Despite the declaration of a climate emergency and bipartisan support for the introduction of decarbonisation policy frameworks, New Zealand continues to use over six times its share of the global carbon budget allocated under the Paris agreement.
In a year when we’ve already seen He Pou a Rangi the independent New Zealand Climate Change Commission Report met with legal objection to its recommendations by Climate Action New Zealand, and the recent IPCC report predicting dramatic local effects from extreme weather and sea-level rise. There is mounting pressure on NZ to commit to greater action when it comes to climate targets.
NZ is currently the second-highest emitter per capita in the OECD, behind both Australia and the U.S. With the Glasgow climate conference fast approaching in November, the time has come for the government to adopt a response to climate change as urgent and robust as it has to COVID-19.
Putting the discussion around carbon emissions targets aside, let’s take a look at a few other key issues which will help drive the required change..
Renewable Energy In, Fossil Fuels Out
A broad mix of wind, solar, biomass, cleaner geothermal deployment, green hydrogen and pumped hydro storage are all touted as movers in driving the NZ government’s revised goal of 100% renewable energy supply by 2030.
Navigating the energy transition is delicate and avoiding a repeat of recent issues with reliability, and grid-connection, as encountered in Australia, will be key to ensuring bipartisan support for renewables continues, as cost and technology improvements evolve.
The improvements to building energy efficiency, power transmission systems and demand management noted in the Commission will also help, decommissioning older coal power stations like Huntly combined with future increases in electricity demand, leave NZ requiring an enormous amount of new grid-connected generation to be completed in just nine years!
The following must all be adopted as vital parts of the NZ energy mix going forward:
– Greater support for strategically located mid and large-scale solar plants.
– Shared ownership models for major generation projects.
– Amendment of overly stringent renewable project planning approval processes.
Reducing Transport Emissions
Transportation is the fastest-growing emissions sector in New Zealand, and the commission heralds a subsidy-driven transition to electric vehicles as the key component to transport decarbonisation.
Yet overseas manufacturing processes and mining of required materials like Lithium are only slightly less emissions-intensive than fossil-fuelled car production.
So even if we go completely electric, decarbonising transport will remain impossible without also reducing levels of personal vehicle use across the country.
Even under ambitious EV adoption scenarios, minimising travel times and increasing uptake of cycling and walking via urban land use planning changes are equally important measures.
Furthermore, introducing an electrified national rail network coupled with hydrogen or electric powered coastal shipping requires further attention than the report attributes, and will be key to limiting the growing emissions from intercity freight trucking and domestic air travel.
Carbon Sequestration… Planting Pine Is Not The Way Out Of This.
The government’s recent One Billion Trees program has caused debate about whether to priorities native or exotic plantings in combating climate change.
Exotic planting has been green-lighted as Pine grows and sequesters carbon faster and timber is a prime export asset. However, Pine also decomposes faster than natives resulting in greater carbon dioxide release over time. Increases in storm events causing erosion in exotic plantations have also dampened the case for Pine.
To this point, the exact mix of native vs exotic trees planted in the One Billion Trees mix is unknown but has been heavily skewed towards exotics. The Commission now urges Aotearoa to diversify its forestry assets with a future focus towards permanent native reforestation.
There’s no “silver bullet” with forestry, and a greater focus on the sustainable management of existing plantations and the permanent protection of native old-growth forests is paramount.
Niche sub-sectors like bio-energy and micro forestry should also bring benefits with greater investment.
Working Closer With Iwi
In this road map to achieving zero emissions, it is vital that Māori are properly involved in all aspects of keeping up with national climate change commitments.
Aotearoa needs to ensure Māori are always at the table as true partners with ownership in the adoption of diverse energy solutions, the development of a marine and coastal blue economy, and the creation of carbon farming opportunities among other ventures. Tick the box consultation and tokenistic engagement has never been the answer here.
Goodbye Meat and Dairy, Hello Plant-based.
Even with the likely widespread uptake as the developed world transitions to a “healthy diet, healthy planet” lifestyle.
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