Our wellbeing and the things that matter most to us in life will be affected more and more by changes in the climate. We are only beginning to understand how wellbeing and climate change are connected.
Many of our activities produce greenhouse gases, which are changing the climate. These changes can affect the things that matter most to us in life. This is like when a house shifts on its foundations – the movement reduces the stability of the walls, roof, and plumbing and ultimately reduces the wellbeing and prosperity of the people who live in it.
Things that form the core of our wellbeing – our physical and mental health, a secure income, a pristine natural environment, even our identity – can be affected by changes to the climate.
In some areas, impacts on things that contribute to our wellbeing are already being observed. For example, the areas where some species live have shifted, including some species that are considered taonga. But in many areas, the ways climate change could affect various aspects of our wellbeing, like our mental health or security is only beginning to be explored in New Zealand.
Despite relatively little study to date, many of the things that contribute to our wellbeing are vulnerable to the environmental changes that are likely as the climate warms. Documented evidence as well as studies that give an indication of what to watch for, are presented here to show how wellbeing is already being affected or is likely to be affected in the future.
The people, places, and things that make a person feel safe, happy, healthy, and satisfied all contribute to wellbeing. Our wellbeing can suffer if the things that matter most to us are degraded. These could be health and happiness for ourselves and those we love, places that ground us and we draw identity from, or the feelings of purpose and hope that get us through tough times.
The New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework identifies 12 domains that contribute to wellbeing, and is used by the Government to track changes in wellbeing. While there are other frameworks, components of the Living Standards Framework are used here to discuss both observed effects and expected changes to wellbeing. Although information is not currently available about how climate change affects every domain (housing for example) it is expected to affect all aspects of wellbeing in the future.
|Living Standards Framework domains||Wellbeing component and section title|
||Health: Health effects of climate change|
||Material: Climate change impacts on material wellbeing|
||Environment: Climate change threatens ecosystems|
||Social and cultural relations: Our social and cultural relations are affected by climate change|
||Engagement and governance: Climate change is becoming part of the way we engage and govern|
Warmer weather and extreme events affect physical health
Higher temperatures affect people. For example, models indicate that when the temperature gets above 20 degrees Celsius in Christchurch and Auckland a total of 14 heat-related deaths occur per year in adults older than 65 years. Higher temperatures also have risks for those who work outdoors (Royal Society Te Apārangi, 2017). In some parts of New Zealand higher temperatures have been linked to an increased risk of Salmonellosis infection, and may lead to reduced food safety (Lal, Hales, Kirk, Baker, & French, 2016; Royal Society Te Apārangi, 2017). Warmer winters, however, may reduce winter illness and deaths but this has not yet been observed in New Zealand.
We can expect other health impacts that are related (at least in part) to climate change. Large-scale heatwaves have affected American and European populations during recent Northern Hemisphere summers. New Zealanders may experience similar events more regularly, with varying abilities to cope (Joynt & Golubiewski, 2019). Conditions that favour the introduction of disease-carrying species, like mosquitoes for dengue fever, are also a concern for health.
In 2019, the New Zealand Medical Association declared climate change to be a health emergency. This recognised the threats to health from higher temperatures and extreme weather, changing patterns of disease and potential social impacts.
A changing climate can have profound effects on mental health
Some people can experience feelings of hopelessness and frustration when the problem of climate change feels too big, too complicated, and completely overwhelming (Moser, 2009). These feelings of eco-anxiety or climate anxiety also relate to concern for future generations – as people become anxious about a climate disaster, their concern for the fate of their children and grandchildren increases (Albrecht, 2011). There is a growing awareness that young people are particularly at risk from eco-anxiety as they look at an uncertain future where their lives will be different to those of their parents and grandparents due to the effects of climate change (Fritze, Blashki, Burke, & Wiseman, 2008).
Experiencing severe weather events such as floods, storms, or droughts can be traumatic and can lead to anxiety and depression. People who are forced to move as a result of climate change have to leave familiar surroundings and in the process, break personal and cultural bonds, which can affect mental health (Stephenson et al., 2018)
The environment is at the heart of our identity as Kiwis – it shapes our economy, culture, and lifestyle. The degradation or alteration of familiar environments can therefore cause grief, a sense of loss, and anxiety. The impacts go further for some, with acute and chronic mental health effects that include strained social relationships, depression, suicide, substance abuse, loss of identity, as well as feelings of helplessness, fear, and fatalism (Clayton, Manning, Krygsman, & Speiser, 2017). These anxieties are likely to occur more often as awareness of the risks and consequences from climate change increases (Coyle & Van Susteren, 2011).
The effects on mental health were recognised by the New Zealand Psychological Society creating a Climate Psychology Taskforce in 2014. Its goal is to help practitioners address the anxiety, distress, depression, and post-traumatic stress that extreme weather and displacement can cause.
River forces a community to move tīpuna from a threatened urupā
When an encroaching river threatened their ancestral urupā (burial ground), a community near Wairoa took the difficult decision to dig up and move their tīpuna (ancestors) to a brand new site. So far 31 of the 53 tīpuna have been relocated.
“I could see the river coming closer and closer to our whānau. Initially I thought there was no way I was going to pick up our tīpuna and take them away, but the alternative was to see them floating down the river and I definitely didn’t want that,” says Karen Paku, Ngāti Kahungunu, who has been part of the team organising the move.
Natural movement and modifications to the riverbed have shifted the course of Te Wairoa Hōpūpū Hōnengenenge Mātangi Rau (Wairoa River) closer to Mātiti Urupā. Because it is situated on an outer bend of the river, the urupā is at a greater risk from ongoing erosion, particularly during larger floods. Despite wānanga (forums) with experts and research-based interventions such as building a barrier in the river and planting along the banks, the erosion continued.
“We realised that moving them was the only option. At that time we were quite scared that our tīpuna were going to be washed away so we had to move quite quickly. It was an anxious time because we couldn’t wait another winter – they were only about 4 metres from the river. It was really too close for comfort.”
A new urupā site near Huramua Marae was identified and the Huramua community came together to make the project happen. Different teams allowed people to work to their strengths in planning, fundraising, logistics, communications, and ahi kā (work behind the scenes including hospitality).
“We also had a cultural team who looked at what is tikanga (correct protocol) and the right way to do things. They taught us about opening a void with a karakia (prayer) for our tīpuna to travel along, how the neighbours beside the route would have to shut their gates to maintain the integrity of the void, and to use another karakia to close the void. This was to keep us all safe.”
Many family members came back home to be part of the process. “It was a great opportunity to reconnect and strengthen our ties. We also reconnected to our people who had passed on. The night before someone was moving, we would sit down and talk about who they were, what they did in their life, and tell some funny stories about them. It’s important to keep that alive so our people today realise who their tīpuna were.”
Karen’s whānau were the first to move their taonga (treasured ones). They used diggers to excavate the site and placed the remains in large plywood boxes for transportation. “We first had to consecrate the new ground, so that morning we got up before the first light at 4.00am for a ceremony led by local Anglican and Catholic clergy and other hāhi (religious leaders). There was a light drizzle that made everything seem a bit surreal. It was a very moving time.”
Now that her family are safe at the new site, Karen is continuing to work with the Huramua Marae Trustees to help others with moves. Some families with graves further from the river have decided not to move their tīpuna yet.
“For me, I feel relieved, happy, excited – all of that mixed together. And when it rains in the winter, I know we’re all ok, we’re safe.”
Several other marae along the river are facing similar issues, and hundreds of coastal urupā are at risk from rising sea levels and increasing storm events. With this in mind, the moves from Mātiti to Huramua are being documented in written and video form. The information will be made available for others who face the same issues with their urupā.
The people of Huramua Marae would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who has contributed to the project, including Hawke's Bay Regional Council, J R McKenzie Trust, Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatū Taonga, Ministry of Health, Te Puni Kōkiri, Ministry for the Environment, Te Uru Rākau, Wairoa District Council, Evans Funeral Services, many local businesses, and the people of Wairoa district.
Recreation can be affected
Climate change may affect our access to coastal areas and the opportunity to spend our leisure time there in the future. Sea-surface warming for example, is associated with increased wave power that shapes the coast (Reguero, Losada, & Méndez, 2019). This, along with heavy rain, can increase erosion and the risk of slips like the one at Cape Kidnappers that closed a popular walking track in January 2019 and prevented public access to views of a large gannet colony.
Flooding, which is projected to increase with climate change, damaged some of New Zealand’s iconic Great Walks in the summer of 2019–20, including the Milford and Routeburn tracks. It also delayed the opening of a new one, the Paparoa Track. Coastal flooding due to sea-level rise has put 331 Department of Conservation assets (2 percent) and 119 visitor sites at risk (Tait, 2019).
Fox and Franz Josef glaciers in Westland are retreating and have become too dangerous for tourists to be guided onto them from their bases. This has ended almost 100 years of glacier guiding from the valley floor (Anderson, Kerr, & Milner, 2016). Access to the glacier for a guided walk now requires a helicopter but this affects the wilderness experience, increases cost, and is more emissions-intensive. The long-term sustainability of these tours is now in doubt (PCE, 2019).
Financial costs and opportunities from climate change
The ability to provide for ourselves, our whānau, and our community is vital to our wellbeing. Many parts of the New Zealand economy are exposed to a changing climate.
In 2018, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand reported that our financial system is exposed to climate risks through the sectors it lends to and insures (RBNZ, 2018).
Between 2007 and 2017 it is estimated that the contribution of climate change to floods and droughts alone cost New Zealanders $840 million in insured damages and economic losses (Frame et al., 2018). In response, some insurers have already adjusted insurance products and pricing to account for emerging climate risks (RBNZ, 2018). Some insurance companies have moved to risk-based pricing where premiums are higher in areas that are prone to hazards such as floods or earthquakes (Horne, Frith, & de Pont, 2019). Insurance cover may become difficult or impossible to acquire and properties may become difficult to sell in locations that are vulnerable to climate risks, especially coastal areas (Storey et al., 2017).
Some economic opportunities also exist. Recent reporting found that for 2009–19, companies with low greenhouse gas emissions had higher valuations and better performance on the New Zealand Exchange than their high-emitting counterparts (Bowley et al., 2019). The impacts of climate change in other parts of the world could also create market opportunities for New Zealand’s primary industries (Frame et al., 2018).
Effects on infrastructure and buildings
Climate change is likely to cause severe effects on the infrastructure we rely on to support our daily lives and routines. Some communities are already having to contend with impacts.
In Wellington, summer heat in 2017 dried the ground and put stress on old, brittle water pipes. This caused a record number of leaks (Lawrence, Blackett, Cradock-Henry, & Nistor, 2018). High temperatures can also cause issues for rail networks. Temporary speed restrictions are used in some places as a precaution in the event that tracks become dangerously misaligned from the heat (Metlink, n.d.). The highest of high tides is also causing flooding in some locations even when there are no waves or storm surges (see King tides show possible future sea levels).
New information from agencies and local authorities is improving our understanding of how sea-level rise may affect assets, communities, and businesses. With a sea-level rise of 0.5 metres for example, an extra 48,900 people (about the population of Nelson), 36,000 buildings, and 350 square kilometres of land across the country would be exposed to flooding during extreme events (Paulik et al., 2019).
Primary industries are vulnerable to increased weather extremes and changing conditions
Because of their reliance on the environment, New Zealand’s primary industries (including farming, forestry, and horticulture) are sensitive to changes in climate. While extreme events such as droughts, rainstorms, and heavy snowfalls can have devastating effects, other changes like alterations to the growing season are starting to be documented.
In interviews, kiwifruit growers noted longer and more variable spring weather. Changes in temperature and humidity over the course of a growing season can change the size, shape, and taste of fruit and affect the price a grower receives (Cradock-Henry, 2017).
Modelling found that almost half of the variability in annual pasture production was linked to the climate. Climate shifts towards the end of this century are likely to result in higher yields, with a shift in pasture production towards spring, but also higher risk of heat stress for animals and increasing water limitation (Ausseil et al., 2019).
Sauvignon Blanc grapes were expected to mature about two weeks earlier than normal in the 2017–18 growing season because of high summer temperatures. Flowering occurred in a shorter period and fruit set was exceptionally successful – this delayed the harvest (Salinger et al., 2019). These changes are in line with recent modelling that projects earlier flowering dates for wine grapes towards the end of the century (Ausseil et al., 2019).
Fish stocks are influenced significantly by variations in climate (see Our marine environment 2019). Fishing is a valuable part of our economy, and in 2019 New Zealand’s commercial fish stocks were valued at $10.4 billion (Stats NZ, 2020a). There is evidence that warmer seas in summer are affecting fish – the reproduction of some species (such as snapper and hoki) appears to be affected by sea-surface temperature (MPI, 2017).
The impacts of climate change on fish stocks is a concern for New Zealand’s fisheries and for Māori in particular. Māori own about 40 percent of the national fisheries quota and rely on the ocean for food through customary fishing (King, 2015).
The marine heatwave of 2017–18 was associated with the death of many salmon grown by aquaculture in the Marlborough Sounds (Salinger et al., 2019).
Ecosystems are valuable and contribute to wellbeing
New Zealand’s ecosystems are unique and have incomparable value. They also contribute to our wellbeing by providing benefits that range from the tangible (like drinking water) to the ethereal (like the melodious song of a bellbird). We also gain cultural benefits from nature, like a sense of identity and connection to place. The loss of biodiversity, especially taonga species, can negatively affect our wellbeing through changes or loss of culture, traditional practices, and language.
Abnormally high temperatures are disturbing native species
Native plants and animals are exposed to changes in the environment and although their resilience varies, many are already being affected by higher temperatures.
In the marine environment, high sea-surface and land temperatures and low wave heights during the 2017–18 marine heatwave led to the complete loss of rimurapa (bull kelp, Durvillaea) at some reefs in Lyttleton and a significant loss at four other sites. Rimurapa is a crucial part of the marine ecosystem. At the site where the kelp was lost, the invasive seaweed Undaria took its place and a dramatic decrease in mussels was observed (Thomsen et al., 2019). Rimurapa is a taonga species for South Island Māori. It is traditionally used to make pōhā (kelp bags) to preserve and transport tītī (mutton bird). In the past pōhā were also used to steam shellfish, carry water, and as flotation devices when inflated.
In Lake Wānaka, warmer surface water temperatures are likely to have contributed to a shift in the populations of phytoplankton to a species that prefers warmer temperatures. (Phytoplankon are microscopic algae that form the base of the food web). Higher temperatures have also allowed a non-native phytoplankton to survive winter in the lake (Bayer, Schallenberg, & Burns, 2016).
A changing climate can make other stresses worse. On Otago Peninsula, a study found that warming seas contributed to a reduction in the survival rates of hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) – probably by reducing the number and size of the fish they feed on. Other factors including disease outbreaks, predators, and tourism also have a role in their declining population. If sea-surface temperatures remain high, conditions may limit the ability of the penguins to recover (Mattern et al., 2017).
Impacts like these are expected to continue in the future. A warmer climate, for example, may cause some native fish species to be lost from places they once inhabited. Alpine galaxias are native to mountain streams but are sensitive to temperature and cannot live in water that is too warm (Boddy & McIntosh, 2017). In the Waikato River, īnanga (one of the species caught as whitebait) were found to be smaller in spring and summer when the water was warmer (Goodman, 2018). Īnanga are an iconic species for New Zealanders and a taonga species for Māori.
Climate change is reducing the areas where some species can live
There is some early evidence that the warming climate is affecting the ranges of some species. For example, the altitude range of two wētā species on Mount Taranaki moved higher, due in part to warmer temperatures. Their range is also determined by competition with other wētā (Bulgarella, Trewick, Minards, Jacobson, & Morgan-Richards, 2014).
Sightings of tropical and warm-water fish that are usually seen only in warmer water, were reported in New Zealand seas during the marine heatwave of 2017–18 (Salinger et al., 2019).
As the temperature continues to warm, it is likely that the areas where some species can live will be squeezed. Many native birds have already retreated into cooler parts of their former habitats because there are more predators (like possums, rats, and stoats) in the warmer lowland forests. As the area of cooler forests shrinks, the pressure from predators will increase further. Large birds like kiwi, whio and North Island kōkako are particularly at risk because of their limited ability to move into new areas. Kākā and kea, as well as smaller cavity-nesting birds like kākāriki, may be threatened too (Walker, Monks, & Innes, 2019).
Extreme events are affecting biodiversity
Droughts and floods are projected to increase in many parts of the country (see chapter 5: Looking ahead: future emissions and climate). Droughts have been found to dramatically decrease the body size of kōwaro (Canterbury mudfish), which have a conservation status of threatened (nationally critical) (Meijer, Warburton, Harding, & McIntosh, 2019). Droughts and floods have also been shown to affect breeding in īnanga (Goodman, 2018).
Flooding in 2009 reduced a population of scree skinks in the Canterbury high country by 84 percent. This lizard has a conservation status of nationally vulnerable. It took about 8 years for the population to recover naturally (Lettink & Monks, 2019).
Tree masting is affected by climate change
Masting occurs when trees produce and spread a large number of seeds in some years. A study in the Northern Hemisphere found that climate change eliminated the benefit that beech trees get from seed masting. European beech trees in England had more regular mast events – this benefited some of the animals that feed on the seeds because food was produced more regularly, and their populations increased. The larger number of animals eliminated any benefit to the trees from the masting strategy because there were more of them to eat the seed before it could grow into trees (Bogdziewicz, Kelly, Thomas, Lageard, & Hacket-Pain, 2020).
New Zealand trees like beech use the same masting strategy and some species including kākāpō cue their breeding around mast events. At higher elevations in the South Island, increased rainfall and warmer temperatures in summer have been linked to greater seed production from beech trees (Allen, Hurst, Portier, & Richardson, 2014). Years with large mast events are linked to higher numbers of introduced predators. This increases predation on native species and can require significant human intervention and resources to control.
Read the long description for Māori identity and wellbeing is threatened by climate change
Te whenua, te wai, and taonga species are being affected by climate change, which threatens traditional practices connected to Māori identity and wellbeing.
The timing of tohu are changing - Traditional tohu are used to help forecast changes in the natural environment. They are becoming less reliable, and this is affecting planting, daily decision-making, and activities like resource gathering and hunting.
Culturally significant places are at risk of being damaged - Many marae and urupā are threatened by flooding and erosion from sea-level rise and extreme weather events.
The loss of taonga species - Taonga species are central to Māori identity and wellbeing. A warming climate is affecting where some species can live, their numbers, and size.
Ability to manaaki is threatened - Manaakitanga is a way of life and is especially important on marae where local delicacies are offered generously to manuhiri. Climate change threatens the reliability of tohu, abundance of kai, and sometimes the marae itself.
How Māori wellbeing is connected to te taiao is encompassed in four different concepts – taha tinana, taha wairua, taha hinengaro and taha whanau;
Taha tinana (physical wellbeing) – rongoa, mahinga kai
Taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing) – karakia, waiata
Taha hinengaro (mental wellbeing) – mātauranga, tikanga
Taha whānau (social wellbeing) – manaakitanga, whanaungatanga
This is adapted from (Durie, 1985).
Mātauranga may not be passed on - Losing traditional resources from the moana, awa, and ngahere is not just a loss in the present. It affects future generations because the tikanga and mātauranga Māori associated with the resource and the practices around its harvest and use would also be lost.
awa - river
kai - food
karakia - prayer
mahinga kai - food gathering place
manaakitanga - the practice of hospitality
manuhiri - visitors
marae - cultural gathering centre
mātauranga - knowledge
moana - ocean
ngahere - forest
rongoā - medicinal plants
taonga species - treasured species
tikanga - customary protocols
tohu - environmental indicator
urupā - burial grounds
wai - water
waiata - songs
whanaungatanga - socialisation
whenua - land
Effects on communities and local government
Wellbeing is enhanced when we feel we have a say in the institutions and decision-making that governs our day-today lives. Climate change can create difficult trade-offs and raise new legal and ethical questions that society and governing institutions need to grapple with.
Many regions, cities, and towns are now incorporating the current and projected impacts of climate change in their planning. In Hawke’s Bay for example, planning has begun to understand the risks and management options for dealing with coastal hazards, including sea-level rise. More resilient communities can be created by consulting with people early and developing options for managing the effects before they are needed (HBRC, 2016).
All aspects of wellbeing are threatened by a reduction in safety and security. Preparations for potential climate-related effects have already begun in this country.
The Ministry of Defence, for example, has identified climate change as “one of the greatest security challenges for New Zealand Defence in the coming decades”. The Defence Force has already begun planning for more humanitarian, disaster relief, and stability operations in the Pacific region to help New Zealand’s Pacific Island neighbours who will be increasingly affected by rising sea levels, drought, and stronger tropical cyclones (MoD & NZDF, 2019).
Rising seas have already immersed at least eight low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean. Migration caused by climate change is inevitable, and will affect the people who are displaced as well as the communities where they eventually resettle. (MoD & NZDF, 2018).
Climate change raises legal questions
Local authorities must disclose hazard information on property land information memorandums (LIMs), including “any information they have about the implications of sea-level rise and coastal processes” (MfE, 2017). Both disclosure and failure to disclose this information can create legal issues for councils, which puts them in a difficult situation. In 2012, the Kāpiti Coast District Council placed information on projected erosion hazard risk on LIMs for properties deemed to be at risk from future sea-level rise. Following a legal challenge that contested the accuracy of the analysis and the adequacy of a public consultation process, the council removed the information (Filippova, Nguyen, Noy, & Rehm, 2019).
Other legal risks are increasingly experienced by company directors for not considering climate change risks alongside other financial risk because it “presents a foreseeable risk of financial harm to many businesses”. Climate change litigation has also been increasing. In 2019, court proceedings were filed against seven New Zealand companies seeking injunctions to reduce their emissions (Chapman Tripp, 2019).
Climate change raises ethical questions
Questions about allocating the costs related to sea-level rise are complex: who is responsible when buildings or homes become uninsurable, or people have to retreat from living close to the sea? There are also questions about the duty of councils to their communities: what level of engagement is sufficient to ensure the public has a voice in how they adapt for a climate-changed future? Further questions about intergenerational equity arise: what costs should people alive today be allowed to impose on future generations?
Chapter 4: Climate change and our wellbeing
© Ministry for the Environment