Decarbonising in New Zealand: inaia tonu nei

Off the back of COP26, many of us are prompted to kick off conversation pieces around the state of play globally or locally in the decarbonisation journey. I’m only human so I’m joining the game, but with one clear difference… I want to focus not on any of the disaster messaging that is accompanying the COP or other recent discussions, but rather highlight some of the good things that are happening and what we as businesses and as a country can do to contribute to the decarbonisation journey.

The NZ Climate Change Commission CE, Jo Hendy, recently discussed on LinkedIn why she thinks “inaia tonu nei – the time is now, for Aotearoa to get serious about reducing emissions”, and this piece is my tiny contribution to the state of the times.

New Zealand has been leading the way in some aspects of our carbon and climate response: firstly the ban on future oil and gas exploration in 2018, and now mandatory climate related disclosures.

The stated “goal of mandatory climate-related disclosures” is to:

  • Ensure that the effects of climate change are routinely considered in business, investment, lending and insurance underwriting decisions
  • Help climate reporting entities better demonstrate responsibility and foresight in their consideration of climate issues, and
  • Lead to more efficient allocation of capital, and help smooth the transition to a more sustainable, low emissions economy”.

Mandatory reporting of climate-related disclosures can help New Zealand meet its international obligations and achieve its target of zero carbon by 2050.

What Can Companies Do?

What companies can do seems to be simple – measure your carbon emissions, then reduce where you can and offset where you can’t. This takes a commitment to carbon reporting and strategic planning. A really cool development and a good example of strategic planning in the news recently is the partnership between Genesis and Westpac, whereby hitting emissions targets results in lower interest rates. This is the kind of huge, creative angle that I expect will help large organisations pivot their perspective.

I am mindful from conversations with people in leadership positions in NZ that carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is seen as a way to ‘keep on emitting’. However, the International Energy Agency (and others) see it as essential to achieving net-zero emissions by the targeted 2050, and in 2021 the Australian Government backed six CCUS projects to accelerate development of the technology at a large scale. Prices for offsetting have traditionally been lower than CCUS technology, but we are starting to see a change in that space, with the development of much smaller, more targeted options starting to appear, and with technology like this offering a potential price reduction in the near future.

So, in a general sense I’m very supportive of exploring CCUS and I don’t think there will be a real pathway to decarbonisation without more traction in this space, BUT, when it comes to direct to air capture, I am a huge fan of, well trees! I like the work of Permanent Forests and Carbon Forest Services who are both delivering partnerships with organisations looking to offset their operations, but I LOVE Edge’s Tree Planting Predictor Tool, which helps maximise the value of plantings.

Better Health Outcomes

Tree planting has a range of benefits in addition to acting as carbon sinks. Reforestation has good biodiversity outcomes, as well as great health benefits as well so this is my segue into talking about the health benefits of decarbonisation.

The Lancet’ describes climate change as the ‘biggest global health threat of the 21st century’; but also points out that action to tackle climate change is a big opportunity to improve health and the fair distribution of good health. I’ve recently been introduced to Ora Taiao: the NZ Climate and Health Council, and I am impressed by their statement that “well-planned action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could bring benefits to the health of New Zealanders”.  They are health care providers who want to promote decarbonisation to achieve health care goals, and they have the following to say:

  • Walking and cycling cuts motor vehicle emissions, increases physical exercise, and cuts air pollution. Walking and cycling are inexpensive, so can help those on the lowest incomes access the basics for good health (e.g. work, education, health-care).
  • A healthier diet (less red meat, less saturated fat, more fruit and vegetables) helps cut agricultural emissions, and lowers risks for many diseases, including bowel cancer and heart disease.
  • Well insulated homes, with clean and efficient heating, cut energy emissions as well as reducing illnesses associated with cold, damp housing (e.g. childhood asthma and chest infections).

For all these reasons, I know that inaia tonu nei. The time is now New Zealand. It doesn’t matter what targets our governments commit to. We can all, in all our spheres of influence, work on the decarbonisation strategy for the country, and our mahi will lead to better environmental, social and financial outcomes for everyone.

This blog was written by Kate Bromfield, Principal Consultant at Edge Environment, NZ. If you are a New Zealand business that would like to learn more about decarbonisation, please contact Kate.

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