New Zealand is preparing for disaster.
On Wednesday, Wellington released a major proposal for how the island nation can adapt to climate changes that are already baked in to the future, regardless of how much we cut carbon emissions now.
“For too long we have pushed climate adaptation to the back of the cupboard. Now is the time for a real step-change in our approach,” New Zealand climate change minister James Shaw said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in its latest report on global warming this month that average global temperatures would inevitably rise by more than 1.5C by the end of the century no matter what.
That temperature increase will exacerbate trends that New Zealand—and everywhere else—are witnessing already.
“Just in the last few months we have seen massive floods, such as those in Tairawhiti; storms, such as those experienced recently in Westport; fires in the Waituna wetlands in Southland; and droughts right across the country,” Shaw said.
Although Wellington isn’t giving up the fight on reducing emissions. After all, the IPCC said the world could claw global temperature rise back below a 1.5C increase if governments and business take immediate action. But planning for climate disaster at this point is just prudent.
New Zealand’s climate adaptation plan emphasizes preparing for rising sea levels and inevitable floods. According to Wellington, one in seven New Zealanders already live in areas that are prone to flooding, and floods pose a risk to $100 billion worth of housing.
The country’s solutions include ensuring future public housing stock is built outside of flood zones and incentivizing developers to do the same, likely through hiking land tax on flood areas.
If “not building houses in flood prone areas” seems like an obvious and simple adaptation plan, that’s because it is, but refusing to build homes in hazardous areas is a stroke of common sense that many city planners have neglected in the past.
Researchers in the U.S., for example, discovered that areas where the risk of wildfire is highest are also the areas where population growth rose fastest between 1990 and 2010. Homes encroaching on wildfire zones is one of the reasons fires in California, for example, have been so devastating these past three years.
So New Zealand is preparing for disaster. But that’s a good thing. As Shaw says, “the sooner we start, the more effective our efforts will be.”
In March, the U.S. pledged to increase energy exports to Europe to help wean the European Union off of its reliance on Russian oil and gas. But so far U.S. oil producers appear to have mostly shrugged at the opportunity to increase oil sales. Daily production at U.S. oil fields is up less than 2% since December and is trailing its pre-pandemic highs. A survey of 141 oil companies found that the main reason producers aren’t pumping more is because they worry increasing production will bring down prices. NYT
On Tuesday, the Biden administration increased federal efficiency standards for lightbulbs, effectively consigning the century-old incandescent lightbulb—the type with a luminating filament—to U.S. history. Those old wire bulbs just aren’t efficient enough, and most have already been replaced with energy-saving LED lights. Still, the Environmental Protection Agency says the new rules will save U.S. households $3 billion on utility bills and cut emissions equivalent to 28 million homes. NYT
Is net-zero dead?
A senator belonging to Australia’s ruling Liberal National coalition, Matt Canavan, sparked a furor Tuesday after claiming the goal of reaching net-zero by 2050 was “sort of dead…bar the shouting here.” Canavan’s remark came just a day after another Liberal National coalition candidate claimed Australia’s net-zero by 2050 pledge left the country some “wiggle room.” On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was forced to reiterate the government’s commitment to the goal, dismissing Canavan’s statement as “not the government’s position.” Bloomberg
Living in a desert
Southern California officials declared a water shortage emergency due to an ongoing drought on Tuesday, and adopted unprecedented water use restrictions that will impact millions of residents across the state. The restrictions, due to hit in June, will limit certain households to “outdoor irrigation”—using a hose to wash cars or water lawns—one day per week. More than 95% of California is experiencing “severe drought” as the winter snowpack that typically feeds the area’s reservoirs is at just 35% of its normal volume. Guardian
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