement with HB’s private sector, and to monitor progress by all parties via an annual climate change report.

In short, we do believe there’s a climate emergency, and we will behave accordingly.

Personally, I believe we face and are handing our children an existential risk, as defined in the report mentioned above: “…one posing permanent large negative consequences to humanity which may never be undone, either annihilating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtailing its potential.”

Humans are the most predatory species that have ever existed on this planet. We have looted the planet’s resources, bent other species to our needs, used up natural capital to the point of collapse. And we – that is, the present generation in control – seem to have plenty of appetite for more.

Fortunately, this ‘gift’ we have prepared for our children shows signs of being rejected by them. Hopefully they will remain loud and persistent enough to inspire the social and political tipping point that must occur now if we are to avoid the climate tipping point at our very doorstep … not 20 or 50 years away.