An orca off the east coast of New Zealand. Photo: Getty

I’m excited by this big business pledge on climate. Now let’s hold them to it

To combat climate change, we essentially need a new industrial revolution, and at last attitudes across the business sector appear to be seriously changing, writes climate scientist James Renwick

To make an effective response to climate change, what is required is leadership from both the public and private sectors. So the announcement of a new “Climate Leaders Coalition” is good news for climate change action in New Zealand, in principle at least. This coalition, responsible for almost half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and including some very prominent businesses such as Fonterra and Air NZ, has the potential to make a significant difference. We will have to wait and see what actions the members of the CLC actually take, but the stated aim of reducing emissions to meet Paris Agreement limits is excellent. Holding the business sector to their stated emissions reductions will be a critical part of the process.

Collectively, the CLC group are responsible for a sizable fraction of the country’s emissions of carbon dioxide, from transport, energy production, and industrial use of fossil fuels. These are the sectors where emissions growth has been fastest recently, so it’s exciting to see businesses stepping up to tackle emissions in this area. Combined with the recent announcement from the Farming Leaders Group that the agriculture sector is committed to zero carbon emissions by 2050, there’s a real sense that attitudes across the business sector are changing.

One great feature of the announcement is that climate change action is seen as an opportunity. To combat climate change, we essentially need a new industrial revolution, switching business and the whole of society to energy sources that won’t affect the climate. Countries (and companies) that are at the forefront of that change will be best placed to take the full economic benefit.

It is not all opportunity of course; it is as least as much risk avoidance. Failure to step up and reduce emissions quickly enough will bring catastrophic consequences. More than 2C of global warming will guarantee the irreversible melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and much of the Greenland ice sheet, with many metres of sea level rise over coming centuries. Add that to further increases in weather and climate extremes, with serious consequences for food security and water availability worldwide, and we have a recipe for disruption and conflict across the globe.

New Zealand is very connected internationally, and our actions at home are visible around the world. Because of our small population, our total national contribution to climate change is small, but we can be a big player symbolically and as an example to others. Reaching zero carbon across all sectors of the economy would be a great drawcard for investment, helping make New Zealand “the place where talent wants to live” as Sir Paul Callaghan memorably put it. This is an opportunity for New Zealand to show the world how to make the transition to a zero-carbon future.

The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.


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