Climate change related droughts set to increase

  • Pete Hodgson
Climate Change Issues

A National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) report, Changes in Drought Risk with Climate Change, released today states that drought risk is expected to increase in already drought prone regions. The report used a range of climate change scenarios and projects a two to four fold increases in the incidence of severe drought across many eastern parts of New Zealand by the 2080s. Under a medium-high scenario, Marlborough could see what is considered a one in 20 year drought event today occurring every three to five years by the 2080s.

The study covers all of New Zealand, and finds possible increases in drought risk in inland and northern parts of Otago, eastern Canterbury and Marlborough, parts of the Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay, the Bay of Plenty, the Coromandel Peninsula and parts of Northland. It uses projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and internationally recognised climate models.

"The areas covered represent a large proportion of our prime agricultural land for cropping, dairy, sheep farming, viticulture and market gardening. The results are alarming," says Convenor of the Ministerial Group on Climate Change Pete Hodgson. "In some areas, un-irrigated farming may become less viable in the driest regions, while other crop and fruit farmers would face increasing competition for irrigation water.”

"The 1997-99 Canterbury drought cost $230 million at the farm gate alone. The Australian drought of 2002/03 resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in agricultural output, a net effect of a 1.6 per cent drop in GDP and 70,000 jobs. This is the scale of the threat climate change can pose to New Zealand and the agriculture sector in particular.

“We have learnt many lessons from previous droughts. We know how to harvest and store water, and we can breed more efficient and drought resistant pastures. But some of the changes outlined in this report would be well outside what we are used to. But adapting farming and water management practices will only go some way to offset the increased risk of drought under climate change.

"Only if we do more both at home and internationally to cut emissions and so to lessen the extent and effects of climate change can we make sure to avoid the drought projections at the higher end of the scale.

"There will always be a lot of talk about the economic cost of implementing polices to attempt to limit climate change. On the basis of this report we now have a better idea of the cost to our economy and society of failing to act. It is a lot cheaper to take action now than to pay for the consequences later."

Christian Judge, press secretary, 04 471 9707 / 021 670 349