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Fire risk in region rising

Dry paddock in Masterton. PHOTO/ FILE

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Extreme fire risk has increased in Masterton due to climate change, an environment ministry report shows.

Masterton has gained an extra week of warm days each year due to climate change from 1972 to 2019.

The Ministry for the Environment made public a climate report this week detailing knowledge and projections about climate change both on a local and international level.

For Masterton, this means hotter and drier weather and increased fire risk.

Heatwave days have increased by 3.2 days a decade in Masterton, the report found.

Masterton had an “increasing trend in days with very high or extreme fire danger from 1997 to 2019”.

New Zealand’s average annual temperature rose by 1.13 degrees Celsius from 1909 to 2019.

“The warming observed in New Zealand is consistent with global observations,” the report said.

“Worldwide, recorded temperatures have risen 1C above pre-industrial levels, and 19 of the 20 warmest years have occurred since 2001.

“The past six years have been the warmest since records began in 1880.”

Although one degree Celsius may not seem to be a dramatic change, the increase is the result of the accumulation of a mammoth quantity of energy trapped within the earth’s atmosphere.

“The difference between today’s climate and the climate during the last ice age [when large parts of Europe and North America were covered in ice] is two to seven degrees Celsius, so changes that seem small can have major consequences,” the report said.

One of the fastest increases in annual average maximum temperature happened in Masterton; it gained an average of 0.38C per decade.

Increased fire risk means a potential loss of ecosystems, and habitat for native fauna, the ministry said.

Almost half of New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 came from agriculture.

Almost all these emissions were methane from livestock or nitrous oxide from moving the land.

“In a typical developed country, only about 12 per cent of total gross emissions come from agriculture,” the ministry said.

Fire risk management for Masterton

Wairarapa principal rural fire officer Phil Wishnowsky said the region had the “fourth most severe fire weather in the country” and a “higher risk for vegetation wildfire”.

The Wairarapa region was put at further fire risk due to climate change, and Wishnowsky said people should prepare.

“Because we already have high fire climate severity, we already have high risk,” he said.

He wanted the Wairarapa community to engage in risk reduction – this included learning how to be safe and responsible with fire.

“As the impacts of climate change impact us, the more we have to be ready, able, and resourced towards what’s going on so we can react to it,” Wishnowsky said.

As fire risk goes up “we need to be more vigilant”.

“Education proves more effective over time as people become more aware of the effects of climate change.

“Our focus needs to be to make sure we don’t have even more larger scale incidents.

Fire Services are constantly upskilling and developing their knowledge with the implications of climate change in mind, he said.

“We’ve been conscious of this for years and years and years. Everything we do is in recognition of what is going on in our world.”

Climate change facts:

Half of all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions since 1750 have happened since 1970.

Humans added about 42 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2018, more than 190 times the weight of every person in the world combined

From 2007 to 2018, an average of 90 per cent of direct household emissions came from transport.

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