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Climate change expert gives dire warning on timeline to tackle global warming

An Australian professor at the Climate Institute has given a dire warning on the world's timeline to tackle climate change.

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Will Steffen, of the Climate Institute, says the world has a decade to get its emissions down by half. Source: Breakfast

In New Zealand we are already seeing sea-levels rising, warming ocean temperatures and extreme weather conditions.

Yesterday, NIWA announced November was the hottest month on record.

Professor Will Steffen told TVNZ1's Breakfast today the situation is "becoming very urgent". The world is reaching its tipping point and needs to halve its emissions over the next decade to have a chance at meeting The Paris Agreement targets, he said.

Mr Steffen, who is in the country to talk at a leadership conference called Bold Steps, said very few countries were close to reaching the target though.

"There are only very, very few countries, even the Scandinavian countries which are some of the leaders, are close but they've got more work to do.

"Some cities are on track, we in Canberra, I live in Canberra, we've cut our emissions by 50 per cent in a decade - so you can do it, but not many people are doing it."

Eastern Australian has had three cool seasons in a row without enough rainfall though, which he said was a factor in the devastating bushfires affecting New South Wales and Queensland.

"Combine lack of rainfall and extreme heat, you're going to get fires and we got massive fires. Sydney's under a blanket of smoke, a lot of eastern Australia has suffered already and this is only the beginning of summer."

Mr Steffen said he was 100 per cent sure human factors were to blame for climate change, but there are still people not on board.

Some people claim climate change is a hoax, scare-mongering and put the environmental changes down to climate cycles.

"We know climate cycles really, really well and we can go back hundreds of years, we can go back thousands of year; so in fact the earth has been on a very, very low cooling trend for about 2000 years or even a bit longer and that's because of the orbit around the sun," Mr Steffen responded.

"We know all these things, we know solar cycles, we know sun spots, we know natural variability," he said. "This is not normal."

He said the physics were "undeniably clear". In the lab, CO2 and methane have been proven to trap heat.

New Zealand's biggest contributer is from methane through the agriculture industry, but Mr Steffen said there was opportunity to be a world leader in sustainable farming.

"New Zealand doesn't need to get out of agriculture, but it absolutely has to transform how agriculture is done.

"Agriculture is a big emitter globally. If New Zealand can crack this methane nut and learn how to continue with profitable agriculture with much lower methane emissions you've got a huge export industry because the rest of the world wants to know how to do this.

"We've got to start thinking out of the box and that's what Bold Steps is all about, but one of the advantages New Zealand has is a very active and high quality research community. They're getting stuck into this, there's ideas of perhaps using a different feed stock for cattle, also to palettes that change the digestive systems in ways that reduce methane emissions."

In order to crack it though, Mr Steffen said people needed to accept that climate change is a huge problem.

"Time is running out and we have to put priority on this rather than making short term profits."