Climate Change

Changes in the world’s climate have been observed over an extended period of time, both through natural variability and as a result of human activity. These changes are likely to continue.  


The impact of climate change in our region will result in new risks and challenges, but also opportunities. These challenges and opportunities will be widespread, influencing our natural and urban environments, our economy, society and culture. 

Climate change does not function separately to the work that we do, it is an issue of international importance and is the subject of emerging national direction. Climate change is a key consideration in all that we do. 


Climate change as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the identifiable change in the climate over an extended period of time (decades or longer). This can be due to natural variability, or as a result of human activity. Scientists have measured warming of the climate and have attributed this to an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This causes changes in weather patterns, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heavy rain, heatwaves and droughts. 

Earth’s climate is a delicate balance of trapping just enough heat from the Sun to enable life on Earth. This trapping is possible due to a small part of Earth’s atmosphere called greenhouse gases. The remaining atmosphere is mostly made up of oxygen and nitrogen. This process of trapping warmth on Earth’s surface is known as the greenhouse effect. 

There are natural changes in Earth’s climate. Over millennia, we have seen ice ages and interglacial periodsInterglacial periods are when we see warmer global average temperatures lasting thousands of years. 

More recently, since the industrial revolution, we have also seen human impacts on the Earth’s climate. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, have increased greenhouse gas emissions (including carbon dioxide), which means more heat is trapped in our atmosphere. This is causing warming of the Earth at an unprecedented rate. 

Lessening climate change and our influence needs substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Even if this is achieved, the effects of climate change will continue because of the gases that already exist in our atmosphere and any future emission. We will continue to experience impacts of climate change, and we need to adapt to these impacts. 


Greenhouse gas animation from NIWA on Vimeo. (Source: NIWA, 2021) 


Global warming is causing changes to New Zealand’s climate, which will likely include more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, higher temperatures, change in rainfall patterns and rising sea levels. The impacts will vary across different areas of New Zealand.

Otago’s climate is varied, and at times extreme. This results in hazards that affect many of our communities. Long-term trends in climate and sea level changes have already been observed in Otago.

Further change to the climate is expected over the coming decades in Otago. These changes can become more common, impacting negatively on Otago communities.

Climate change could mean any or all of the following:

  • Warmer temperatures (more hot days, fewer frosts)
  • More wet conditions (winter and spring)
  • Significant decreases in snow
  • More windy days
  • An increase in storm intensity
  • Local wind extremes
  • More thunderstorms
  • Sea level rise


(Source: NIWA, 2021) 

View larger version of above map.

For details on interpreting this map, download the description of keys and climate projections here.

Climate change is not new to us. We are working to better understand and reduce the impact of climate change, and we share this information with our community and local city and district councils.

Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration 

We are a signatory of the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration, which highlights an urgent need for responsive leadership and a holistic approach to climate change. 

To find out more about what this declaration means and what we’ve committed to, visit Local Government NZ.


Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group 

Our General Manager Operations, Dr Gavin Palmer, was part of the climate change adaptation technical working group (2016-2018), which was formed by the government in 2016 to deliver guidance on how New Zealand could adapt to the effects of climate change. The group is made up of technical experts across the public and private sectors and has produced two reports: a stocktake report and a recommendations report. 

For more information about the climate change adaptation technical working group and their reports visit the MfE website.


Our Council 

In a council meeting on 14 August 2019, our councillors passed a resolution that: 

Agrees that Otago must continue to prepare for the certainty that climate change will present emergency situations in many areas of our region 

Will therefore continue to give high priority to adaptation to climate change, especially in our flood and drainage schemes and in South Dunedin, and to minimising our carbon emissions 

In 2015, New Zealand signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement, which committed NZ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.



  • Zero Carbon Amendment Bill  introduced in May 2019, its aim is to provide a stronger framework around the national response on mitigation and adaptation



  • Interim Climate Change Committee – the ICCC provides independent evidence and analysis, and has reported to the Minister for Climate Change on reducing agricultural emissions and on planning for the transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2035



  • Transition Hub – provides advice to Government on how we transition to a low emission economy




Otago Climate Change Risk Assessment 

Full report (2021)


NIWA Otago Region Climate Change Projections Report 

We commissioned a report from NIWA that describes projected climate changes for Otago. The report looks at expected changes for different climate factors, like temperature and rainfall as far ahead as 2100.

Read the full NIWA climate change report here.


National Climate Change Risk Assessment 

Full report available on MfE website. 


Climate change adaptation technical working group 

Recommendations and stocktake reports. 


Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 

Ministry for the Environment page.

New Zealand Legislation.


Reducing emissions from agriculture 

Agriculture and Greenhouse Gases, MPI.

Action on agricultural emissions, MfE.

Offsetting emissions through forestry – projects such as the One Billion Trees Fund


Ministry for the Environment: Climate Change 



National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)  



Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 

Find full report here.


Natural Hazards of South Dunedin, NIWA 



Waitaki District Coastal Hazards, NIWA  



Natural Hazards on the Clutha Delta, NIWA  



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