Robert McLachlan

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

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 climate.change@stuff.co.nz 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

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