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Published: 2001-05-28 00:00:00

Government incentives will be needed to reduce greenhouse gases in New Zealand, this month’s Environment Waikato Environment Committee meeting heard.

Dr Kevin Tate of Landcare Research told the Committee that the Government had recently decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol by mid-2002, committing the country to returning CO2 gas emissions to 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The ratification had provided a major boost to work on Government climate change policy in determining what New Zealand needed to do to reach the goal.

Actively reducing greenhouse gases would cost, and require incentives to promote renewal energy alternatives such as wind and solar power, forest expansion and more sustainable land management practices such as revegetating eroded land.

“The country’s carbon emissions are continuing to rise, and New Zealand’s major greenhouse gas, methane, warmed 20 times faster than carbon dioxide. Methane levels had reduced a little due to changes in animal numbers, and nitrous oxide – which warms 300 times faster than carbon dioxide – was attributable to agriculture, especially dairying”, Dr Tate said.

The latest greenhouse gas inventory showed emissions were still rising and 1999 levels of carbon dioxide were a fifth higher than in 1990. Transport now accounted for more than 40 percent of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Dr Tate said the public had limited understanding about the effects of global warming, and while some effects were positive, most were negative. They included a rise in sea levels of 20 to 80cm, which would mean some low lying Pacific countries would disappear.

There would be direct effects on human health from increased heat and indirect effects from extreme weather such as floods, forest fires from drought and diseases from the increase in the number of mosquitoes and other insects.

Positive effects would include increased productivity from agriculture, particularly in the South Island.

“Carbon sinks”, such as forests and planted areas were offsetting the effects of fossil fuel use, but New Zealand was still losing carbon to the atmosphere, he said.