Shifting to a low carbon NZ: five things you need to know

3 May 2016

Hot on the heels of the signing of the Paris Agreement, a Royal Society of NZ report made a clear case for immediate action on climate change in NZ. Here’s what you need to know from ‘Transition to a low-carbon economy for NZ’, released on 27 April.

When some of the most eminent scientists in the country state, “there is a clear case for immediate action” on climate change, you know it’s time to take this really seriously. When the international community says it’s the end of the fossil fuel era it makes headline news. And when research shows there’s a $13.5 trillion market opportunity for a low carbon energy sector, you know you’d be a fool not to sit up and listen.

We work with many New Zealand organisations that are already ahead of the game. They’re raring to go with renewable and energy efficient solutions. They’re future-proofing their businesses against impending climate change and looking to grab a chunk of the global opportunity in low carbon. They’re the ones who will be first to reap the rewards.

The Paris Agreement, signed by 175 countries on 22 April, gave much-needed long-term certainty and a more stable (global) regulatory environment about low carbon expectations. This has provided a level playing field for business. It’s brought opportunities for investment and a shift in requirements for our supply chains in New Zealand

The report sets out in detail the opportunities for transitioning to a low-carbon New Zealand across seven different sectors. This affects all of us and we’ve distilled the key points for you.

Report highlights

  1. There is a clear case for immediate and ambitious action by all New Zealanders.

With a global agreement finally reached, research and technologies will continue to emerge but many mitigation options are already well understood and achievable. These now have potential for delivery at scale and speed.

New Zealand’s target is to reduce emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, which is not ambitious by international standards. We must achieve this target through increased contributions from domestic emissions reduction actions, rather than our current focus on offshore carbon credits, many from dubious sources. In short, we need to act local and we need to act now. Delaying action will result in a greater amount of emissions and much greater costs.

  1. The NZ Emissions Trading System has been ineffective in reducing New Zealand’s emissions.

New Zealand has not taken climate change seriously and as a result our greenhouse gases are increasing. Our gross emissions per capita are well above average for developed countries. Emissions pricing has an important role but it needs to be embedded into a wider package of mitigation policies and actions.

  1. Creating a low carbon economy will involve significant changes in behaviour across all sectors of society.

Increasing people’s knowledge and understanding of climate change is vital, but is only part of the solution. To be successful, behaviour-change initiatives should be coordinated across sectors. They must explain the additional benefits to acting on climate change, such as reduced local air pollution, improved health and reduced costs. Like all the work that SBN does, this needs a carefully developed programme to support these changes.

  1. We need policies to support low carbon choices.

Since the required changes affect all sectors and all people, we need a broad range of mechanisms like policies, targets, regulations, infrastructure and market settings. This will help support low-carbon choices by businesses, cities and households.

  1. There are good opportunities to reduce emissions in all sectors and transition to a thriving low carbon economy.

This will rely on carefully planned policy interventions and behaviour changes at the individual, business, city and organisational levels.

To find out some of the ways individuals and organisations can reduce emissions, check out this Royal Society infographic.

Look out for an article next week with examples of some of the many initiatives our members are already taking to shift to a low-carbon economy. If you’re an SBN member, please let us know so we can make sure you’re included!