28 Jan 2021

Climate change: Moving from advocacy to action

From Afternoons, 1:27 pm on 28 January 2021

It's time for New Zealand to move from "advocacy to action" when it comes to climate change, says the Sustainable Business Council.

The council's executive director, Mike Burrell, says it's time to 'go hard and go early' just as the government did with its Covid-19 response.

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Photo: 123RF

The Climate Change Commission report due out 1 February will be a game-changer, Burrell told Jesse Mulligan.

The Commission has been tasked with a report setting out some carbon emission budgets for the next 15 years.

“I don’t think yet New Zealanders understand just how significant this report is going to be, this is a real benchmark report.

“After it, New Zealand will be quite a different place to what it was before.”

New Zealand needs to do two things at once this year, he says.

“One is obviously focus on the Covid crisis, but equally as important is focussing on the climate crisis.

“It’s real, and it’s happening and just as we’ve responded at scale, at pace, using all the different levers at our disposal to deal with a virus, we need to be doing a similar thing at a slightly slower time scale but still very rapid to deal with climate.”

New Zealand’s emission record is poor, he says.

“Our emissions until a few years ago were going up, we were one of the few countries that really spiked in terms of our emissions from 1990 levels.

“So, we talked a good game but we weren’t putting in place the policies and the actions that needed to happen to actually reduce our emissions.”

Recent years have seen more public pressure for change even though New Zealand’s emissions are a small part of the global total, Burrell says.

“The first thing to say is, our emissions per capita are really high, so we’re up in the top 20 and that’s pretty shameful.

“The second thing to say is New Zealand’s voice matters on the international stage, just as the UK government has recently adapted its policies around Covid based on our policies, that shows that a little country like New Zealand can influence other countries and does.”

People are often surprised New Zealand is not leading the way on climate change, he says.

“They expect we will be leaders on climate change, they are quite surprised and shocked when they realise that we are not.”

It’s important the country catches up with its peer group on emission reductions, he says.

“Currently, we lag and then we get in front of our peer group because it puts us in a really good place to influence.”

In the last six months the UK, EU Japan, Korea and China have all made commitments to carbon zero by 2050 and New Zealand must follow suit, he says.

“In doing this we create a new kind of economy that we have to adapt to anyway. Just as we leaned in to technology in the 1970s and ‘80s and realised that staying with typewriters wasn’t a particularly cunning plan, there are going to be a whole lot of changes we’re going to have to make to our economy to become low carbon.”