Can we make a just transition to a sustainable future?

By Rachel Brown

One of the biggest questions of our time was addressed at a special summit in Taranaki over the weekend. SBN CEO Rachel Brown was there.

The Just Transition National Summit was held in Taranaki. It brought together government, businesses, workers, Maori and the wider community. Together we talked about the transition to a lot emissions future and the many, many changes that will bring.

The economy of New Zealand is set for a dramatic transformation in the next few years. We urgently need to reduce our country’s greenhouse gas emissions. We must create a more equitable and prosperous future for our people. Meanwhile, there are a global changes underway, particularly in technology.

The summit explored how this might play out in New Zealand, and especially Taranaki. This recognised the challenge of shifting away from oil production as a major economic driver in the region. The aim was to map out how to meet the new constraints while creating high quality high paying employment that would leave nobody behind. The government is also seeking to address this directly. It recently announced Taranaki’s new $27 million Energy Centre and $20 million Renewable Energy Research Fund.

But this isn’t just about money. The environmental, social, cultural and economic challenges we face demand different thinking. Different ways of doing. That was the Summit’s focus.

Filmmaker James Cameron and his wife Suzy split their time between New Zealand and the US. The couple are vegans and plant food advocates. They spoke of the challenges to New Zealand’s existing economy from proposals to reduce meat and dairy in our diets. They challenged us to adopt at least ONE vegan meal per day and explained the health, carbon (methane) and water benefits that would bring us.

UK based economist Kate Raworth presented her ‘Dougnut Economics’ concept. This integrates adherence to planetary boundaries with ensuring compliance with social targets linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Climate change minister James Shaw spoke about the Zero Carbon Bill. He framed it as part of the essential global drive to try to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees of warming. The Bill confirms long-term and short term emissions reduction targets and five year carbon budgets. It establishes an Independent Climate Commission. It sets five year National Risk Assessments, a risk based Adaptation Programme and Annual Reporting. The $100 million Green Investment Finance fund is also nearly up and running with the Chair, Cecilia Tarrant, firmly in place.

Together these changes will become major shapers of New Zealand’s economy for decades to come. Obviously, they are also the result of compromises. Half of us are frustrated at a continued lack of ambition. The other half are angry at its implications – particularly for the agricultural sector. But to get the Bill through still needs positive submissions. SBN will be submitting and we hope you will be too.

For business it’s all about working out the ‘how to’ and ‘how fast’ of this transition. It’s about making and the myriad of changes that will come along with it. It doesn’t help to just scare people with information. We have to provide opportunity and optimism.

SMEs will face particular challenges in meeting the needs of this transition. It’s clear they will need their own specialised support. I have taken that into my role on the board of the Small Business Council. Action on climate change for SMEs will need to be designed and delivered regionally. We are already seeing regions, like Taranaki and Nelson taking this on with very different but very local approaches.

So this will not be the last conference on this subject. SBN has key roles to play in many elements of these changes. Our core focus will remain on empowering businesses so that people and nature prosper here long into the future.