Robert McLachlan

Robert McLachlan FRSNZ is Distinguished Professor in Applied Mathematics at Massey University and is an advocate for stronger action on climate change.

A multitude of drops: Social tipping points in climate action - Planetary Ecology

Jan 24, 2020

If you’re here, you probably know that the climate crisis is upon us, that it’s getting steadily worse, and that attempts to address it haven’t worked yet. People are still driving and even advertising SUVs with impunity, and oil companies are exploring like crazy, even in New Zealand. Politically, socially, economically, it’s a challenging problem. In Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth’s climate by 2050, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Johan Rockström and thirteen others take on this problem. Rockström, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, is familiar as a pioneer of the Planetary Boundaries concept, nine aspects of the earth system that together define a safe operating space for humanity. That framework is based on physics, chemistry, and biology. Here the authors turn their attention to society. The goal … Read More

Should I ditch my fossil-fueled car? - Planetary Ecology

Jan 09, 2020

Yes. Reducing the number of cars in your household, or switching from petrol/diesel to electric, will dramatically reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. It’s one of the easiest and highest-impact climate steps you can take. New Zealand is being flooded with cars The New Zealand vehicle fleet is increasing rapidly. In the five years 2012-2017,  1,420,000 vehicles were imported and 660,000 were scrapped. The fleet increased by 760,000 vehicles: they would fill all lanes of State Highway 1, from Cape Reinga to Bluff, bumper to bumper. The fleet increase of 22% exceeds population growth of 9% and has given New Zealand the highest rate of car ownership in the OECD. Because of a shift to higher-emission utes and SUVs, and the lack of a fuel efficiency standard, the average fuel efficiency of the fleet has not improved. Road transport contributes 45% … Read More

Blow, wind of fruitfulness - Planetary Ecology

Dec 20, 2019

A short update on wind power in New Zealand, where there has been a string of positive announcements since I discussed the Turitea wind farm in May: On 22 May, Genesis committed to buy all the electricity from Tilt Renewables proposed 133 MW Waipipi wind farm at Waverley, south Taranaki, which allowed the project to go ahead. Construction is to start shortly. On 12 November, Mercury Energy decided to build the whole Turitea wind farm, expanding it from 113 MW to its full 222 MW. They own enough hydro generation to cover the variability of wind. Construction has started. On 22 November, the Government approved funding for two wind turbines in Stewart Island. This is small, but locally significant, as the island currently burns through 360,000 litres of subsidised diesel each year, and, until … Read More

Which countries are likely to meet their Paris Agreement targets - Climate: Explained

Dec 18, 2019

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz Which countries in the world have met or bettered their Paris Agreement targets? Robert McLachlan, Massey University The 2015 Paris Agreement is much more than a one-off climate change deal. Its main aim to limit global warming to well below 2℃, ideally 1.5℃, was a breakthrough. A follow-up report shows that keeping warming below 1.5℃ will require reducing fossil fuel burning by half by 2032. The 1.5℃ target has been written into New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act. But the ongoing process is also notable. Each country has registered a pledge (Nationally Determined Contribution, or … Read More

CORSIA, coming soon to an airport near you - Planetary Ecology

Dec 07, 2019

On 27 September, Greta Thunberg addressed a crowd of 500,000 at the School Strike for Climate in Montreal, saying: “You are a nation that is allegedly a climate leader. And Sweden is also a nation that is allegedly a climate leader. And in both cases, it means absolutely nothing. Because in both cases, it’s just empty words. And the politics needed are still nowhere in sight. So we are basically the same.” Meanwhile, also in Montreal, just a few kilometres away, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO, part of the United Nations) was also talking about climate change, speaking the language of international diplomacy: “Whereas the sustainable growth of aviation is important for future economic growth and development, trade and commerce, cultural exchange and understanding among peoples and nations; therefore prompt action must be taken to ensure that it … Read More

On the road to Net Zero, the next step is to update our UN pledge - Planetary Ecology

Nov 18, 2019

A lot has happened since the UN’s report on 1.5ºC was released in October 2018. New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Bill has passed, and enshrines the 1.5ºC goal in law. The UK and France have also legally strengthened their targets to Net Zero 2050. The School Strike For Climate and Extinction Rebellion have become household names. But progress on the ground is slow. Source: Climate Action Tracker Under the Paris Agreement, each country lodges a “Nationally Determined Contribution”, or NDC. This is one reason why the Paris Agreement is regarded as a breakthrough in climate negotiation. The NDCs will be updated every five years and must reflect each country’s “highest possible ambition“. The first update is due at the end of 2020, with the UN recently releasing a progress report. Despite Jacinda Ardern’s speech at the UN … Read More

Zero Carbon: It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law - Planetary Ecology

Nov 12, 2019

Two years into New Zealand’s Labour-led government, the long-delayed Zero Carbon Bill became law on 7 November. Passed essentially unanimously, the lengthy public debates and political manoeuvring faded away until the final passage was even anticlimactic: Flipping through the @nzstuff @DomPost I was starting to wonder if I’d dreamt the whole #zerocarbonbill thing. Page 15?? Really?? pic.twitter.com/MJg2P4zMY5 — Christina Hood (@cjhood71) November 7, 2019 So it’s worth remembering just how significant this new law is. We will start seeing action almost immediately. (The previous emissions target, not set in law, was for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, with no plan how to get there.) The Climate Change Commission will determine the first three carbon budgets (covering 2022-2025, 2026-2030, and 2031-2035) by February 2021, and the government will respond by … Read More

I’m so fly, I’m #NoFly! - Planetary Ecology

Oct 21, 2019

#NoFly: Walking the talk on climate change, by Shaun Hendy. BWB Texts, 2019. Reviewed by Robert McLachlan In June 2018, Swede Maja Rosén founded We stay on the ground with a pledge not to fly in 2019, and a goal of persuading 100,000 other Swedes to join her. In August, her compatriot Greta Thunberg began her school strike for climate.  Today, the No Fly movement has spread around the world, with the Flight Free 2020 campaign reaching eight countries, and Greta is a household name, with the September strikes drawing 4 million people globally. What a difference a year makes! The New Zealand scientist Shaun Hendy made his own flight-free year in 2018, attracting widespread publicity in the media, partly thanks to Stuff‘s “Quick! Save the Planet” series. In #NoFly he describes why he made the pledge, how it … Read More

Collins crushes climate - Planetary Ecology

Oct 15, 2019

An essay by Judith Collins MP reported on Carbon News yesterday seems to show an alarming shift in attitude within the National Party. Collins argues against the Zero Carbon Bill, the Paris Agreement, and downplays the magnitude of climate impacts. The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015 and ratified by the New Zealand Government, of which Judith Collins was a cabinet member, in October 2016. This involved agreeing to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. The Zero Carbon Bill implements this agreement for New Zealand. It implements what the National-led government … Read More

Fly less, Kiwis! - Planetary Ecology

Sep 05, 2019

Something’s happening here: Climate crisis: ‘We don’t fly to go on holiday now – and it doesn’t cost the earth’ (The Guardian, 10 August 2019) No-fly zone: Could you give up flying if it meant protecting the planet? (Adventure.com, 21 August 2019) Travel the world without destroying it (The Conversation, 22 August 2019) Harry and Meghan tried, but can we really make our flights carbon neutral? (The Observer, 24 August 2019) Climate change: Should you fly, drive or take the train? (BBC, 24 August 2019) Cheap, easy and endless: The big lie about plane travel (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 2019) A Future Without Long-Haul Vacations (The Atlantic, 2 September 2019) In New Zealand, the Facebook group Fly-less Kiwis was formed to focus attention on the need to reduce air travel. Unlike … Read More