NZ's choices can influence other countries, scientist says, as UN report warns of climate change impact

A New Zealand co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC's) latest report says New Zealand should pay attention as much as any country.

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Report co-author Anita Wreford talks to Breakfast about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change’s latest findings. Source: Breakfast

The paper, called Climate Change and Land, looks at the ways climate change is affecting things like food production and land degradation.

It suggests that humans need to change the way we eat, grow food and manage our forests.

Lincoln University Associate Professor Anita Wreford, who was one of the more than 100 climate scientists who worked on the paper, spoke to TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, and said Kiwis should be as concerned as anyone else.

"I think this report really underlines some of what we are experiencing right now in New Zealand - some of the choices that we are making about how we use our land ... whether we use it for agriculture or if we plant more trees on it to absorb the emission from other sectors," Ms Wreford said.

"It's putting these discussions that we're having here in the global context."

The report "really highlights the value of land," she said - and land underpins everything we do.

"The food that we eat, where we live, the energy that we use ... it's being put under incredible pressure already, and climate change is adding to this pressure," Ms Wreford said.

"So it's a really important report in terms of timing - that we need to start taking action now."

Ms Wreford said the report makes a number of suggestions for farmers looking to improve their sustainability practices, and also acknowledged that many New Zealand farmers are "well aware" of the need to take action "and are implementing as we go along".

"We need to look at the food system as a whole so it's important to look at farming and what happens on the farm and how we manage the land there.

"But it's also wider than that in terms of the food choices that we make, the food waste, how much of our food actually goes into the bin.

"If we can reduce that then we can actually take the pressure off the system more broadly."

While some areas could benefit from a more plant-based farm system, that solution won't work everywhere, Ms Wreford said.

"It's not as black and white as saying we need to all stop eating meat," she said.

"But it certainly highlights that there are advantages - also for health - in consuming a little less meat."

So what can New Zealand do, compared with places like the USA consuming so much oil or Brazil cutting down the Amazon?

"Sometimes it can seem daunting when we see this big situation out there and we're just individuals here," Ms Wreford said.

"The choices that we make here can have influences in terms of the messages that we send and what New Zealand does as a country in terms of its governance can contribute to that global governance picture."

Ms Wreford said the report also highlights the fact that adapting to climate change early, rather than arriving late, would be less costly.

"If we don't do it now, if we push that decision out until later, it will cost us even more and in the mean time we will be experiencing more impacts of climate change, and we'll also have fewer options if we delay action."

You can read the full report here.