Until recently I would have described myself as your average Kiwi Jane when it came to my understanding of Climate Change, the Paris Agreement and how our country might meet its international commitments.
Even without the in-depth and expert knowledge I now have access to in my position as an MP, like many New Zealanders I knew that it was simply madness to pollute the place you live, the air you breathe and the water you drink.
Like many Kiwi parents (I like to think) I have a son who, having watched the movie Cowspiracy promptly became a vegan in protest at the overpopulation of livestock and the downstream production of methane.
Recently I got the opportunity to represent New Zealand First as a member of the Executive Committee on what is a historic cross-party environmental political group called GLOBE- NZ.
New Zealand First is completely committed to the cross-party approach in identifying the best pathways for NZ to follow in order to reach our commitments in the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, we want to see the whole country working together so that shared goals can be agreed upon and then implemented. This will require a lot of give and take on behalf of the Government, all political parties, by local government, business, communities and individuals.
The commitments of the Paris Agreement are very challenging and require significant change, even some disruptive change, but the rewards of taking early, significant and meaningful action are very high; while the damage to New Zealand’s economic, environmental, and social well-being of not taking this action is likely to be severe.
The good news is that New Zealand is particularly well placed to make the necessary changes—much better placed than most nations. Kiwis are good at innovation, and they are good at making the changes of the magnitude needed. We have shown this in our past, and I am sure we can show it again on these issues.
We must see this as a glass half full opportunity. We must see this as a great opportunity for economic and social progress rather than another set of problems to solve.
I believe that if we strive to achieve the targets that we are set, through working together, then we can leave a greater legacy for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. I firmly believe that we can avoid adverse economic and social effects by taking the actions needed to severely reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, I think we can use the processes to enhance our economic performance through the consistent and sensible use of policies and practices to achieve emissions neutrality sooner rather than later.
The overall goal in the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change is for a global transition to emissions neutrality—or, in other words, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions—before the end of the century. New Zealand could do this by 2050 and I believe that is the target we should set.
GLOBE-NZ’s report by Vivid Economics is a very good start in choosing transformational, low-emission pathways for this country, by identifying the scenarios possible to achieve domestic emissions neutrality by the second half of the century. The essence of the report is that the transition to emissions neutrality will require more than just efficiency gains in current practices. Clearly, it also requires very significant changes in land use and in energy generation and consumption. No doubt, the Innovative pathway which relies heavily on breakthrough technologies will take us part of the way there, and increasingly so as time goes on.
We must optimise the opportunities that the Innovative pathway offers. However, the Resourceful pathway relies less on those technologies and will require much more land use change. It is an especially huge project for afforestation and therefore a start on these opportunities must be made as soon as possible. Whichever pathway is chosen, the choice must be meaningful, not only as a means to offset emissions through carbon sequestration but also as a way to enhance regional economies and job creation.
New Zealand First believes that it is possible for New Zealand to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. This could be achieved by combining the best elements of all identified pathways; by including a high uptake of technological innovation to reduce emissions, by the optimisation of afforestation, by progressively switching to less emissions-intensive agricultural production and by the closure of energy-intensive industries. However, it is also true that it is possible to enhance internationally energy-competitive industries such as the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which unlike many overseas plants, is powered by a fully renewable and almost carbon-free source.
Obviously, agriculture is the biggest challenge. It is already clear that the potential for an innovative transition—not decimation—in New Zealand’s agricultural production is available for us to grasp, provided we start now. It is essential that NZ lead in this – fast following is far too late! The farming industry and its supporting sectors are both able and willing to do this because they know what the future will bring and they understand the nature and the importance of the challenge. They also know and understand the magnitude of the opportunity.
The fundamental need is not to reduce water takes and uses, provided they are sustainable, and not to attack intensification (as some do). It is to invest much more in research and innovation to ensure that future intensive agriculture is sustainable. This means an end to the leaching of nitrates, phosphates, and harmful organisms, an end to water mining and excessive takes of surface water and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to a level which will enable us to reach our Paris commitments through the use of new technologies. We need to combine these measures with deft land management policy, land use change and a major afforestation project (especially on the millions of hectares of marginal land we have in New Zealand).
There is a responsibility on the whole nation to stop pointing fingers, especially at the agricultural industry. We all need to work with our farming communities to ensure that the changes needed are made progressively and in an orderly practical way. This will need investment by farmers, industry and the government on a large scale, because without farms that can be run as successful businesses we will have no hope of success. Consequently, the on-going viability of agriculture is a bottom line for New Zealand First.
We hope you have been following our staged dynamic release of Vivid Economics Net Zero New Zealand Report. On Friday 23 June, we released chapter three, the penultimate instalment that puts forward four domestic emission reduction scenarios through to 2050 which would position New Zealand to achieve emissions neutrality later in the century.
Our Pure Advantage contributors have provided analysis and context for New Zealanders throughout the report and we hope their contributions will better inform you about the opportunities and challenges we are facing to meet our obligations in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
At the culmination of the chapter, there is an opportunity to vote on the future you would like for yourselves and subsequent generations. Please take the time to engage with this and share amongst your friends and family; it’s up to us to decide how we achieve a low emissions pathway to a Net Zero New Zealand.