The government should put its money where its mouth is and help set up a specialist tertiary institute in Taranaki focusing on environmental, ecological and energy sciences, New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom says.
Mr Holdom said such an institute would reflect the region's role in New Zealand's transition to a carbon-neutral economy and become a magnet for people interested in researching how to combat climate change.
The polytech sector was about to be restructured and now was the ideal time for such a project, Mr Holdom said.
"So why not get right after this, throw some real government money at it and say 'we want to create an institute and an ecosystem where the government has put some real skin in the game'."
He said the government needed to send a message that "it starts here and we are going after this big time, this is a big priority for us, because we've heard all the rhetoric - where's the dollars."
The government's decision not to offer any new offshore oil and gas exploration permits has been estimated to cost the Taranaki economy $40 billion by 2050, in a New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report.
It predicted annual household incomes in Taranaki would drop by $21,000 and the region would shed up to 6 percent of its jobs, many of them highly skilled.
Mr Holdom said "the big hairy audacious goal" was to retain jobs in the region.
"And we say 'this is the place where we are going to make the just transition happen'. This is going to be the focal point for decarbonising New Zealand's economy using science and economics and we are going to get after it. We've got government support, we've got the private sector and the region really committing to doing it.
"And then if you want to be part of this climate change initiative from anywhere around the world come here and do it."
Mr Holdom said the institute could also offer behaviour sciences so that the demand side of the equation could be tackled.
"The bigger challenge than all the technology, engineering and economics is the behavioural stuff. Why is the car to have for New Zealand urban families a Ford Ranger ute? They're basically going from suburban homes to supermarkets, but they can tow 3 tonnes on the way."
Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods said she was interested in the idea of setting up an energy college in Taranaki.
"The next piece of work we need to do alongside that is what to do with vocational training so that not only are we creating the economic opportunities but that we're making sure we have a skilled workforce in the area that's ready to take those opportunities as they come along."
Ms Woods said in the Netherlands specialist institutes had been set up alongside emerging clean-energy technologies.
"Some new technologies like hydrogen for example require people with specific skillsets and I would think New Plymouth was well placed to be a training centre for that."
Ms Woods said she was a fan of aligning regional economic development with vocational training and had already begun discussions with the Minister of Education along those lines.
A decision on whether an energy college would be set up in Taranaki or not was, however, a long way off.
- Find out more about New Zealand's transition from oil and gas in this Insight investigation.