BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

Wairarapa temperatures are set to soar and scorch the region by 2090.

This is the latest prediction in a climate change report prepared by NIWA scientists and commissioned by Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Wairarapa will go from having about 24 hot days a year – classified as 25 degrees or more – to about 94 days.

More frequent and “extreme” events due to the warmer atmosphere such as severe droughts, heavy rain and lower river flows could be in the region’s future by 2090 if no action was taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.

By 2040, 10 fewer days of rain a year than now is expected for Wairarapa.

The biggest concern for Wairarapa is the effect the severe weather events and droughts will have on agriculture, horticulture, water supply and public health.

These were the key findings of the report.

But this was the “worst-case scenario” if the region continued to do ‘business as usual’, the report’s lead author and climate scientist Petra Pearce said.

“Mainly, the drought projections are a concern for Wairarapa,” Ms Pearce said.

With the number of hot days to increase from about three weeks to over three months annually, the impacts on primary industries include heat stress on cattle, crop growth and “sleeper” pests becoming active.

Drought will also impact air quality and public health, including increases in allergies and disease-spreading pests.

“Wairarapa probably isn’t going to get the heat waves say in Europe and America . . . but if we get longer, hotter spells than we are used to, then that’s going to have an impact on health,” she said.

Coastal erosion along the South Wairarapa coast could increase as sea levels rose.

“The extremes are getting more extreme — the drought, the rain and then hot days and of course with the warming atmosphere, there will be fewer cold days,” she said.

In the high elevations of the Tararua Ranges, scientists predict that frosts will decrease from 30 per year to near zero by 2090.

The region is already seeing the impact of climate change with more extreme weather events over the past decade.

“Climate change is often thought of by individuals as something that the government or the industry needs to do on a high level.

“But I think climate change needs to be bought into by individuals through decision-making processes,” she said.

Whether it be buying a petrol or electric car, or making a home more energy efficient, “every little decision counts”.

“So there is hope that the impacts of the greenhouse emissions in 2090 won’t get to that level of the worst-case scenario.”

Wellington Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw said the report showed how important it was to take urgent action.

He said the worst impacts of climate change could be avoided but only if communities around the world acted to reduce their emissions.

With the concerning temperature increase, the issue of water management in the region was a priority.

“The availability of water in Wairarapa is under threat,” he said.

Collaborative approach needed

A collaborative approach by the three Wairarapa district councils and the regional council is needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change in Wairarapa.

Representatives from the three district councils attended a workshop held by NIWA yesterday.

Carterton District Council chief executive Jane Davis said the climate change report findings made for good discussion among council representatives.

“It was frightening enough that we need to do something . . . it is not overwhelmingly problematic, but we have time,” she said.

The way the report was presented made an “incredibly wicked problem” that is hard to think about, easier to absorb.

Masterton District councillor Chris Peterson said while the findings gave perspective on what the region’s climate would look like in 20 to 70 years, he wondered if more stress on the issues was needed.

“From my personal perspective, I’m not sure there was the urgency,” he said.

The effects on the region may also present options such as the chance to cultivate different crops, he added.