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Ag & Urban Land Use in New Zealand by Barnard Blogger Amelia Marcantonio-Fields

I vividly remember walking through customs barefoot after a 14-hour plane ride to New  Zealand. It was the summer of 2013 and I was about to embark on a six-week trip of hiking and environmental service projects. As my group approached customs, we were asked to take off our boots as a result of efforts to maintain the environmental integrity of the county. Our boots were sent through a machine and inspected by employees to make sure no non-native invasive species were to be brought into the country. I was surprised by this, but admired the importance of environment to the citizens and the efforts made by the New Zealand government to allocate their resources to maintaining the natural state of their country.

New Zealand faces many problems as a result of climate change and has been actively working to reduce climate change impacts in their country. While the United States pulled out of the Paris agreement in 2017, New Zealand has been outspoken about the damages of climate change worldwide. Under the Paris Agreement, New  Zealand has pledged to reduce their 2005  emissions by 30% by 2030, encouraged ratification of the Paris Agreement by other countries, and has implemented domestic policies promoting sustainability (New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2005).

Two of the most pressing issues that New Zealand faces in climate change are the erasure of biodiversity and deglaciation. New Zealand’s alpine region is home to approximately 613 species of vascular plants with a high level of endemism. These plants are in extreme danger due to rising temperatures and New Zealand is facing possible extinction of many of their indigenous alpine species. With just a 3 degrees Celsius rise in temperature, there could be a 33 – 50% loss of these species, and temperature rise is just one impact of climate change. These plants will also face changes in rainfall, wind, and snow (Stephen R. P Halloy and Alan F. Mark, Climate Change Effects of Alpine Plant Biodiversity). New Zealand is facing a crisis in maintaining their indigenous plants as a result of climate change.

Deglaciation is affecting not only the glaciers of New Zealand, but the landmass itself. According to a study completed in 1996, glaciers of the Southern Alps of New Zealand have shortened by 38% (T.J Chinn, New Zealand glacier responses to climate change of the past  century). A volcano, Rerewhakaaitu Tephra, has allowed scientists to research land re-organization over thousands of years. Scientists have determined that the newest land  re-organization around Rerewhakaaitu Tephra is due to global warming that sparked ice retreat in both  hemispheres of the globe (Newnham et al, Rerewhakaaitu Tephra, a land–sea marker for  the Last  Termination in New  Zealand, with implications for global climatechange).

Climate change is now embedded into New Zealand life through business and government practices. A 2006 study showed that smallbusiness owners are extremely aware and afraid of what climate change will do to their business in the future (C. Michael Hall,  New  Zealand tourism entrepreneur attitudes and behaviours with respect to climate change adaptation and mitigation). The New Zealand government has issued many reports describing solutions that address climate change impacts under different scenarios over the 21st century (Nottage et al,  Climate Change Adaption in New  Zealand) as they are extremely aware of climate change impacts on agriculture, tourism, and forestry.


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9 Responses

  1. Amelia, I really enjoyed your post about your personal experience visiting New Zealand and how it made you more aware about the environmental issues in their region. Although I have never visited, it is clear through your article that issue of biodiversity extinction is prevalent especially through the statistics you give (33-50% loss with just a 3 degree difference!) I was particularly intrigued by the occurrence at customs- do you think other countries should begin to implement such measures at land borders in order to help mitigate further potential harmful effects? Do you think national security should consider these potentially harmful effects a threat to the country, just as seriously as they consider our physical safety?

  2. New Zealand seems like it is really taking steps forward in climate change mitigation. Amelia mentioned that businesses in addition to government are extremely aware of the consequences climate change will bring. I think it is important that businesses take responsibility for the consequences their products have on our world. This responsibility should not be exclusively placed on the consumer or the government. It would be interesting to hear what specific things businesses are doing to mitigate climate change. New Zealand businesses could be a good model for other businesses across the world to take action towards climate change mitigation.

  3. I’m incredibly interested in the hazards of deglaciation. How will this change water resources in New Zealand and especially for local communities? Qualities necessary to address the readiness of a community to withstand excess drought and flooding factors from deglaciation include asking whether or not the community indigenous, financial readiness, elevation levels, new water resource availability, and availability of health services nearby. The current rate of such deglaciation is incredibly important as well – at a certain threshold, the glacier stands no point of rebuilding and will be permanently removed, a problem to which there is currently no anthropogenic solution. What is the make-up and depth of the glacier ice?

  4. Amelia, I think that your post was a very personable, yet relatable account of the real tactics that prove a country’s efforts to maintain a healthy environment. I have never been to New Zealand, however, reading about your eye-opening experience as you walked through customs was very interesting to me. It gives hope to read about other countries implementing useful tools like this with the sole hope to prevent any further harm to their ecosystems. Touching on the erasure of biodiversity and deglaciation was also extremely helpful to me because I was able to understand the country’s current environmental situation even more.

  5. Amelia, I really enjoyed reading about New Zealand since it is a country that I do not know much about. I had never considered the severity of the effects that New Zealand is experiencing from deglaciation, which is an issue that is recently becoming more and more of a precedent. The fact that, as you quoted in your entry, “glaciers of the Southern Alps of New Zealand have shortened by 38%” is astonishing to me. I had no idea that this process was occurring with such severity. After reading this entry, I am interested to know how people are being affected on a day-to-day basis by deglaciation in New Zealand, as well as the rest of the world. How is deglaciation affecting the working economy and social life of countries affected by this process?

  6. Thanks for the great read, Amelia! It’s interesting to me how responses to climate change are so dependent on regional economies and cultures. For example, the emphasis put on biodiversity in New Zealand (though certainly important in its own right) seems entwined with the country’s position as an eco-tourist destination. The question of biodiversity, however, tends to be less pressing in urban areas, whose main attractions are the built environment. I am also curious if they advertised the shoe removal policy in the airport as related to climate change. In other words, was the introduction of invasive species perceived as a major national issue before climate change began to put additional pressure on native species?

  7. I think that this case study of New Zealand is interesting for a number of reasons. I think the thing that really stuck out to me is the fact that Climate Change stands to affect the small business owners that work in the country. I feel like this type of impact is often overlooked when talking about climate change. In most of my discussions with regards to climate change, they mostly center around the fact that climate change stands to change the health and well being of people, destroy habitats, but rarely do I consider the economic side of climate change. It is amazing to think that the change in climate will also change the way people make a living.

  8. Amelia, this is a great article about a country that’s already experiencing a lot of negative effects from climate change. While the government has released reports and is strict about invasive species, do they have any other policies to reduce the effects of warming (for example, a designated day to walk instead of driving)? Also, how are the indigenous Maori people involved in this? I know they’ve often had clashed with the government over the use of oil/drilling.

  9. This a grave situation in New Zealand, and their unique qualities are now serving to put them on the frontier of climate change effects. It is disheartening to observe that the very liveliness of endemic plant species may soon be lost. Global leaders and other nations should take heed to New Zealand’s example and make changes before options shrink. It’s sad to see that losses must be felt before policymakers are willing to respond with the appropriate commitment.

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