Last year, Victoria University researchers produced a compelling visual of water lapping up to the grounds of Parliament in a future where the world is two degrees warmer. Like a piece of art, the image lends itself to multiple interpretations.
One message we could take is that climate change is bigger than politics.
It’s an apt image as MPs prepare for a historic Parliamentary debate on climate change this afternoon, while New Zealand is recovering from severe floods caused by two tropical cyclones in as many weeks. These are no longer one-in-500-year events.
The subject of the debate is the report Net Zero in New Zealand by Vivid Economics. This important report looks at transformational pathways for New Zealand to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century, as called for under the Paris Agreement.
Crucially, this study was commissioned by GLOBE-NZ: a group of 35 MPs with an interest in climate change policy, spanning all seven political parties in Parliament. It was funded by a range of philanthropic organisations and business leaders who support both a new kind of political leadership on this issue, and the real possibility of change.
The intent behind today’s Parliamentary debate is very different to the usual partisan jousting and point-scoring we are accustomed to seeing. The GLOBE-NZ MPs are to be congratulated for seeking a constructive cross-party dialogue. Collaboration of this type is rarely seen in New Zealand politics.
While political parties should and undoubtedly will maintain their own mix of distinct policies, it is vital to New Zealand’s long-term interests that we build broad consensus on goals and strategies for decarbonising our economy.
The global consequences of inaction are becoming increasingly clear. The floods, drought and wildfires felt around our country over recent months are worrying signs of a new normal.
Further delay and uncertainty will be very costly. Across the ditch, the Australian Energy Council says that political uncertainty has raised power prices by more than if government had put in a $50 per tonne carbon price.
Despite the odd bump (or should that be Trump) in the road, most of the world has moved decisively from talking about climate change to doing.
In fact, a revolution is quietly underway. Last year, China installed more than one wind turbine and three rugby fields worth of solar panels every hour on average. Falling coal use there and elsewhere has seen global carbon emissions flatline for three consecutive years. Sweden has just committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.
In the US, states such as California, corporates including Google, Apple and Amazon, and ordinary citizens are challenging the Trump administration’s moves to roll back climate regulations.
The wheels are in motion, but in New Zealand, we have frankly spent a decade stuck in second gear. We lack a coherent plan of action.
Vivid Economics’ report offers a compelling summary of our potential to become a net zero emission nation. It demonstrates that this is an achievable goal; how we might get there is simply about the choices we make from now on.
The report also makes very clear that if our country continues on its current path we will be substantially off-track, both in terms of meeting our internationally-agreed targets and responsibly managing our future.
Beyond contention is the need for major energy efficiency improvements, continued progress on renewable electricity, electrification of the light vehicle fleet, and adoption of more efficient farming practices.
But those alone will not be enough to get on a track consistent with the Paris Agreement. The report finds we also need to look at rebalancing current land-use patterns towards forestry and horticulture, and spurring innovation and uptake of new technologies.
There are multiple viable pathways ahead, requiring us to assess tradeoffs and make strategic choices as a nation.
This is why the efforts of GLOBE-NZ and today’s Parliamentary debate are so important. We need to develop a broad political consensus on where we are headed and provide New Zealand citizens and businesses with the support they need to make it happen.
As citizens (and especially as voters) we must do two things from today. Firstly, we must hold our MPs accountable for building and keeping to a cross-party consensus on a zero emissions future. Secondly, we must give them permission to step away from any entrenched party positions to make sensible, pragmatic decisions for our future.
The special Parliamentary debate will take place 3-5pm and can be viewed on Parliament TV or at www.bit.ly/2osBwjL
John McCarthy (Tindall Foundation), Simon Millar (Pure Advantage) and Paul Young (Morgan Foundation)