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Climate science

By Institute of Directors
4 Mar 2020
read time
3 min to read
Climate science

As part of Boardroom magazine’s focus on climate action (February/ March 2020) the following analysis puts New Zealand’s climate-related impacts in the context of changes across the globe.

Human activity


Climate change is a consequence of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which trap heat.

Our extraction from the ground and consumption of fossil fuels such as oil, petroleum and coal has contributed to a 52% increase in carbon dioxide levels (a key greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere between 1990 and 2016.

We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7.6% per year up to 2030 to limit the global temperature rise by 2100 to 1.5%, considered a tipping point for extreme climate impacts. More than 11,000 scientists signed a letter published in the BioScience journal in November 2019 warning that “the climate crisis has arrived”.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 20% since 1990.



The UN Emissions Gap Report 2019 says global temperatures have risen by 1.1% (versus a baseline temperature in the 150 years before 1900).

Scientists fear that a rise of more than 1.5% could trigger severe impacts. Under the Paris Agreement of 2016, the global temperature is expected to rise 3.2% by 2100.

The average global temperature has been higher each decade since 1980 than in all records back to 1850.

Glaciers, permafrost and the continental ice in the Arctic and Antarctica is melting – which contributes to rising seas. The Arctic has seen a 13% decrease in sea ice since 1979.

New Zealand

Three of the past five years have been among the hottest on record. November 2019 was the hottest November on record.

The ice volume of the Southern Alps has been reduced by a third over the past 40 years.

Sea level


The seas are rising (on average) due to an influx of water from melting ice and volume expansion due to being warmer. In 2014, the average was 2.6cm above the 1993 average.

It is projected to rise one metre by 2100 if global greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.

Six million people live in areas vulnerable to projected sea level rises this century, even if the temperature rise is curtailed at 1.5%.

New Zealand

The sea level has been rising at around 3mm per year for the past 25 years.

The seas around New Zealand are expected to rise 5-10% more than the global average rise.



Global weather patterns are becoming more extreme – extreme heat, more powerful storms than expected and a heightened risk of droughts and, concomitantly, floods.

New Zealand

Storm damage has cost $800m over the past five years. NIWA predicts extreme rainfall and intense thunderstorms will continue to become more common.

Global data is drawn from the UN Emissions Gap Report 2019. Data for New Zealand is drawn from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA –Taihoro Nukurangi)

What is climate action?

How four businesses around the globe are integrating “climate action” in their operations.

The number one priority in our “Top Five Issues for Directors in 2020” (Boardroom issue December/January 2020) was climate action.

But what does climate action mean? Here, we review some of the recent examples of businesses around the globe finding ways to incorporate it into their activities. Each of these initiatives was announced in January. Expect to see more as 2020 progresses.

BlackRock exits the black (or brownish) rock

The world’s biggest fund manager has announced it will divest itself of shares in thermal coal (the kind used in electricity generation).

BlackRock got good press for the announcement, which was made as part of CEO Larry Fink’s annual letter to chief executives. It shows the US$7 trillion investment manager accepts the risk that climate change poses to its business and the planet and is seeking to mitigate this.

It will continue at this point to maintain stakes in major oil companies including BP, Shell and ExxonMobil.

Tiffany says climate change is forever

As Australia swelters and fires rage, Tiffany & Co ran newspaper ads urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take climate action seriously.

It’s another sign of climate change being seen as good marketing for global organisations, but also reflects an awareness that businesses and politicians must find ways to work together if the worst risks of climate change are to be avoided.

As Tiffany’s advertisements said: “The disaster of climate change is too real, and the threat to our planet and to our children is too great.”

Westpac NZ makes Contact Energy a sustainability-linked loan

In a New Zealand first (with a small “f”) Westpac NZ has extended Contact Energy a NZ$50m sustainability-linked loan facility.

Contact receives a lower interest rate if it meets targets linked to its environmental, social and governance (ESG) rating (as determined by RobecoSAM).

It’s an interesting example of industries working together to find was to take action that will benefit the climate, the planet and the businesses themselves.

Mircosoft goes for negative carbon

Microsoft wants to remove from the environment all the carbon it has emitted since 1975. To do this, it plans to begin removing more carbon from the environment than it emits.

Chief Executive Satya Nadella says Microsoft could be carbon negative by 2030 and to have balanced its carbon ledger since founding by 2050. “When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith.

This article is featured in 
Boardroom issue Feburary March 2020

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