We urgently need people power to push political and business leaders, households and individuals to play their roles in solving the climate crisis.
Basically we can respond to any big shock in three ways: we can embrace it as an exciting opportunity; reject it as an impossible challenge; or ignore it in the hope it will go away.
No doubt we’ll see all three responses, and many gradations between, when the Climate Change Commission delivers its draft climate report at 2pm this Sunday. The vast scale of our challenges it will lay out will shock many people who have been paying insufficient attention to the crisis.
But we have only one logical, practical response. If we rise to the huge tasks it proposes, we will create a thriving economy, a cohesive society and a climate-resilient nation over the next three decades. We’d still be better off, even if climate action was less successful elsewhere in the world.
What big new commitments are your business and household making about your climate response? Click here to comment.
Conversely, we’d be far worse off if we resort to further fruitless debate about the crisis and our responses to it. Counter-productive delay will only ramp up the climate damage to our nation, making eventual action harder and more expensive – or worse, too late and impossible.
This is not to say the Commission’s report will be perfect. It will make draft proposals for our carbon reduction budgets over the next 15 years and our potential pathways for achieving them. The quality of its final recommendation to government in May will depend on the quality, volume and ambition of the feedback it gets from all segments of society over the next six weeks.
And the Commission’s final report will be only a starting point. Based on it, the decisions the government will make on carbon budgets, pathways and policies will be a roadmap to help guide central and local government, business, scientists and other experts, NGOs and not-for-profits, iwi, social groups, households and individuals in playing their parts. We all have things to learn, choices to make and actions to take – and feedback to give to the Commission.
We are particularly fortunate. We are small enough to work closely together, but big enough to have sufficient skills and expertise. We are creative and enterprising across business, science, humanities and the arts. We have abundant natural capital.
The climate crisis confronts every nation, every community, in the world. Given dangers and remedies vary to some extent from place to place, each will devise responses right for it.
We are particularly fortunate. We are small enough to work closely together, but big enough to have sufficient skills and expertise. We are creative and enterprising across business, science, humanities and the arts. We have abundant natural capital, which is critical for reducing emissions and restoring ecosystems, as the World Economic Forum and McKinsey have just reported.
And as long as we make wise choices and phase them effectively, we can easily afford the financial investment required to transform our high emissions economy and way of life into zero emission ones by 2050.
A useful guide to this came from the UK Climate Change Committee late last year when it released its sixth carbon budget, covering 2033-37. It said this was “the first ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation.” To reach the UK’s goal of net zero emission by 2050, its emissions will have to fall by almost 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2035. But such is the rapid improvement in clean technologies, the cost of reaching net zero by 2050 has fallen considerably. “It is now less than 1 percent” of the total GDP generated over the next 30 years.
But is the Ardern-led government ready to play its part in these essential but towering challenges? In its first term, it did put in place the Zero Carbon legislation which created the Climate Commission and other essential frameworks; and the public service has somewhat increased its ability to devise some climate policies, but nothing significant has been implemented yet.
Moreover, this climate capability and focus is not yet central to the key ministries of Treasury, Business Innovation and Employment, Primary Industries and Transport.
It’s abundantly clear that the PM and her colleagues will only lead more boldly and effectively, and push the public service far harder, if they see a strong appetite for climate action from all sectors of society.
The Prime Minister has frequently expressed her deep commitment to tackling the climate crisis; and a sense of climate urgency seems to be growing among relevant ministers, though not yet the Cabinet as a whole.
It’s abundantly clear, though, that the PM and her colleagues will only lead more boldly and effectively, and push the public service far harder, if they see a strong appetite for climate action from all sectors of society.
But that’s still patchy. Some businesses, usually large ones, have decarbonisation strategies but very few are up with global best practice. Many small businesses see climate as irrelevant to them, and they get little support from their sector associations. The primary sector, source of half our emissions, has yet to make significant commitments to emission reductions.
Across the economy, efforts to decarbonise transport and industrial heat and to ramp up energy efficiency are still very modest. They sorely lack challenging goals, policies, programmes and assistance.
Of all our missing ingredients the most crucial is cross-party political commitment to stable climate action legislation and policies. The UK has had this since 2008, through changes from Labour to Conservative governments and all the turmoil of Brexit. That consistency and the effectiveness of its Climate Change Committee are the foundation on which it has built its climate progress.
It was very telling National party leader Judith Collins made only a few passing references to climate in her state of the nation speech this week. Stuart Smith is National’s new climate spokesperson, a backbencher ranking only 17th in its 33-member caucus. National says it will make significant changes to the Zero Carbon framework when it next forms the government. But this would undermine the long-term consistency of such legislation which is essential for giving business and others the confidence to invest in long term climate solutions.
So, we urgently need people power to push politicians (in power and opposition), civil servants, businesses, institutions, other groups across society, households and individuals to fully play their roles in solving the climate crisis. Each of us can help, however minute our own personal contribution is.
Collectively, we’ve got lots of choices and decisions to make about our climate response. If you want an idea of what these look like and what preferences people are expressing, try this interactive website. As it happens, it’s the initiative of James and Chris Carr at Canterbury University. This being the close knit country we are, their father is Rod Carr, chair of the Climate Commission.
Another way to learn more is through the Climate Commission. This page of its website is the best way to plug into its work, particularly its public consultations. It’s very eager for society-wide feedback on its draft proposals.
Above all, live the change you know we need.