RMLA Note on the Joint MfE / NZ Stats release of Our Atmosphere and Climate 2020


Author: Blair Dickie – RMLA Climate Change Knowledge Hub Leader

Our Atmosphere and Climate 2020, the latest in the series of environmental reports was released on Thursday 15 October 2020. The Environmental Reporting Act 2015 requires the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician to regularly report on the state of our national environment, which is achieved by a series of five resource-based reports and a synthesis report, repeated and updated every three years. 

The format and measures used in the 2020 report have evolved with successive iterations of the reporting series (this is the second Atmosphere and Climate report); however, all are based upon the Pressure – State – Impact model, leaving responses to those elements of government, business and civil society with the mandates, motivation, and resources to act. The combination of societal responses will be reflected in the subsequent analysis of the pressure variables, such as the products we buy, the food we eat, the way we travel, how we use land and other resources – in short how we run our lives.

The cross-cutting influence of climate change creates a link to other resources and in a way – allows the impacts section to provide a richness along the lines of a mini-synthesis report with links to marine, freshwater, air and land. The data upon which the report is based was collected between the beginning of the year and June 2020, so this report has the opportunity to include the effects of the 29 day COVID- 19 level 4 responses in March / April 2020 with the changes in transport pressure highlighted.

Using traditional and some new measures from 30 reference sites around the country, the report concludes that our climate is changing, and that this is affecting our wellbeing, which is a new element this year. Also new is a specific section on Māori identity and wellbeing clearly articulating the cultural implications of our collective activities that are affecting the climate.

The report addresses major trends derived from nearly 50 years of data collected primarily between 1972 and 2019 except where indicated. These are:

  • Annual average temperature increased at 28 sites;
  • Average and maximum winter temperature increased at all sites;
  • Frost days decreased at 40% of the sites;
  • Warm days (high over 25 degrees Celsius) increased at nearly 66% of sites;
  • Annual rainfall increased at almost 50% of the sites – most having more intense rainfall (data from 1960 – 2019);
  • The intensity of short-term drought increased at 14 sites (11 in the North Island);
  • Increase in extreme fire danger at six sites (New measure data from 1997 – 2019).

This report also addresses the time lag between the pressure signals and the state measurements and provides projections of some climate impacts to be identified for the coming century. This is a very useful feature. 

The 84-page main report is accessible to non-technical audiences and clearly explains the context, identifies where we have come from, where we are and where we could be heading. 

Although responses are beyond the scope of the report, the implications for policy and decision making are clear for business, government and the wider civil society as we all work towards a national net-zero emissions target by 2050.

Read the full report

Read English and te reo Māori versions of the summary report