Climate Change and Business: four takeaways from the conference

By Fiona Stephenson

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report came out last week and things are not looking good. We are on track to reach 1.5C warming between 2030 and 2052 if temperatures continues to increase at the current rate, and 3C by the end of the century. Once we hit 2C warming, the world will be a profoundly different place. 

This was a chilling (forgive the pun) but fitting scene setter at last Tuesday’s Climate Change & Business Conference 2018 in Auckland. As we’d hoped, awareness and interest has grown and with over 300 attendees this was the largest turn out yet.

Here are some takeaways from the conference:

The People

The first session was introduced by SBN’s own Rachel Brown who spoke to the climate converted audience, saying: “We know it – we know what needs to change – the trick is bringing people with us”. By her own admission Rachel doesn’t do slowly and she implored the audience that prompt action is necessary, stressing the importance of reconnection with nature and reconnection with people.

This was reiterated by Dan Hikuroa (Ngati Maniapoto,Waikato Tainui) highlighting the importance of Mautaranga Maori as we transition as people and business connected to nature. “I would contend that an indigenous approach to how we act and behave is important because we are all indigenous to this planet and we don’t get another one.” 

Central Government

It appears there is real commitment from Government with the Zero Carbon Bill and other connected policy. The Minister for Climate Change James Shaw spoke of a bill that takes everyone along with it. Bipartisan support is so important and hearing the voices of the minority which we need to pay careful attention to. Otherwise will create a new generation of winners and losers. 

It was good to see that the National party spokesman Scott Simpson was also saying the commitment had ramped up amongst the party, which was far from the case only 12 months ago. The general consensus is that there is an opportunity for NZ to pave the way forward, particularly in farming but across all sectors. The hope is that this is no longer a political debate but more of a conversation on how fast we can move forward together.

This is a global challenge and the coming period is critical; the world economy will double in 20 years. Far reaching transitions are required and we need every government to be integrated, committed and goals around temperatures need to be set.  For example, the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is 10cm of sea-level rise. This will have vast impacts for coastal communities.

Local Government

David Cull, President of Local Government NZ, stated that the “cost of inaction to our communities and businesses will be far greater than the cost of action”.  He said many of the local councils at the frontline in dealing with rising sea levels and other impacts don’t have the skills and resources to do what needs to be done.  Therefore it’s imperative from a sustainability perspective, that funding activity benefits positive climate and sustainability outcomes. The key message here? Finance is key. Money must be spent on the right things and used efficiently.


In a pre-recorded message played to close the conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that taking action on climate change made economic sense as well as environmental sense. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime to upgrade our businesses and our economy. Intellectual property around low-emissions technologies is already sought-after and offers profitable returns.”  Her sentiments were echoed by James Shaw who said “No other country in the world has a business group committed to tackling climate change like NZ businesses.” 

It was acknowledged that there is a need for positive storytelling and celebration to drive creativity and the need to share what you are doing with others, share the success and to be brave together. Boards will need to reduce exposure to legislative risk and consider fiduciary requirements in response to climate change. SMEs will need to build climate change adaptation into governance, risk management, strategy and measurement.  As a result, new economic and investment activity will open up.

Environment Minister David Parker – the architect of the 10-year-old Emissions Trading Scheme – wrapped up the conference on a note of optimism, saying he was confident New Zealand could do what needs to be done. “If New Zealand doesn’t do it, then the world won’t,” he said. “We have so many advantages, as well as having a moral duty to act.”