Robert McLachlan

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

Lawyers challenge New Zealand’s proposed emissions budgets as inconsistent with the 1.5℃ goal - Planetary Ecology

Jul 07, 2021

New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission is facing its first legal hurdle, as a group of 300 climate-concerned lawyers seek judicial review of the processes it used to calculate carbon budgets in its recently released advice to government. Carbon budgets are a cornerstone of New Zealand’s climate change response under the Zero Carbon Act and lie at the heart of the commission’s advice package. They specify the allowed emissions over successive five-year periods, initially up to 2035. The advice calls for net emissions of all greenhouse gases to fall 27% between 2019 and 2030. The Lawyers 4 Climate Action group claims the commission has misinterpreted pathways in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports in its calculations, making its advice inconsistent with the act, especially regarding the goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5℃. Read More

New plastic ban: Interview with Trisia Farrelly - Planetary Ecology

Jul 01, 2021

On 27 June, the New Zealand Government announced the phase-out of some hard-to-recycle and some single-use plastics. Robert McLachlan talks to Massey University’s Trisia Farrelly, a tireless campaigner against plastic waste. Trisia: I’m an anthropologist at Massey University, I wear quite a few hats around New Zealand and internationally on plastic pollution, which I’ve been researching since 2016. Robert:  And here I thought it was a lifetime passion! You’re an anthropologist… so are you trying to save the world, or just study how it works? Trisia: Save it! One piece of plastic at a time. Robert:  The talk you gave recently described everything from your plastic-free year all the way up to the UN. Trisia: Yes, multiscale! My personal journey started with a film, I watched the Clean Bin Project. The directors were in New Zealand … Read More

So it begins: The Climate Change Commission’s advice to government and what happened next - Planetary Ecology

Jun 23, 2021

What’s that? You wanted action, not just words, on climate change? And you wanted it now, not next year or the year after? How about something big, really big, maybe also diving right into the heart of an emotional, touchstone issue – say, the private car?  Welcome to the EV subsidy. The New Zealand government has surprised and delighted electric vehicle advocates by announcing significant direct subsidies for electric vehicles – both all-electric and plug-in hybrid, whether new or used but newly imported) of up to $8625. These take effect in just a few weeks time, on 1 July 2021. From 2022 they will be replaced by a revenue-neutral ‘feebate’, in which higher-emitting vehicles pay a fee, and lower emitting vehicles (including some petrol cars) receive a rebate. That year … Read More

Climate explained: when Antarctica melts, will gravity changes lift up land and lower sea levels? - Climate: Explained

May 04, 2021

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 I’ve heard the gravity changes when Antarctica melts will lower the seas around New Zealand. Will that save us from sea level rise? Robert McLachlan, Massey University The gravitational changes when Antarctica melts do indeed affect sea levels all over the world — but not enough to save New Zealand from rising seas. The ice ages and their effects on sea level, geology, flora and fauna were topics of intense scientific and public interest all through the 19th century. Here’s how James Croll explained the “gravity effect” of melting ice in his 1875 book Climate and Time … Read More

Why did New Zealand’s CO2 emissions blow out so spectacularly in 2019? - Planetary Ecology

Apr 18, 2021

Every year in April, the trees start changing colour, the clocks go back an hour, and the national greenhouse gas figures are released and promptly forgotten. They take fifteen months to prepare, so by the time they come out it’s very easy for commentators to point out that they are out of date. Even now that the national media are running several new climate change stories every day, this one seems to pass us by. Not only are the figures out of date, they are also highly technical and hard to interpret: the year-to-year changes might be influenced by one-off factors like the weather, while the long-term trends have been subject to the changing winds of climate policy. The Ministry for the Environment does an amazingly thorough job of reporting greenhouse gas emissions. The latest release includes a 633 … Read More

Submit! Submit! Submit! - Planetary Ecology

Mar 25, 2021

Yes, it’s time to submit to the Climate Change Commission on their draft advice to the government, if you haven’t done so already. Submissions close on 28 March 2021.   Rod Carr / Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin @NZAHParallels pic.twitter.com/enU91wnhVJ — Robert McLachlan (@nzcpe) February 28, 2021 Actually, Tolstoy can teach us a thing or two about climate change. See Michaelson 2011, Morally Differentiating Responsibility for Climate Change Mitigation: An Analogy with Tolstoy’s” Master and Man”, Business & Professional Ethics Journal, pp. 113-136, and “How Tolstoy’s War and Peace can help us understand history’s complexity“, History News Network, December 2019.   Folks – you have 7 days left to submit to the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice. Here’s a big thread with all of the template submissions … Read More

Turning and turning in the widening gyre - Planetary Ecology

Mar 24, 2021

I first wrote about New Zealand wind farms in May of 2019 (“A long time between drinks“). At that time, Mercury’s decision to build the Turitea wind farm seemed to me to be extremely significant, but also hard to interpret in terms of the larger scheme of things. Could it be that our low-emission transition was actually going to get started? By the end of that year (“Blow, winds of fruitfulness“) there had been a flurry of activity (four more wind farms?!?!?), but the future was still misty. And now here we are in March of 2021. Amidst all the excitement of the Zero Carbon Act, an election, and the Climate Change Commission getting up and running, what’s been happening with renewable energy? First, if you’re reading from overseas, a warning. This is New Zealand. You won’t be … Read More

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