Feature article

Adapting to climate changes

 

Hikurangi farmland in Northland after inundation from the heavy rainfall of 27–29 March 2007. (Photo: Graeme Smart)

Dr Andrew Tait, National Climate Centre, NIWA

New Zealand’s climate is highly variable. Growing seasons are rarely the same from one year to the next. Will there be an El Niño or a La Niña? Is the climate changing on a long-term basis, and what will it mean to me?

We will all adapt to future changes in the climate, eventually. Livelihoods depend on our ability to adapt. So the question is not whether we will adapt, but can we adapt with a minimum of disruption and cost?

For example, everyone adapts to changes in the weather. On Monday it was fine and 22 °C so you wore shorts and sandals to work. On Monday night, you watched the weather on the TV news and the forecast was for rain and a cold southerly. As a result, you adapted and wore long pants, socks and shoes, and a jersey to work on Tuesday, and took your raincoat. On both days you were comfortably attired – your adaptation to the change in weather was successful and resulted in minimal discomfort.

We need to adapt to climate changes in the same way as we do to changes in the weather. From the example above, the critical components for a successful adaptation strategy are prior knowledge, preparation, and appropriate action.

Prior knowledge

  • Know the climate of your location.
  • Know the limitations of your land – e.g., what is your carrying capacity in dry years?
  • Get access to up-to-date information on the current conditions.

Preparation

  • Build up a suite of plausible climate scenarios for the next two weeks, or season, or year, or 10 years.
  • Develop climate contingency plans.
  • Have the resources or procedures in place that can be called upon when needed.

Take action

  • Use extended range forecasts, seasonal climate outlooks, and climate change scenarios.
  • Seek additional guidance from your regional council, Crown Research Institutes, agricultural companies, neighbours.
  • Be conservative if there is a chance of non-ideal conditions prevailing.
  • If relevant, diversify some of your land.
  • Make your decisions based on the best available information and guidance.

Climate change information and maps, including scenarios for the future, are available at www.niwascience.co.nz/ncc