“Paris is important but it’s only the beginning” – NGOs on climate change

25 November 2015

As the UN climate change talks in Paris and the worldwide People’s Climate March approach, climate change is hot on the agenda.  We get the low down from leading New Zealand NGOs: Oxfam, 350 Aotearoa, Greenpeace, WWF and Generation Zero.

Luke Roughton, senior policy advisor for Oxfam New Zealand, says he will be closely watching New Zealand’s performance at the climate talks but that no matter what happens there will still be a lot of work to do.

“There’s a clear need for New Zealand to do more to reduce our carbon emissions and the target, of reduction by 11 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, tabled before the talks in Paris, is grossly inadequate. New Zealand needs to bring a fair share contribution to the table and that means increasing that amount drastically.”

One way of reducing New Zealand’s emissions is by divesting from fossil fuels and Niamh O’Flynn, national co-ordinator 350 Aotearoa, says that 350 is working with corporations across New Zealand to shift their investments in fossil fuels, a tactic that she hopes will help to pressure the Government into action.

“We come at it from the angle of empowering people to take action because it can’t be left up to the Government,” Says Niamh.

“Our biggest challenge is tacking the fossil fuel industry so we’re really set on making sure 80 per cent of the known fossil fuel reserves are left in the ground. With divestment we’re trying to encourage and campaign for individuals, corporations and education and religious institutions to take their money out of fossil fuel.”

Niamh says this will start to delegitimise the fossil fuel industry and turn fossil fuels into an unethical investment in the public’s mind. Growing public pressure will encourage organisations and institutions to make ethical investments.

“The customer is always king,” Greenpeace New Zealand’s senior climate campaigner Simon Boxer says. “When customers know how a business is damaging people’s lives and the environment then they will act. Greenpeace has a proven track record of bringing detailed information about environmental destruction to the public’s attention, which has resulted in many large corporations making fundamental changes to governance and activities.”

“How people decide to respond to climate change will decide which companies will continue into the future or not,” Simon continues. “Companies that are progressive and committed to reducing emissions will be the ones that find new business opportunities to meet customers’ demands.”

Growing public pressure is key to creating changes in government policy and the investment habits of businesses. Oxfam is joining 350 and WWF in organising New Zealand’s People’s Climate March, taking place across the country on 28 November, and Alex Smith, senior campaigner at WWF, says that as public pressure continues to mount more diverse voices are speaking out against climate change.

“The People’s Climate March will draw together a wide range of diverse people to show the Government it’s time to take action. The range of people that want to see climate action covers business people, unions, NGOs, doctors and lawyers.”

Luke agrees with Alex and says that part of Oxfam’s plan is to introduce the voices of people who usually aren’t heard. “Because we’re an international development organisation working on poverty we came at climate change from the perspective of impacting the most vulnerable and that’s people in the Pacific. Alongside other NGOs we took Pacific people around New Zealand to talk about climate change and the effect it’s having on them.”

Leading public opinion is a core part of all of the work of NGOs tackling climate change. Whether it’s organising the Climate March or encouraging ethical purchasing options, people can vote with their wallets and apply pressure through activism. But despite the dire situation of climate change, engaging people, especially the younger generation, is easier said than done.

Generation Zero specialises in driving engagement with young people and Emma McInnes, cycling spokesperson for Generation Zero, says the most effective strategy for driving engagement is to make climate change personable and to simplify the situation.

“When we start to talk to people about climate change directly they switch off, so we’ve shifted the focus onto more local campaigns like housing, transport and more liveable cities. It’s something that people can understand and is easy to engage with. Once they’ve engaged with a local issue the natural next step is to talk about climate change,” she says.

Niamh says that when talking to businesses, 350 can depend on asking the hard questions, such as which side of history business wants to be on, but also says that with Dunedin and Christchurch city councils and Victoria University of Wellington pledging to divest from fossil fuels there’s more general awareness of climate change.

The NGOs all say that despite the commitments that might be made at the UN talks in Paris, there won’t be a point where the organisations stop working on climate change.

“Paris is important, but it’s only the beginning,” says Alex.