Science is a foundation for effective action on climate change

NIWA science is driving progress on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Science is a foundation for effective action on climate change. NIWA atmospheric facility at Baring Head, Wellington. [Photo: Dave Allen]

Preparing coastal communities for sea level rise

“We need to learn to adapt and work with nature, and include water and the sea in our thinking, rather than fighting it”

Dr Rob Bell, Principal Scientist - Coastal and Estuarine Physical Processes

One of the major effects of rising seas is the flooding of coastal communities. NIWA, through its coastal adaptation programme, provides improved knowledge of the causes, the probability of occurrence and the potential consequences of coastal hazards in New Zealand. This programme also contributes to the ongoing development of coastal planning policy and guidance for local governments and best practice for adapting infrastructure.

Learn about the coastal adaptation programme 

More about coastal hazards and climate change: Guidance for local government

A ground-breaking approach for greenhouse gas measurements

“Our atmospheric greenhouse gas measurements tell a story.  When air arrives at one of our stations on the coast or in Antarctica, it carries information about one of the world's most important natural carbon sinks, the Southern Ocean.  When the air travels over New Zealand before arriving at the site, it has a uniquely New Zealand story to tell about the influence of our forests, agricultural regions, and urban environments on climate.”

Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, Atmosphere-Ocean Scientist

What is happening to our greenhouse gas emissions? Combined, the Earth’s land and ocean absorb about half of all carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. Forests are a vital part of the global carbon cycle and they have moderated climate change by absorbing about one-quarter of our emissions. These carbon sinks are currently estimated by the Ministry for the Environment based on trees' measurements. To complement this approach, NIWA has developed an innovative method that will help answer the question of how much carbon New Zealand’s forests are soaking up, measuring the amount of carbon in the atmosphere from a network of sites around New Zealand. Our study has already shown that our forests may absorb much more carbon than previously thought. NIWA’s cutting-edge research will inform New Zealand’s carbon mitigation strategies and answer key questions about the role of New Zealand’s landscape as a carbon sink.

Read the paper on carbon uptake by forests in New Zealand


How will NZ respond to growing climate change impacts?

“Adaptation planning must be done in a connected way across all of New Zealand to enhance our country’s resilience”

Dr Andrew Tait, Principal Climate Scientist

Our scientists are providing key recommendations for a National Adaptation Plan that will enable coordination for a national strategy.

Read the Adapting to climate change in New Zealand report

Working with Iwi to build resilience

NIWA works together with Māori partners and communities to build resilience to climate change impacts, promoting Māori knowledge and values.

More about our work with Māori society


Riskscape: Improve risk management for disaster resilience

“By working together with Pacific island staff, we strengthen the capacity of all to produce evidence-based solutions to disasters – a real PARTneRship.”

Paula Holland, Environmental Economist and PARTneR project manager

Using data from the 2014 floods in Christchurch, RiskScape identified a prevention method that could reduce losses by 70% in future events. In the Pacific, PARTneR (Pacific Risk Tool for Resilience), builds the capacity of Pacific island countries to manage disaster risk reduction, through knowledge sharing and mutual learning with the Governments of Samoa and Vanuatu. In 2016, the project team produced a series of flood impact scenarios that helped secure $57M for Samoa disaster risk reduction, and the team estimated that without action, at least 20,000 people would be exposed to flooding.

More about the PARTneR website

Our changing water cycle

Water is one of our most precious resources and one of our most dangerous hazards. Research led by NIWA within the Deep South National Science Challenge is shedding light on how much, where, and when these resources and hazards may change in the future. This includes floods, droughts, water supplies, and hydropower generation. Coupled with MPI research and three other Deep South research programmes, NIWA hydrologists are looking at irrigation supply and demand, asset exposure to flooding, and how we can adapt to both droughts and floods.


The power of sunlight

Aotearoa is privileged to have all major renewable energy supplies – sun, wind, rain into rivers, geothermal, and marine – in abundance. We can readily eliminate all fossil fuels and power our way to cleaner, quieter, cooler, and healthier prosperity.

Ben Liley, Atmospheric Scientist

Energy from the sun powers all life on Earth, but trapping too much of it with greenhouse gases is overheating the land and oceans. At NIWA’s Lauder site, a wide range of instruments measure the gases, clouds, and aerosol particles in the atmosphere. We contribute these measurements to international networks to support understanding of global change, and we analyse their implications for New Zealand. Beyond studying the problem, we want to help with the solution, by supporting the harvest of New Zealand’s abundant renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.

How much solar energy can be collected by a solar panel where you are?

A growing role for wind energy in New Zealand’s electricity system

Accurate forecasts from high-resolution weather models of wind and cloud are very important in managing supply and demand but also in the harvesting of renewable energy.

Richard Turner, Meteorologist

As New Zealand needs to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, it will need to generate more of its energy from renewable sources and wind energy will play an essential role in the country’s future. Technologies such as electric vehicles and e-bikes will be huge users of wind power as commuters charge their batteries overnight. Smart businesses and households will need increasingly accurate and detailed environmental forecasts to manage their own demand. Wind and weather prediction research at NIWA which includes modelling and forecasting wind flows, improving the accuracy of high-resolution average and gust speeds forecasts, and reconstructing time series of winds at wind-farm locations will be crucial in this effort. Wind research at NIWA also informs changes in wind load design standards which will help the country become more resilient to climate hazards.

Learn more: Estimating design wind speeds in complex terrain