WWF-New Zealand’s Livia Esterhazy explains why the Climate Change Commission’s very existence is proof that our voices matter

COMMENT: The key takeaway from the Climate Change Commission report released this week is simple: Together, we can do this. Together, we can make it possible for Aotearoa to do our bit in the global work to confront the climate crisis and keep warming below 1.5ºC. This analysis has shown what we at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have said for years: New Zealand isn’t doing its bit, but doing our bit is 100 percent possible – and will make New Zealanders’ lives better.

Now, we need to all make our voices heard to ensure the Commission’s proposals don’t get watered down, and instead get strengthened in a few places. These draft emissions budgets aren’t final. They’re proposals. The Commission is consulting people like you and me on their proposals before finalising them to submit to the Government by the end of May. Then, the Government must set the first three emissions budgets under the Zero Carbon Act before the end of this year – and really should submit its new 2030 target under the Paris Agreement before the next round of negotiations in Glasgow this November.

Make no mistake: Your voice matters. You can help make sure that our country does its bit to unlock a future where people can live and thrive in harmony with nature. Don’t believe me?

The Climate Change Commission’s very existence is proof that our voices matter.

People, businesses, and communities speaking out together got us this far. Almost a decade ago, an organisation called the Sustainability Council of New Zealand proposed that the government create an expert, independent, non-partisan commission on climate change. Then, five years ago, youth organisation Generation Zero launched a campaign for a new climate law: the Zero Carbon Act. This new law would create a climate commission, set a 2050 target, and give us a plan to get there.

People like you speaking out is what broke decades of political deadlock around climate policy in New Zealand. But we can’t stop now.

We at WWF-New Zealand, along with Forest & Bird, Oxfam New Zealand, and others joined together to support their call. Tens of thousands of people signed a petition for the Zero Carbon Act. Hundreds of businesses and community organisations signed open letters calling for cross party support for a true net zero emissions target.

Then, in November 2019, 119 of 120 Members of Parliament voted in favour of the Climate Change (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019. This new law contained the key elements we had all called for in the Zero Carbon Act campaign – and created the Climate Change Commission.

Your voice matters. People like you speaking out is what broke decades of political deadlock around climate policy in New Zealand. But we can’t stop now.

The Climate Change Commission’s analysis is a huge step forward for Aotearoa, but it’s not perfect. Back in 2018, before the government first consulted on the draft law that became the Zero Carbon Act, over 200 businesses, community organisations, and New Zealand leaders wrote to Minister James Shaw, urging the government to count, “the benefits of climate action and the risks and costs of inaction”.

Even now, the Climate Change Commission has still not fully factored in either the co-benefits of climate action or the horrific costs of climate inaction. It’s striking that the Commission has found that cutting emissions in line with the Zero Carbon Act targets will cost much less than previously expected – less than 1 percent of GDP compared to business as usual. But, the reality is that “business as usual” doesn’t exist anymore. The true counterfactual is a failure to do our bit, with compounding, multifaceted impacts – from loss of access to trading partners, to unprecedented droughts and increased extreme weather events, to the extinction of precious native species like tuatara or little blue penguins.

We are already in a biodiversity crisis now. Globally, we have already significantly altered 75 percent of the planet’s ice-free land, polluted and overfished our oceans, destroyed more than 85 percent of our wetlands, and left one million species threatened with extinction. WWF’s Living Planet Report reveals that between 1970-2016, there’s been a 68 percent decline in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. Failure to limit warming to 1.5ºC will make that immeasurably worse.

Together, we can stop this. We all have a part to play. All sectors must work together to make this possible. People like you and me made the Zero Carbon Act a reality and started this process. Now, we can make sure that it delivers on its promise to unlock climate action beyond politics.

Livia Esterhazy is CEO of WWF-New Zealand.

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