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Paul Young says NZ businesses are taking, and want to take, meaningful action on climate change, but don't want to be undermined by freeloaders

Paul Young says NZ businesses are taking, and want to take, meaningful action on climate change, but don't want to be undermined by freeloaders

By Paul Young*

Businesses are often seen as the bad guys when it comes to climate change, lobbying governments to stymie action and water down commitments.

That seems to be true in some cases – as we’ve seen recently with Exxon Mobil’s alleged lying to the public about climate science.

But not all businesses are donkey-deep in the fossil fuel-powered status quo like Exxon. Increasingly we see business leaders and investors among the most strident voices for action.

The National Government claims they’re ‘doing their bit’ with their emissions reduction targets and policies. They say doing more would adversely impact our economy and hurt Kiwi businesses.

But a remarkable new survey and briefing released last week by Business New Zealand shows that a big chunk of businesses think we can and should do more.

In fact they think that our current ‘do the least possible’ approach risks greater harm than we would suffer from taking stronger action on climate change, as it could damage our international reputation.

The 54 public and private sector organisations that participated in the survey are shown below. BusinessNZ says the business respondents have a collective turnover totalling over a third of New Zealand’s private sector GDP.

Here are our top 5 points from the survey.

1. Businesses want stronger targets and government leadership.

Asked what they want to see from the global climate summit kicking off in Paris at the end of this month, the survey found business wants to see “strong New Zealand Government leadership in a way that makes a stand and sets an example.” 69% said that Government leadership would be beneficial for their business. They also want clarity of direction, greater ambition, unified commitment, certainty and practical action.

In terms of the Government’s current pledge, the survey report says: “The view is that the current New Zealand targets do not position New Zealand in a way that is consistent with our international image/brand. There was a sense that more ambitious commitments would create impetus, drive some new legislation and a greater alignment of business activity with national and global goals.”

As one (unnamed) company put it: “We would love for the New Zealand Government to be bolder and more aggressive in our COP21 commitments. If there were meaningful targets it would stimulate the right market behaviour and investment.”

2. Businesses are taking action anyway.

Despite the current lack of political leadership and policy signals, the majority of the businesses that responded to the survey are working to monitor and reduce their emissions. The survey found two thirds have emissions reduction targets, 61% have introduced initiatives to reduce climate emissions, and 52% publicly report on their emission reductions. BusinessNZ has just announced it’s going carbon neutral to set a positive example.

3. Businesses get that climate action creates winners as well as losers.

Interestingly, 49% of the businesses think that climate change action will lead to a positive impact on consumer demand for the products or services their business sells. Only 15% think it would have a negative impact (the rest thought it would have no impact). The numbers are similar for those who think climate change will positively impact their decisions on investment in technology and new equipment.

What this shows is that a big proportion of businesses are seeing the opportunities in the transition to a zero carbon future. It’s a stark contrast to what we hear from our political leaders, which is that it’s all cost and if we try to do anything serious the economy will implode.

4. Businesses support cross-party consensus building and an independent climate commission.

As we’ve discussed recently, everyone seems to want to build cross-party agreement on climate change policy now – except for National. The survey again shows businesses want the Government to work with opposition parties to build consensus around stable long-term policies. Almost two thirds of the organisations said this would be beneficial for their business.

A smaller but still large group of 37% also said that establishing an independent climate commission (to propose how to implement a target) would benefit their business. The Morgan Foundation has supported this idea for a while. Labour, the Greens and NZ First all say they want to implement it.

5. Businesses recognise we need to get to net zero emissions in the long run.

In her statements accompanying the release, the Sustainable Business Council’s Executive Director, Penny Nelson, said: “In the long-term, low-emission growth isn’t going to be enough. The planet will continue to warm as long as we are emitting more than we can capture and store. That’s why a group of business leaders are starting to explore the long-term systemic change we will need to make to steer towards a net zero emission economy.”

We’ve written a lot about how getting CO2 emissions to zero is the priority. It’s remarkable to see business leaders going even further to talk about achieving net zero emissions overall. That means the climate impact of ongoing emissions of other greenhouse gases (from agriculture, etc.) would also be offset by carbon sequestration. This is in line with the IPCC’s findings about where we ultimately need to go to keep warming under the 2 degree limit.

Source: Track 0

Great, so if business is on board then we’re all sorted right?

Nope. While the survey highlights the inspiring steps many businesses are taking, New Zealand’s emissions are still going up. Voluntary action will only ever get us so far without policies to drive and lock in change. These businesses are taking action because they know the writing is on the wall with carbon emissions and they are better off preparing for that now. But businesses need to survive in the short term too. If their competitors have lower costs because they aren’t doing anything to reduce emissions, this might stop some businesses investing in preparation for a low carbon future.

Businesses who want to do more are calling on the Government to act with more ambition. They need the right policy settings and long-term signals to ensure the low carbon investments they make are secure and won’t be punished. Just look at what happened to our forestry sector with the change of government. The businesses who don’t want to act, simply won’t until the Government does its job and regulates in the public interest, by putting a real price on carbon among other things.

It’s time the Government stopped pandering to the vested interests and laggards and listened to the progressive businesses who see the opportunities in an ambitious climate response.

Paul Young is a researcher and activist at Generation Zero. He is doing research for the Morgan Foundation on climate change and anything else that perks his interest. 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Unfortunately you'll get no positive response from National.

In other news, last month was the hottest October since modern record keeping began:

Those graphs are pretty aren't they?

Sure are pretty charts whiner. Going by that JAM data what caused all that warming prior to 1940 when we had no industrial CO2 to speak of. Was it the tooth fairy?

And as for the hottest year evah! You wouldn't be ignoring the satellite data would you? 1998 is still by far warmer. Which is odd since since we have had 25%+ of post industrial CO2 emissions since then.

Industrial revolution was early 1800's and then really kicked in with more and more use.

A couple of points - a year is just weather, a trend is all the years over decades viewed together.

We could all put our heads in the sand and hope, that could work to stop climate change.

Craig as you can see prior to 1940 there was beggar all CO2 emitted. What drove the rapid warming 1910 to 1940 per the JAM data? It clearly wasn't industrial CO2.

hahahaha, well if you bothered to look, that is explained here,

"Before 1940, the increase in temperature is believed to have been caused mainly by two factors:
Increasing solar activity; and Low volcanic activity (as eruptions can have a cooling effect by blocking out the sun).

It is also explained here. I guess the SkS gang were too busy photoshopping themselves as SS Nazi's to bother reading IPCC reports. What's your excuse? Why do you quote from such rabid crackpots? Note the term "very small" below.

Note if this forcing is "very small" then it is very unlikely to be responsible for the 30% odd of the post industrial global warming in this 1910-1940 warming period. Also note the biggest volcano of the 20th century, 30x more magma than Mt St Helens, was in 1912. Right when the 30 year, non CO2 attributible, burst of warming took place. A warming rate faster than the past 18 years and not stat. sig. different to the 1975-1998 warming period.

" The differences in radiative forcing estimates between the present day and the start of the industrial era for solar irradiance changes and volcanoes are both very small compared to the differences in radiative forcing estimated to have resulted from human activities. "

of course posting a smear site where anyone could have Photoshopped is hardly evidence.

Google Rob Honeycutt. He doesn't deny their lamo weird pastime. Why do you? I'll take the ipcc over those zealots any day.

your wikipedia link is simply a list of volcanoes, ergo meaningless .

You would be bleating if there wasn't a link. It shows that the biggest volcanic event of the 20th century was right in the zone when your sks cut and paste was sayikg it was a period of low volcanic activity. This largest event didn't even show up in whiners JAM data link above so it ain't volcanoes driving the bus.

The IPCC FAQ is nothing more than a simple general FAQ, it does not dis-prove Climate Science's explanation of why pre 1940 differs to post 1940.

Well it only takes a "simple general faq" to contradict your lame, typically baseless, SkS cut and paste.

Oh dear yet more cherry picking. 1997/98 was a hot year caused by an el nino, the biggest on record, this year however might just provide a 79/98 beater.

Who feeds this lot - literally and figuratively?!?!

They only turnover 1/3 of NZ's private sector GDP......once again the grassroots of the NZ economy gets shafted....or perhaps they have been deliberately omitted for that would stuff up the statistics wouldn't it !!

I hope Generation Zero don't get any Government funding given that SME's across NZ pay 95% of NZ's tax take!!

NZ businesses taking "meaningful" action. What utter BS. Anybody who can read a chart can see any "actions" are less than irrelevant.

Papers such as this show a complete lack of understanding of the complexities around this issue.

NZ is the worlds most efficient producer energy wise of dairy and red meat products even net of transport to market and therefore to decrease global emissions for any given level of food production - increased production from NZ would both increase emissions from NZ but decrease global emissions.

We also report on gross agricultural emissions when the net emissions ( net of the CO2 absorbed by our grasslands and crops ) are only roughly half the gross emissions. On the correct scientific basis of net emissions - NZ is already a very low emitter given it's electricity is now more than 80% renewables.

Net emissions were agreed at Rio in 1991 as the correct measure thanks to a delegation from NZ recognising both our forestry and grasslands farming. The whole concept of carbon credits originated there and unless agriculture is recognised on a net basis it makes no sense to recognise carbon credits.

The stupidity of this is best demonstrated by a maize crop grown in NZ. If used to make biofuel for Air NZ the CO2 absorbed is counted - yet if the exact same crop is feed to dairy cows it is not.

While Germany is shutting down nuclear and opening brown coal plants we are simply wasting our time even bothering to make submissions at Paris.

By any correct measure NZ already has some of lowest achievable emissions in the world.

Actually NZ's is pretty bad per capita, I think we are in the top 5 or so.

Per Capita emissions are totally irrelevant to a global problem.

We could shut our hydro powered smelter whose output would be immediately taken up by increased output from a coal powered asian smelter.

NZ's per capita emissions fall - Global emissions increase.

Is that what we want ?

No per capita it is not irrelevant, it is all about [over]-population. On top of that the developing world is indeed using the per capita argument to not do anything, and they have some correctness in that. Climate change is caused by every person on the planet with many using little energy and he few using a lot.

NB Since the smelter is using hydro it wont be emitting CO2 overly much so closing it will not have a huge impact.

You are really joining some disparate items together to try and support your case, I dont think it adds up.

Global emissions would increase? you are correct in this assuming the asian smelter uses fossil fuel.

A better example is NZ dairy for instance, in the past the garss fed system produced less emmissions per cow/kg. NZ is however moving away from grass fed to barn raised using PKE fed just like the rest of the world. the systems is also getting more intense with fossil fuel fertilizers being used to increase feedstock production, ergo not very green of us.

NZ is however moving away from grass fed to barn raised using PKE fed just like the rest of the world.

Bit of a long bow to draw there Steven. From where I sit a see a very small minority of farmers using barn systems and more using wintering sheds/herd homes which use in all the situations I know - grass based supplements that maybe supplemented with fodder crops. Do you understand the difference?

"barn raised using PKE fed just like the rest of the world"

PKE is a 'supplement", never the main feed input. In large barn operations, cut-and-carry is the norm: coos stay under shelter, silage/maize/straw etc. is brought to them.

And there aren't many total barn configurations yet in NZ: a few dozen tops. Many more winterbarns (which take the grazing pressure off of pastures during the winter/dry months) and feed pads.

Helps to have actually walked through one or three of these things...

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Days to the General Election: 39
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.