There is a growing realisation that the challenges of climate change and unsustainability are threatening our future. As business leaders we cannot carry on with ‘business as usual’ and leave these challenges to government, to community groups or to enlightened consumers to solve. Business is part of the problem and we must be part of the solution. We must also be part of the process of creating exciting opportunities if we rise to meet these challenges.
When we set up Pure Advantage our vision was to promote the adoption of transformative economic strategies, based on green growth. We believe that these strategies can help create a healthier, wealthier future for the people of New Zealand. We are seeking ways to do good while doing well as businesses, but we also aim to contribute to the broader challenge of sustainability across New Zealand society.
In two major reports on the potential for green growth, we outlined seven areas where action could build Advantage for New Zealand – in AgriTech, BioDiversity, BioProducts, Housing, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid and converting Waste to Value. On this new web platform we will be engaging businesses, experts and others in building specific programmes for action on each of these issues.
We will also be building support for action across New Zealand society. No individual, business, organisation or government can ignore their responsibility to take action on the climate crisis. New Zealand accounts for only a small proportion of the world’s emissions, but we have a voice on the international stage and a responsibility as part of the global community. We have not become a proud nation by being small or failing to play our part.
The 1992 UN Convention on Climate Change called for global emissions to be stabilised and then reduced, but our net emissions in New Zealand have increased by 42% since 1990. During that period the scientific evidence has clarified that we are running out of time to prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change. The impacts of climate change will affect us all through droughts, storms and other climate extremes, but most at risk are millions of people in poor and vulnerable communities, unable to protect themselves from climate impacts, and a large proportion of species on our planet.
A transformation of the New Zealand economy is needed to stay within our ‘climate budget’ for greenhouse gas emissions that will keep global temperature rise below 2°C. It is crucial that we do so. Otherwise we will be left behind in the growing clean technology sectors, and further damage our unique environment through more roads, more conversions to dairy farming, more mining and other unsustainable practices.
We need to set the right framework, particularly the right incentives for business. Economics tells us to ‘get the prices right’. That means putting a price on carbon emissions that reflects the damage it causes. The Emissions Trading Scheme started with a price of around $25 per tonne but the supply of cheap overseas units of ‘hot air’, which do nothing to reduce global emissions, have meant that the price has fallen to only a few cents. We need a stable and predictable carbon price that provides incentives for the long term investments that are essential for a low emissions economy.
Pure Advantage has strategies for change, building on exciting developments in renewable energy and clean technology, improvements in building design, and innovations in using waste as a source of value. As well as reducing emissions, we now have a deeper understanding of the potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere through afforestation and soil sequestration. Given the modest ambitions in UN negotiations, sequestration will be crucial to deal with the likely overshoot of our carbon budget.
These solutions are available to us. They have the potential to create a wealthier and healthier future. But we must expect more – from ourselves, from each other, from business and from government.