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Last year was New Zealand’s hottest year on record, according to the country’s National Institute of Water and Aeronautic Research (NIWA), and seven of the past nine years are among New Zealand’s warmest ever. The country’s steadily rising temperature brings increased risk of major floods, bushfires and storms.
According to NIWA, New Zealand’s average temperature in 2021 was 13.56 degrees Celsius. It’s the highest average NIWA has recorded since it began its seven-station annual temperature series in 1909, and breaks the previous record set in 2016 by 0.11 degrees.
© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Xinhua/REX/ShutterstockThe increases won’t end anytime soon without significant action on climate change, said Victoria University of Wellington’s Dr Nathanael Melia. “Every year we spin the roulette wheel of weather variability; however, like a casino, we have rigged the game, and the hothouse always wins in the end.”
Dr James Renwick at the same university said: “We can expect more and more of the same in future – the record high temperatures we have just experienced would be counted as a cold year by the 2040s.”
Heightened temperatures cause more extreme weather, says Renwick. For example, higher temperatures means the atmosphere holds more moisture, which causes more severe flooding in some regions.
In July 2021 heavy rain engorged the West Coast’s Buller River, accelerating its flow to 10 times its normal rate – the highest recorded in a New Zealand river since 1926. The resulting flood devastated the town of Westport. Many residents had to be evacuated after hundreds of houses were inundated, causing an estimated NZ$132m in damage. Development West Coast’s chief executive, Heath Milne, expects the rebuild to take up to two years.
Higher temperatures also mean other regions will become dryer, according to Renwick, causing more frequent bushfires.
SCION, New Zealand’s forestry research service, estimates that the number of days of “very high” or “extreme” fire risk will double or triple in coming years. Firefighters in New Zealand are currently on their 26th day of fighting a major bush fire in the Far North District.
“These changes are typical around the world,” says Renwick. “These are all symptoms of the way the climate is changing, and New Zealand is no different from other countries in that respect.” AdChoices
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