Robert McLachlan

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

Way to go: Electrifying advice from the Climate Change Commission - Planetary Ecology

Feb 05, 2021

The Climate Change Commission’s draft advice on how to decarbonise New Zealand’s economy is refreshing, particularly as it calls on the government to start phasing out fossil fuels instead of relying on offsets and carbon trading. Until now, New Zealand has relied heavily on its Emissions Trading Scheme, but the evidence is clear that it has failed to reduce emissions. The commission’s package includes carbon budgets out to 2035 and detailed pathways to achieve them across all sectors of the economy. For the transport sector, which is responsible for half of New Zealand’s energy-related emissions, the commission suggests a sweeping set of changes to electrify the country’s car fleet and to replace imported fuels with local renewable electricity. It’s exciting to see a national-level plan that actually cuts emissions. But it raises two questions: is it … Read More

Geyserland: Or, What happened at Taupō - Unsorted

Jan 06, 2021

I don’t know Taupō well. Even though I stop off there from time to time, I’m always on the way to somewhere else. Usually Taupō means making a hot water puddle in the gritty sand followed by a swim in the lake, noticing with bemusement and resignation the traffic, the parasailing, and the hole-in-one game. Sometimes a random, generic motel. But this time the random motel was not at all generic. Although right on the edge of town, the buildings were scattered far apart. There were typical 1970s “chalets” (i.e., DIY 4 x 2 carpentry), plus a strange assortment of structures from different periods. There was a large industrial warehouse and a deserted 500-seat bar and restaurant. (I later read that big acts like Prince Tui Teka played here in the 1970s.) Around the back there was a “historic” section, … Read More

We (still) need to talk about cars - Planetary Ecology

Dec 16, 2020

To address climate change, we need to phase out the burning of fossil fuels. The largest share of fossil fuels is burnt in cars and trucks. So it seems clear that fossil-fuelled vehicles need to stop being designed, made, imported, and driven. But anyone who has visited a road or seen a car ad recently knows that that isn’t happening, or, if it is, it’s happening so imperceptibly slowly as to hardly make a difference. In New Zealand the situation is particularly acute, as we are now very, very far down the path towards a system dominated by urban sprawl and private cars, with little regulation of either. Road transport emissions doubled between 1990 and 2018. In the US they rose 30% in the same period, and in the UK, just 6%, which campaigners still point out is woefully insufficient. Read More

Climate emergency or not, New Zealand needs to start doing its fair share of climate action - Planetary Ecology

Dec 02, 2020

Following this week’s climate emergency declaration, New Zealand will have to face up to the fact it has one of the worst climate records of industrialised nations. Of 43 industrialised countries — known as Annex 1 countries — 31 are experiencing a drop in emissions. But 12 have seen net emissions increase between 1990 and 2018, and New Zealand is near the top of this group. As part of the Paris Agreement, countries were asked to submit emissions reduction targets. These Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are a measure of a nation’s commitment to contribute to the goal of limiting warming to well below 2℃. New Zealand submitted its NDC in 2015, with a headline target of bringing emissions down over the coming decade to 30% below 2005 levels. But this is not what it seems. Read More

Flight to nowhere sends the wrong message in climate crisis - Planetary Ecology

Sep 25, 2020

Qantas Airlines’ 7-hour “flight to nowhere”, that sold out in 10 minutes with prices from A$787 to A$3787, seemed like a sick joke to climate advocates. Apart from the waste of fuel and the pointless emissions, passengers would be able to see first-hand, from a plane just like those that carried coronavirus around the world so effectively, the sweeping devastation caused by last summer’s “climate fires” and the global-warming induced bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. “Would it be more efficient just to crash it in the Great Barrier Reef?” asked Dan Rutherford, aviation director at the International Council for Clean Transportation. Now a travel enthusiast has suggested that Air New Zealand could follow suit, offering scenic flights of the entire country (not forgetting the Chathams). Actually, New Zealand does have a proud tradition of scenic flights, from small beginnings in … Read More

Are we doomed if we don’t manage to curb emissions by 2030? - Climate: Explained

Jul 29, 2020

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 Is humanity doomed? If in 2030 we have not reduced emissions in a way that means we stay under say 2℃ (I’ve frankly given up on 1.5℃), are we doomed then? Robert McLachlan, Massey University Humanity is not doomed, not now or even in a worst-case scenario in 2030. But avoiding doom — either the end or widespread collapse of civilisation — is setting a pretty low bar. We can aim much higher than that without shying away from reality. It’s right to focus on global warming of 1.5℃ and 2℃ in the first instance. The many manifestations … Read More

Climate Commission is cleared for takeoff: James Renwick talks ice, snow, and climate action - Planetary Ecology

Feb 10, 2020

James Renwick is Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University of Wellington. He studied at Canterbury and the University of Washington and has worked on diverse aspects of climate science, including global atmospheric circulation and Antarctic sea ice. In December 2019 he was appointed to the New Zealand Climate Change Commission, which will recommend carbon budgets and mitigation strategies to the Government. An outspoken voice for climate action, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Prize for Communication in 2018. He talked with Robert McLachlan on 3 February 2020. Huge winds, giant currents, storms all over the place. And he’s not talking about summer in Wellington. James Renwick, a.k.a. @CubaRaglanGuy Robert McLachlan: I’d like to start with Antarctica, because the changes in Antarctica were one of the main things that fascinated me when I started learning about climate change. Read More

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