The twin challenges of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent disastrous levels of climate change and dealing with the impacts that are now unavoidable dominated discussion on day two of the Climate Change and Business Conference yesterday.
From the challenges of developing the rule book to put the Paris Agreement into action, to the future of carbon prices at home and abroad (New Zealand carbon is at the record price of $25.25, while the price of European carbon has gone up 300 per cent in a year), businesses said they were having to make investment decisions amid a good deal of uncertainty.
OM Financial’s head of financial markets, Nigel Brunel, said that while he had been bullish about carbon for a long time, prices could collapse again if the countries signed up to the Paris Agreement fail to put it into action.
Different views on how much New Zealand’s farming sector needs to reduce methane emissions dominated a discussion on the agricultural sector. Agricultural emissions make up nearly half New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and most of it is methane from the digestive process of ruminant animals.
Physicist Professor Dave Frame said that an annual reduction in methane emission of 0.3 per cent year, coupled with big cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, would make a dramatic difference in global warming, but Generation Zero policy lead James Young-Drew said that while there was an argument for treating short-lived gases like methane differently from long-lived gases like carbon dioxide, drastic cuts were needed in the near future.
But cutting emissions is only part of the climate change challenge, the record-sized audience heard. Dr Judy Lawrence, who led the Government’s Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group, said that adapting to the now-unavoidable impacts of climate change could be more difficult and more expensive than cutting emissions.
Her views were echoed by Dunedin Mayor and Local Government New Zealand chair Dave Cull. Repeating his call for the establishment of a local government resilience agency, he said many of the local councils at the frontline in dealing with rising sea levels and other impacts don’t have the skills and resources to do what needs to be done.
Environment minister David Parker – the architect of the 10-year-old Emissions Trading Scheme – wrapped up the conference on a note of optimism, saying he was confident New Zealand could do what needs to be done.
“If New Zealand doesn’t do it, then the world won’t,” he said. “We have so many advantages, as well as having a moral duty to act.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern echoed his optimism. In a pre-recorded message played to close the conference, she said that taking action on climate change made economic sense as well as environmental sense.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime to upgrade our businesses and our economy,” she said.
“Intellectual property around low-emissions technologies are already sought-after and offer profitable returns.
The conference also saw the New Zealand premiere of the documentary The Human Element, by New Zealander Olivia Ahnemann, about the effect humans are having on the traditional elements of earth, wind, fire and water. The film has been brought to New Zealand by the business organisation Pure Advantage and can be viewed online here.
The next Climate Change and Business Conference will be held in Auckland on October 8-9, 2019.