What you can do about climate change

You can take actions to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Here are some examples of free or low-cost actions you can take every day. Share them with your friends and community — collectively we can make a big difference.

Be aware of your emissions

If you have an indication of where most of your greenhouse gas emissions are coming from, you can choose to take the actions that have the biggest impacts.

Drive and fly less

The transport sector contributes 19 per cent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Actions you can take

  • Walk or cycle – it is free, has the least impact on the environment and is good for your health.

  • Use public transport.

  • Carpool with friends.

  • Work remotely and use video conferencing instead of traveling to a meeting.

  • Reduce the number of flights you take, when possible. This has shown to be one of the most effective climate change actions you can take.

  • When you fly, pay to offset your emissions.

Reduce your electricity use

Greenhouse gas emissions are produced when we use electricity and gas. New Zealand has a high level of renewable electricity production, but this is still supplemented by burning fossil fuels.

Actions you can take

  • Switch off lights when not in use.

  • Use LED lightbulbs.

  • Unplug electronics from the wall socket when they’re not in use.

  • Run the dishwasher and the washing machine only when full.

  • Wash clothes in cold water and dry them outdoors when possible.

  • Try having shorter showers or shower before going to bed (there is less fossil fuelled electricity generation after 9 pm).

For more ideas see the Energywise website.

Eat less meat

Red meat production produces significantly more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of chicken meat, fruit, vegetables and cereals. It also requires substantially more water.

Around 30 per cent of the world’s land area is used for livestock production, and it is one of the key reasons for cutting down forests.

Actions you can take

  • Cut down on meat. Eat more fruit and vegetables instead - this has many health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease.

  • Try having a meatless day each week. The Meatless Monday website has great recipes to get you started.

Shop at your local fruit and vegetable market

Did you know that a typical meal bought from a supermarket uses 4 to 17 times more petroleum for transport than the same meal using local ingredients?

When you buy local food or products you are also helping our economy.

Actions you can take

  • Plant your own vegetables and fruit trees. Containers are great if you are short of space.

  • Buy local and in-season foods that haven’t travelled long distances to reach you.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

The best way to reduce waste is not to create it in the first place! All products require energy and materials to be built, packaged, transported and sold. Reducing your consumption in general is good for the environment, and for your wallet.

Reduce

  • Buy only the food you need, and compost your kitchen scraps and garden waste. Around half of the waste that ends up in New Zealand landfills is organic material (food, garden, paper and wood waste). When organic material decomposes, it produces methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

  • Buy products without any packaging whenever possible and always take your reusable bags to the supermarket.

  • Make the most of what you already have. Maintaining and repairing products, such as your clothes, means they don’t have to be replaced so often.

Reuse

  • Swap your single-use plastic bags, bottles and lunch containers for reusable ones.

  • Donate unwanted goods such as books, clothes and furniture to a charity shop.

Recycle

  • Use the recycle bins in your area for plastics and glass containers that cannot be reused. This will reduce the amount of waste going to landfills and greenhouse gas emissions that result when new items are manufactured.

Photo: Sustainable Coastlines

Plant trees

In New Zealand, forests offset nearly 30 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. A regenerating native forest can remove more than 8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year from the atmosphere over its first 50 years.

Studies have shown that coastal vegetation can reduce erosion and minimise the impact of waves and floods, and gradual changes such as sea level rise.

Trees provide shade which has a cooling effect in towns and cities. Placed strategically around buildings they can cut electricity used for cooling in summer.

Actions you can take

  • Plant native trees on your property.

  • Get involved in a community forest restoration, dune care or coastal revegetation programme in your area.

Photo: Chris Bean

Know your area and be prepared

Become informed about what is happening in your region now and what could happen in the future.

If you live or are planning to move to a coastal area, it is important to consider the impacts future sea level rise will have on coastal hazards such as erosion and flooding.

Conserve water

Climate change is likely to have an impact on our water resources. Water supply may be altered due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, and water demand is likely to increase during the summer months as temperatures increase.

Be proactive in developing household or farm water conservation measures.

Actions you can take

  • Replace lawns with native plants. Did you know that maintaining a grass lawn uses 80 per cent more water than maintaining native plants? Native plants also provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife.

  • Collect rainwater and use it to water the garden and for other household tasks that don’t require drinking quality water.

  • When buying new household devices, consider how water-efficient they are.

Further ideas for action on climate change

These actions have a higher cost, but have a big impact.

  • If you are building a house include balconies, shading and efficient cooling systems such as natural ventilation.

  • Use passive solar design and insulation — this reduces the need for heating in winter and air-conditioning in summer.

  • If you replace your car, consider an electric vehicle.