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Climate Change & Business Conference Communique

14 October 2016

Should New Zealand follow the UK model of an independent, statutory Climate Committee? That was the big question at the end of Day 2 of the Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference, as discussion focused on just how New Zealand should transition to a low-carbon economy.

The chief executive of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, Matthew Bell, and Forum for the Future founder (and Air New Zealand sustainability advisory panel chair), Sir Jonathon Porritt, both argued that it was the committee and the rules that surround it that has stopped recent  governments reducing the UK’s climate commitments.

While panel members in the last part of the day had differing views on the issue (Labour’s Dr Megan Woods, for example, is all for a Climate Committee, Centre for Environmental Resources and Energy Law director Professor Barry Barton says it’s the rules that support the committee that are important, while Sustainable Business Network chief Rachel Brown says what really matters is achieving a “head shift” on emissions reduction), there was general consensus that some sort of structured plan is needed.

As Professor David Frame said, simply shouting “run, fat boy, run” to an economy that’s carrying too many emissions isn’t going to help it loose weight.

The day started with talk about money – or more specifically, where we are going to find the money to fund New Zealand’s transition to the low-carbon economy and to deal with the now-unavoidable impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels.

Karen Silk, Westpac New Zealand’s general manager commercial, corporate and institutional, said that one of the problems facing start-up companies with a good idea for dealing with climate change and its impacts is the time it takes to get others to understand what they’re talking about so that they can secure the funding they need.

Emma Herd, chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change which represents companies with more than $1 trillion under investment, said that companies need to talk openly about the carbon risks they are exposed to and to report on it.

Enviro-Mark Solutions chief executive Dr Ann Smith, who has been helping businesses voluntarily measure and offset their emissions for 10 years, said that carbon needs to be at a price that’s high enough to make it worthwhile for companies to actually reduce emissions. “If anyone is offsetting their full carbon footprint it suggests to me that the credits are just too darn cheap,” she said. By pricing carbon into budgets now, she says, companies can make the business case for switching to low-carbon technology.

CDP Australia and New Zealand director James Day said New Zealand companies should be aware that many of the international companies they are dealing with – including Nestles, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Coca-Cola and Unilever – are working actively to exclude carbon from their products and supply chains.

And that means that New Zealand companies need to be thinking seriously about how they are going to decarbonise, said EY climate and sustainability manager Tracey Ryan. “Ticking boxes on sustainability is no longer enough,” she said.

In a discussion on adapting to the impacts of climate change which are now unavoidable, Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton warned that that billions of dollars worth of assets in New Zealand could become uninsurable, causing flow-on effects through the economy. “Two hundred billion dollars worth of home loans are securitised by insurance,” he said. “If some of those properties can’t insure they’re not going to get 30-year mortgages, and that will affect the property market.”

But the news wasn’t all bad. Angus Duncan, president of the Bonneville Environment Foundation and chairman of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, described how his city had managed to reduce emissions.  Simon Fraser University Center for Dialogue fellow Gordon Price – a former local body politician – challenged New Zealand to “double up” and take action to turn catastrophe into an opportunity to create better, happier cities.

The conference was organised by the Environmental Defence Society.