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Climate change

Image of Earth from space.

On this page: Greenhouse effect, Climate change and us, Where greenhouse gases come from, Taking action, Disposal of refrigerant gases, You can help

Air pollutants don’t just affect local areas – they can have a worldwide effect. 

The major cause of climate change is thought to be human-made greenhouse gases (especially from burning fossil fuels). But New Zealand is unique among developed countries because more than half (55 percent) of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.

Agriculture emissions are mostly made up of non-carbon dioxide (CO2) gases, such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Greenhouse effect

Greenhouse gases play an important role in trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Without greenhouse gases, Earth’s average surface temperature would be too cold to support life. But when there’s too much of these gases in the atmosphere too much heat can be trapped.

The main greenhouse gases are:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Check out the Ministry for the Environment's information on climate change and the effects of greenhouse gases.

Climate change and us

The potential effects of climate change on the Waikato region include:

  • Changes in weather patterns – differences in rainfall, temperature and microclimates could affect agriculture and horticulture. The location of some industries, agriculture, horticulture and tourism may change.
  • More turbulent weather - extreme weather can increase flooding, erosion, droughts and damage ecosystems.
  • Sea level rise - higher sea levels will affect coastal communities increasing coastal flooding and erosion.
  • Threats to biodiversity - species that are already under threat or at the limit of their climatic range may not be able to survive.
  • New diseases and pests may take hold. Tropical pests and tropical diseases like malaria may become established in areas where they currently do not exist.

Find out more about how climate change may affect Natural Hazards in the Waikato region.

Where greenhouse gases come from

In the Waikato region, industry, agriculture, households and transport all produce greenhouse gases. Sources include:

  • Petrol and diesel motor vehicles produce CO2, N2O and hydrocarbons.
  • Power stations and other industries that burn fossil fuels release CO2 and N2O. For example, Huntly Power Station produced about 3.26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2001.
  • Domestic heating appliances that burn fossil fuels, two- and four-stroke lawnmowers, backyard incinerators and barbecues all produce CO2.
  • Livestock, landfills and waste water treatment facilities produce methane.
  • Agricultural land use and some industrial processes increase nitrous oxides levels.

Removing vegetation adds to the problem because there is less vegetation to act as a 'carbon sink' (vegetation removes carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis). In contrast, planting trees and other vegetation helps remove carbon dioxide from the air.

Draining and developing peatland areas releases about 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Find out how to better manage development on peat soils.

Taking action

New Zealand’s Central Government is responsible for setting controls on the release of greenhouse gases. The Government has signed and ratified the international United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. Find out more about the UNFCCC from the Ministry for the Environment.

Disposal of refrigerant gases

Refrigerant gases must be disposed of in an environmentally acceptable way.

RECOVERY is a trust, formed by the New Zealand Institute of Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers, which promotes and facilitates the collection, storage and disposal of all ozone depleting substances during the phasing out period.  RECOVERY, also consults with environmental groups and reports regularly to government through the Minister for the Environment.

You can find out more by visiting the recovery website.

You can also find more information on the Environmental Protection Authority’s website.

You can help

You can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by:

  • being energy efficient at home – insulate your home and hot water cylinders
  • using alternative forms of transport for example cycling, walking or the bus
  • using renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels (for example solar heating)
  • ensuring your home heater is fuel efficient
  • keeping your motor vehicle well tuned and well looked after.

Find out how to be energy efficient around your home and business on the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority web pages.