Robert McLachlan

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

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

New Zealand poised to introduce clean car standards and incentives to cut emissions - Planetary Ecology

Aug 01, 2019

The New Zealand government has proposed new fuel standards to cut greenhouse emissions, along with consumer rebates for cleaner cars – paid for by fees on high-polluting cars. The long-awaited proposed changes would bring New Zealand in line with most other developed countries; apart from New Zealand, Russia and Australia are the last remaining OECD nations without fuel efficiency standards. New Zealand’s long tradition of not regulating its car market, combined with substantial indirect subsidies for private cars, makes addressing emissions from the transport sector both challenging and highly significant. New Zealand’s second-rate car fleet Land transport emissions – the single largest source of fossil carbon dioxide in New Zealand – grew 93% between 1990 and 2017. There are multiple causes. The population grew 44% during this period, mostly through immigration. The car … Read More

A New Zealand household emissions calculator - Planetary Ecology

Jul 05, 2019

The New Zealand company Enviro-Mark Solutions, a spinoff from the Crown Research Institute Landcare, is a global pioneer is greenhouse certification. Founded in 2001, they now have hundreds of clients in seventeen countries. Their most popular certification, CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme) audits companies’ emissions and their emissions reduction plans – typically reductions of at least a few percent a year are required. Numerous large New Zealand companies are CEMARS certified and there are some amazing success stories. A higher level is CarboNZero, which certifies that the client’s entire operation is carbon neutral. (Some residual emissions can be offset, where there is a plan to eventually eliminate them.) Now they have a new tool that allow individuals to assess (and, if they want, offset) their emissions: the Enviro-Mark Household Calculator. It’s extremely easy to use and, … Read More

100% renewable electricity: A classic kiwi stoush in the making - Planetary Ecology

Jul 01, 2019

There’s an old joke set variously in Maine, in Scotland, and probably in any number of other places, about some city folks asking directions from an elderly local. After several lengthy, confusing false starts at directions, the local finally concludes, “You know, you really shouldn’t be starting from here.” This, to me, is the central joke of climate change mitigation. If only we were starting from somewhere else, say from twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, or if our economic, social, and political systems were set up slightly differently, things would be so much easier. The problem is particularly acute in New Zealand where we haven’t really begun the actual work of cutting emissions yet, and where the range of allowable strategies is unreasonably restricted. There are many actions that have been tried and tested in most other … Read More

The tragedy of climate change - Planetary Ecology

Jun 06, 2019

Why is there pollution? Why is there an ecological crisis and why has it been so hard to deal with? There is certainly no shortage of culprits – people have blamed neoliberalism, capitalism, consumerism, economic growth, overpopulation, evil corporations, greed. But underneath all the many aspects of this difficult problem lies one fundamental phenomenon: the Tragedy of the Commons. This states that self-interest will lead to the depletion of an unmanaged, freely available resource, against everyone’s long-term interest. In an unmanaged fishery, each fisher has an incentive to catch as many fish as possible; if they don’t, another fisher will. Without cooperation between all parties, the fishery will be destroyed. It is one of those ideas that, once learned, you start to see everywhere, even in areas that are not purely economic. Voting, taxes, vaccination, rubbish, labour laws, health and safety, … Read More

Green electricity: Is it for real? - Planetary Ecology

May 26, 2019

Stop flying, cut out red meat, switch to an electric car or, better yet, a bike.  Newspapers and websites are full of stories of people who have made the switch to a low-emission lifestyle. The stories are inspiring, to me anyway, and they are definitely newsworthy. But, at least judging from the online comments (‘Not gonna happen!’), they can be irritating to others. Nevertheless, there are other more serious arguments that individuals should not be the main focus of climate change action. The strongest point is that climate change is a global problem that can only be solved by collective action, the main vehicles for which are state regulations and international agreements. A focus on individuals, goes the argument, feeds the neoliberal cover story that people make entirely free choices and hence, if they’re choosing to burn fossil fuels, they … Read More