The climate. The state of our land and water. Social justice. The cost of living crisis. They're all in the mix.
That, in itself, is a good thing.
But we need a conversation around the context and interconnections of these challenges. Otherwise, we’re gearing our country up for short-term siloed action and a race to the bottom. This is a critical time in our history. We have the opportunity to solve financial hardship as part of our climate, biodiversity, nature rebuild.
We’re seeing more announcements postponing action on these than speeding it up. This is the opposite of what is needed. It is, however, familiar territory for this country, particularly around election time.
The current Government recently extended the tax cut on petrol and diesel. It scrapped the ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme intended to help rid us of the highest polluting cars. It's not prioritising reducing carbon emissions in its transport policy after all. It won a recent court case by arguing it wasn't legally obliged to follow the advice of the Climate Change Commission.
Meanwhile, the National party has abandoned the agricultural sector’s own lacklustre He Waka Eke Noa proposals. It's pledged to excuse the agricultural sector from the Emissions Trading Scheme until at least 2030. So even though the work was done in partnership with the agricultural sector, outliers in farming have pushed it back. Mental!
The election is at risk of becoming another can-kicking contest.
Meanwhile, anxiety levels, particularly among young people and the thousands of people working to improve these systems, are spiraling up. It’s understandable. A minority of powerful people in power are still destroying the living systems their immediate future relies on. We can’t leave our kids this mess to sort out.
We must return to a way of life that aligns economy, society and nature. That's been central to all human history. It’s as obvious as breathing to indigenous people like the Māori. It has much to teach, or remind us.
For example, there's no choice to be made between regenerating our environment and addressing the cost of living. We can reduce the cost of living by continuing to invest in less costly, renewable, forms of energy and transport. Reforesting and regenerating our landscapes creates health and wealth. It reduces the mounting costs of climate change. Healthy food systems reduce the stress on our health and social systems.
These things are all interwoven. We deny this at our peril. There aren’t “bread and butter” issues separate from this. Bread and butter don’t grow in the supermarket. They come from nature. If we don’t tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis, there won't be any bread and butter left to focus on.
So we demand:
1. Stick to the plan.
It’s taken years to get the Climate Change Commission and the Climate Change Act. We have to follow through without delay. At the very least we have to meet the goals we've proclaimed to our trading partners and the wider world. Because the world is watching.
Business people need clear, stable policy settings to plan and invest against. They don’t need weasel words and goalposts on roller-skates. The climate commission was created to overcome all that. It's designed so we can consider these issues beyond the short election cycle. It’s short-sighted to undermine and sidestep it.
2. Drive it with data.
This country still has shocking gaps in its data on resource use and environmental impact. We can only manage what we measure. Getting the numbers right is a first step out of dangerous complacency. SBN has completed a number of major diagnostic reports over the years. Most recently on the circular economy and the nation’s plastic packaging. Our next report, into nature regeneration, is due soon. But business innovators need more open-sourced, transparent and relevant data across the board. It's how they make sound investment decisions and create new ideas.
3. Better public-private partnerships.
The issues we face are massive and complex. Collaboration is the only way to address them.
There are already exciting success stories, and clear signs of an eagerness to work this way. For example, check out our Climate Action Toolbox. It's a collaboration between SBN, BNZ, EECA, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Spark, Waka Kotahi and design firm DNA. It’s hosted at business.govt.nz. It’s a free, open source tool to help small and medium-sized businesses develop climate action plans. It’s had more than 40,000 users in just over two years.
4. Address the skills shortage for the economy we want.
Smaller business and many communities need help to build capability on sustainability and nature regeneration.
Many of the resources and training we provide are free and open to all. This is what SBN has been working on for more than two decades and it’s constantly evolving. For an example of how we can change that, check out the work we’re supporting in the Puhinui. It's Iwi and community-led. It’s developing new models for youth-led community skill building. It has the potential to harmonise economic and ecological regeneration. We’re already funding new careers in nature regeneration. We're branching out into supporting industries, creating communication and creative roles.
5. Make procurement a lever for change, starting with government procurement.
The new low carbon, sustainable and equitable economy needs customers.
It needs to be firmly embedded in the nation’s supply chains. About 70% of businesses’ sustainability impact comes from what they buy. Government procurement should lead the way with its $50 billion a year spending power. As expectations from suppliers increase there’s a risk small and medium enterprises (SMEs) could get locked out. It’s essential we upskill our SMEs as corporates and governments change their requirements. That should be targeted at sustainable, community and iwi-led businesses. That could change the face of our economy.
6. Address inequality and colonialism.
We need tax and regulations that stop siphoning the country’s resources into the hands of the few.
We have to tackle the cost of living, especially for those least wealthy. That means corporations and the wealthy paying more tax. It means using that money to invest in a better, more resilient future for all of us. It means continuing to take a collaborative approach to dealing with our colonial legacy rather than pulling the ladder up behind us. This opens up the enormous opportunity to learn from indigenous perspectives.
Together, we can live lives of abundant connection to each other, to nature in these beautiful islands.