Are Kiwis ready for the hard yakka required to get this small corner of the planet to Net Zero?

As the world’s eyes turn to the global climate negotiations happening now in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, it’s an important time to look at New Zealand’s own contribution to tackling climate change.

The centrepiece of this contribution is our zero carbon legislation, which had its third birthday this year. But three years on, there’s not yet cause for celebration.

As if the legislation was now a toddler, the Government is only just taking its first steps towards thinking through the kind of tangible change required for a net-zero New Zealand. But it’s not up to the Government alone. We everyday New Zealanders have a stake in it too, as do the many businesses and farms up and down the country.

To help understand Kiwis’ views, in October I invited people to complete an online questionnaire about a net-zero New Zealand and the steps we can take to get there.

Just over 100 people took part. While a small sample, the feedback hinted that some changes may be more palatable than others, even among people already thinking about what a net-zero future looks like.

Most were concerned about climate change and believed New Zealand should significantly reduce its emissions. They generally noted they’d seen some impacts of climate change in their local communities, but most believed it was already affecting other countries a great deal and would likewise affect them and their families in the future.

The majority were familiar with the concept of net-zero and supported New Zealand’s net-zero target. Most felt it was the remit of government and businesses to lay the groundwork to reach net-zero. However, two-thirds believed the way they live their lives would also have to change.

Of note, most believed it was somewhat unlikely that New Zealand would achieve our net-zero target, perhaps because they also acknowledged technology was unlikely to save the day. However, in a world where we achieved net-zero by 2050, many felt the environment, economy, health and wellbeing would all be improved.

As individuals, how were people keen to be part of the solution? The majority of respondents identified that, if cost was not a barrier, they would install renewable energy sources at home, use energy efficiency appliances, utilise green building materials, consider switching to green jobs, drive electric cars, switch to green energy suppliers and use smart meters to monitor their power consumption.

But they were less keen to avoid plane travel for leisure or work or change diets away from meat and dairy towards plant-based meals. This may reflect the view that changes in energy use, waste management, and land transport were the most likely to occur in the next decade, while changes in aviation use and eating habits were least likely to occur in the same timeframe.

So, what could the path to a net-zero New Zealand look like? It could be the teacher who sets out to inspire students to grow their own food and their own resiliency through it. It could also be the business leader who’s helping to decarbonise our built environment. It could also be the young people fighting for climate change to be taken seriously by decision makers.

The truth is it’s all of the above. To reach net-zero, it’s not just our farmers or city-dwellers that need to change—it’s all of us.

While change has been on the horizon for some time, the gnarly truth is that this level of system change is not easy and we have left it very late. But it is also true that there is no excuse for inaction.

Almost half our emissions come from methane—in fact, our methane emissions per person are among the highest in the world. When methane is accounted for, our greenhouse gas emissions make us the sixth highest emitter (per person) among developed countries that have signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2018, we produced 16.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita.

The consequences of the world’s carbon diet are increasingly becoming evident. Already this year, Pakistan has faced unprecedented deadly heatwaves followed by colossal levels of flooding.

Even though we are lucky our corner of the world has remained relatively sheltered from extreme weather aggravated by climate change, communities here, too, are beginning to suffer as demonstrated by the deluge of rain and flooding in the West Coast and Tasman regions just a few months ago.

Our much-vaunted No.8 wire mentality is needed now more than ever. In Sharm El Sheikh, the focus is on implementation. The question is whether we as a nation are ready for the hard yakka required.

Injy Johnstone is a PhD candidate in law at Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington. She is attending COP27, the annual climate change conference in Egypt, 6-18 November 2022.

Leave a comment