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Brace for change, says climate report

A new report says Wairarapa could become a hot spot for droughts and heatwaves. PHOTO/FILE

Flooding and erosion set to increase

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Wairarapa residents should prepare for a much-changed climate, a report made public this week said.

The new report, Wellington Region Climate Change Extremes and Implications, said the area could expect wide-ranging climate impacts to the end of the century.

The study was produced by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research on behalf of the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Major impacts in Wairarapa include a rise in extreme hot days with the potential for drought, rising sea levels, and increases in extreme rainfall in mountain ranges.

The consequences on agriculture and horticulture would be significant, the report said, and would also see further social and economic costs, such as a steep rise in private insurance costs, or a reduced or complete lack of cover.

The report used climate projections over two periods – 2031 to 2050 and 2081-2100 and refers to a baseline climate of 1986-2005.

By 2100, Wairarapa’s plains and eastern coast could see over 25 more days of extreme heat than now. That means days when the temperature rises over 30 degrees Celsius. Urban water supplies would be reduced.

The report says cold nights would likely be rare.

A bridge near Gladstone School was damaged in flooding last year. PHOTO/FILE

The largest rainfall increases are projected for the areas with highest rainfall – the Tararua, Remutaka and Aorangi ranges.

Forecasts project a reduction in the number of rain days in mountains, but heavier falls.

While very cold days may become very rare, and the ranges could heat up, the short, extreme cloudbursts may be more frequent, leading to flooding and erosion.

The associated river flooding could particularly affect the bulk of Wairarapa – taking in settlements near the Ruamahanga River, its tributaries, and Lake Wairarapa.

Rising sea levels could have an impact on the area east of the lake, which would be at risk from extreme weather at sea.

The impact on the economy may see crops presently grown no longer thrive. Although crops from traditionally warmer areas, such as kumara, may be an alternative, warmer weather would provide a haven for pests.

The paper said longer periods of warmer weather at day and night-time could cause stress for cattle and have an impact on milk composition.

Residents in areas close to high risk areas could find insurance increasingly costly in terms of premium prices, excesses, or in the policy wording.

In early 2019, insurer IAG announced that it would introduce risk-based pricing based on location, with customers in areas prone to weather-related natural hazards, such as floods and storms, charged higher premiums than others in less risky areas.

Alex Pezza, the senior climate scientist who commissioned the report, remains optimistic that tackling emissions now means that the worst-case scenarios can still be avoided.

“Some people argue that we’re too small to make a difference, but the positivity of living in a cleaner world can be contagious. You treat nature as your friend, not as your enemy, and it becomes naturally regenerative.

“I personally believe that farming will be a big part of the climate solution. Many farmers around the world are starting to experiment with regenerative practices, and I already know cases in the Wairarapa.

“I was giving a presentation to the community in Martinborough a few months ago, and next thing I knew a farmer from the audience was inviting me to see his very successful regenerative business, making a contribution towards carbon sequestration and better soil health.

“To me, this shows that the need to find natural climate solutions is no longer a theoretical thing, to be dealt with in the future. It’s happening right in front of our eyes. We just need to believe in it and embrace a more sustainable way of doing things. This will also help us get better prepared for a more extreme climate ahead.”

A new regional council climate change committee, chaired by councillor Thomas Nash, meets in March.

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