New Zealand, climate change and you

26 May 2015

With international climate negotiations looming, the Government wants to hear what you think about New Zealand’s climate change target post 2020. Here, we give our opinion on factors you might want to consider before making a submission.

In December this year, the nations that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Paris to nut out a new international climate change agreement. Each country has been asked to publicly outline its emissions reduction target post 2020 ahead of the negotiations and a number of countries have already done so.

The New Zealand Government is preparing its submission to the UN and the Ministry for the Environment wants your input.  Submissions close at 5pm on Wednesday 3rd June, so if you want to have your say, don’t miss out!

We encourage you to let the Government know what you think. To help you make a submission, we’ve put together our opinion on the questions on the submission form, together with some factors you might want to take into account. We also talk to our members Enviro-Mark Solutions, Generation Zero and Z Energy for their opinion on the climate change consultation.

Click here to view a video from the Ministry of Environment.

Click here to make a submission via the Ministry for Environment.

The science

Global scientific opinion continues to confirm that we must reduce emissions to keep global warming below 2°C to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change. New Zealand is part of the United Nations Cancun Agreement, which accepts the need to keep warming below this level, and in 2011, the Government announced a target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

However, studies suggest that emissions from industrialised countries would need to be reduced by 80-95% by 2050 relative to 1990 levels to contribute equitably to global emission reductions that limit warming to 2-2.4°C. The Royal Society of New Zealand has said that reducing the future impact of climate change will require “substantial reductions of net emissions of greenhouse gases” and it hopes “to see a new target for substantial reductions”.  

According to the Australian Academy of Sciences (2015), “A 2030 emissions reduction target of 30–40% below 2000 levels is consistent with approaching zero carbon emissions by 2050, and broadly in line with the level of global emissions reductions considered necessary to limit future human-induced global warming to not more than 2°C above preindustrial levels”.

New Zealand’s contribution

We believe the New Zealand Government should take a leadership position and set an ambitious climate change target. This ambition can be used to generate smarter solutions for a global market. The opportunities for a clean economy supporting strong resilient communities are enormous.

Every business – large and small – has a role to play in transforming our economy to a more sustainable one. Our vision is to make New Zealand the model sustainable nation for the world and to achieve this we work with our members in four transformation areas – Renewables, Community, Mega efficiency and Restorative – areas in which New Zealand has a natural advantage. We have projects within each, which focus on smart transport, social value, the circular economy, restoring the food system and waterway health.

A step by step guide to the submission form

Here are some pointers on each question on the submission form:

Question 1b. What is most important to you?

We believe New Zealand should take a leadership position (for New Zealand as well as our Pacific neighbours) and stimulate a low-carbon economy based around smart, sustainable solutions.

Question 2. What do you think the nature of New Zealand’s emissions and economy means for the level of target that we set?

We believe we need science-based targets that show New Zealand is making a fair contribution that reinforces its international reputation. We would like to see New Zealand as a nation powered by 100% renewable energy with a speedy transition away from fossil fuels.

Question 3: What level of cost is appropriate for New Zealand to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? For example, what do you think would be a reasonable impact on annual household consumption?

Why assume greater cost will be involved? If we align our spending to a low carbon economy we will find savings and efficiencies which should see a reduction in annual household consumption through mega efficiency.

Question 4: Of the opportunities for New Zealand to reduce its emissions (as outlined on page 15 of the discussion document), which do you think are the most likely to occur, or be most important for New Zealand?

We believe that a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid cars, along with a greater focus on active modes of transport, such as cycling and walking, and biofuels offer the greatest opportunities.

With so many benefits, EVs offer New Zealand an opportunity to transform the way we use energy. According to Fraser Whineray, CEO of Mighty River Power, “No country is more EV ready than New Zealand”.

Click here to read more about the opportunities EVs offer for New Zealand.

Question 5: How should New Zealand take into account the future uncertainties of technologies and costs when setting its target?

New technologies are coming at a pace and scale which make accounting for their impacts impossible. Scenarios with varying timescales might be useful but will most likely be wrong. We can assume technologies will come faster and most likely better than we expect.

Question 6: Is there any further information you wish the Government to consider? Please explain.

Some points we have noted from climate change consultation meetings include the need:

  • for information on the impacts of doing nothing on the New Zealand economy and its reputation
  • for information on the economic benefits of taking action
  • to remove subsidies from the fossil fuel industry
  • to widen responsibilities of directors to include climate change risks
  • for KiwiSaver to remove fossil fuels from its investment portfolio
  • for cross party consensus on targets and plans
  • for a responsible body that operates beyond electoral cycles.

Some other issues to consider for your submission:

  • Global reputation: what is the value of our reputation? What are the implications for a nation proud of our environment of not contributing to this serious global issue?
  • Tourism and exports: what are the risks on tourism and export if we lag behind the world in climate change policy?
  • Intergenerational responsibility: Is it right to leave these issues for future generations to solve?
  • Economic resiliency: reliance on offshore fossil fuels or drilling/ fracking for oil has much greater impacts compared to utilising our own natural renewable energy and rapidly innovating smart energy sources and fuels.
  • Offsetting: this could be achieved through investing in restoring New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity, for example through the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative. This could help to increase iconic destinations for tourism. Offsetting alone misses the opportunities to innovate and make a step change to new technologies with less environmental impact.

Opinions from some SBN members

Enviro-Mark Solutions

“Global scientific opinion continues to confirm that we must reduce emissions to keep global warming below 2°C to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change. This also means that there is an absolute cap on the total amount of carbon emissions that can be released in order to stay within this limit. To achieve this, the Royal Society of NZ stated in 2011 that emissions from industrialised countries need to be reduced by 80-95% by 2050 relative to 1990. This would mean that the shorter-term targets being negotiated in Paris in December 2015 need to be at least 40% reduction by 2030 relative to 1990 for industrialised countries.

“Economic studies show that countries like the UK have benefited economically as a direct result of their ambitious targets. The economic studies also show that costs are very high indeed if we fail to slow the rate of temperature increase by taking too little action or waiting longer to take action. We cannot avoid the 2 degree increase but we can push it out beyond 2100 by setting ambitious, science-based reduction targets now. Science-based targets for emissions reductions will provide the incentive for innovation, create jobs and bring numerous other benefits. Further details can be found on the Enviro-Mark Solutions website.”

Ann Smith, CEO, Enviro-Mark Solutions

Generation Zero

“Generation Zero is calling on the New Zealand Government to Fix Our Future. We see this consultation process as hugely important – not because it is a perfect process – but because this is the first time in six years that the government has actually asked us what we think NZ should be doing about climate change. It’s a chance to raise bold ideas and shape the debate around what is really needed and why it’s in New Zealand’s interests to show leadership.

“We’ve created a quick submission tool to make it easy for Kiwis to have their say and get behind our ideas. It focuses on some key areas – the first being how we are talking about and framing this issue currently – as a cost. Addressing New Zealand’s emissions is not just about cost – it’s about investing in the future of young people and future generations. We also need to acknowledge the cost of not acting. A related point is the need for NZ to have an eventual goal of zero carbon dioxide emissions, in line with the international target to keep warming within 2°C. While all of these points call for a high level of ambition from our leaders, they are also similar to points being made by organisations like the World Bank and the OECD.

“We are aiming to gather 5000 submissions over the next two weeks. If you support what we’re calling for, we’d love to have your help by putting in a submission using our tool, and passing this on through your networks.”

Nina Atkinson, Wellington Coordinator, Generation Zero

Z Energy

“Z Energy embarked on an ambitious sustainability programme without knowing exactly how we were going to achieve results. Our philosophy was to be as ambitious as possible in setting the goals to progress along our sustainability journey, and then to bend the talents and skills of our people towards achieving those goals.

“I would encourage similar ambitions in setting our national climate change target at the COP21. While there are certainly challenges to reducing climate change emissions in New Zealand, there are also a lot of positive opportunities; including leveraging our clean, green reputation and innovative and technological advances.”

Gerri Ward, Sustainability Manager, Z Energy

Organisations working for a low carbon future in New Zealand

Other organisations working in this space in New Zealand include: Next Foundation, Sustainable Business Network, Sustainable Business Council, Pure Advantage, NZ Clean Tech & Environment Network, and Drive Electric. They are all working to demonstrate the value to NZ Inc in the areas of renewables, electric vehicles, biofuels, active modes of travel and much more.  Also of note is the tourism sector move to increase Qualmark to a global standard, recognising the shifts in expectations for greater environmental and social standards. Similar moves are happening in food systems to meet greater health, environmental and social needs.

Further reading

Two excellent resources on the economic advantages of climate action include:

  • The World Bank report on Decarbonising Development: “Waiting just 15 more years and taking no action until 2030 would increase costs by an average of 50 per cent through 2050”.
  • New Climate Economy Report:  “Once the multiple benefits of measures to reduce GHG emissions are taken into consideration, such as the potential health gains from better local air quality, many of the perceived net costs can be reduced or eliminated”.

A public discussion document on New Zealand’s climate change target is available on the Ministry for Environment’s website.

An online submission form and information on public meetings can be found here.

To find out more about scenarios on the impacts on climate change in New Zealand go to NIWA’s website.

Finally, take a look at this fun video from SolarCity.