Executive Summary

Few global problems have the potential to become as large and as widespread as climate change. Global temperatures are expected to increase, and in New Zealand, this could cause an increase in heat stress and subtropical diseases in the summer and an increased frequency of extreme, and potentially damaging, events such as floods, droughts and storms (Ministry for the Environment, 2009).

The aim of Landcare Research – Manaki Wenua’s work in its Climate Change Impacts & Implications project (CCII) is to explore New Zealand’s climate change scenarios and response options out to 2100. Our project was designed to help Landcare Research refine its predictions and its options by providing better insights into the way New Zealand’s civil society thinks about the future of climate change.

Findings and Analysis


To meet our project goal, we developed two research objectives: to understand how New Zealanders view the future of climate change and to assess which sources they use to get climate change information. As our project aimed to broadly explore people’s perceptions of climate change, rather than to prove a prior hypothesis, we utilized a grounded theory approach, where data is collected and analyzed first, before final theories are formed from such data (Patricia Yancey Martin & Barry A. Turner, 1986).

Utilizing the Grounded Theory approach described by Charmaz (2006), our methodology was composed of two main parts: the collection of recorded, open-ended interviews of New Zealanders located in Wellington, and the coding and categorization of collected interviews to identify recurring patterns and themes.

We collected, recorded, and transcribed 37 interviews of 39 people from three age groups (18-30, 30-50, 50+) from around Wellington. The interviews were based upon four open- ended questions. Those questions served primarily as guidelines for topics that we wanted to discuss; we asked follow up questions as necessary in order to understand the reasoning behind interviewee responses and to obtain elaboration on points discussed.

To analyze the interviews, we associated each transcription with a series of codes, which are words or short phrases that capture the essence of each interview and helped us to identify important ideas (Saldana, 2009). The process of coding was broken into two phases: initial coding, where we individually applied codes to each interview, and focused coding, where we agreed upon the most accurate codes as a group. After both coding phases were complete, we grouped the focused codes into categories, so that they could be more easily compared with one another. We then explored relationships and themes, between and within categories, and formed four theories from our findings.

Back to Top

Findings and Recommendations

We found that many New Zealanders were frustrated by the inaction of various groups such as other people, the media, and the government. Respondents frequently mentioned that they believed people were failing to act because climate change was not directly relevant to them, that people were not informed, or that economic reasons prevented others from acting. This frustration was particularly strong among the youngest generation, who placed greatest urgency on the issue of climate change, compared to the more passive framing of those aged 30-50. Although our research gave us insight to the urgency levels of New Zealanders, it did not indicate willingness to act. Thus, we recommend answering two related research questions: Does a high level of urgency translate to action? What does it take for climate change to become relevant?

New Zealanders were particularly frustrated with the government for three reasons: belief that the government was not concerned about climate change, a perceived disconnect between the government and the people, and the notion that the government prioritized the economy over climate change. We recommend a study to explore what New Zealanders think of specific policies and politicians as well as what New Zealanders expect the government to do about climate change.

Our respondents indicated that the media’s coverage of climate change was insufficient. Many claimed that the media only focuses on climate change when large events occur, such as the 2006 iceberg or wide-spread droughts. The minimal information that currently is presented is often not highly visible and sometimes from a biased source. While our interviews indicate that many of our respondents are unsatisfied with the current media, the interviews do not suggest a better alternative. We recommend a study that explores the effectiveness of media and the preferred delivery mechanism for climate change information, specifically which sources appeal to each audience.

Finally, many respondents commented on a possible relationship between the economy and climate change. New Zealanders indicated that they believed climate change will hurt the economy in several ways, and many New Zealanders also believed that the state of an economy dictates one’s ability to respond or adapt to climate change on both a governmental and individual level. Our interviews were not conclusive in discovering if the economy was a higher priority than climate change to New Zealanders. Hence, we recommend a study that explores the importance of climate change relative to other major public issues. This study might include a question that asks interviewees to rank the relative importance of concerns such as sustainability, economic growth, and climate change response. In addition to a study that explores relative importance, our team recommends that Landcare Research utilize the economy as an incentive to respond to climate change.

Back to Top