Live Chat: What's next for climate change action?
Climate change is back on the agenda in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images What will New Zealand look like in 2025? With a host of challenges such as climate change, an ageing population, inequality, our economic resilience, and increased pressure on our land, air and water, the only certainty is that we will have to do things differently. We can no longer look at wellbeing through the narrow lens of GDP growth. To see genuine progress, and genuine prosperity, we have to look at progress in broader social, environmental and economic terms. Over the coming weeks, Element and the Centre for NZ Progress will host conversations to explore what real progress means to New Zealanders. Each week we will focus on a different issue under the four streams of economic, social, environmental and democratic progress. We will hear the ideas of a diverse collection of thinkers, experts and leaders, from New Zealand and around the world, and we will create a space for you to share your ideas. Join Generation Zero co-founder Paul Young from 5.30-7.30pm to talk about climate change following the Greens' carbon tax policy announcement. Pop quiz. Which famous New Zealander once said this: "All New Zealanders want to preserve our world and the way of life it affords us, our children and our grandchildren. [...] We are fair-minded people, and tackling climate change requires global action - and, as a responsible international citizen, New Zealand should stand up and be counted. But New Zealand's efforts on climate change aren't just about being a good international citizen and doing our bit for the planet. [...] Action on climate change is also needed to ensure the prosperity of New Zealand's economy in an increasingly carbon-conscious world." That was our Prime Minister, John Key, back in 2007 . They sound like the words of someone who understands that real progress in the 21st century relies on us shifting to a low carbon, clean economy. Global warming has been catapulted back into the limelight this year thanks to the latest series of authoritative reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Just in the last few days, President Obama has announced new rules to cut carbon pollution from US power plants by 30 per cent by 2030. Meanwhile back home, the Green Party released its Climate Protection Plan . Most of the attention has focused on their "Climate Tax Cut" proposal to scrap the Emissions Trading Scheme and replace it with a simple carbon tax along with compensating cuts to personal and company taxes. Here I want to provide a quick overview of the global warming challenge, how New Zealand's doing, and what real progress towards a clean energy future could look like. The challenge I am calling on all governments to be more ambitious - to aim for zero net emissions from fossil fuels by the second half of this century. Nothing short of a wholesale transformation of the energy economy will suffice. There's been huge institutional progress on climate change in the last five years. Conservative institutions like the OECD are now openly calling for action to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels to zero in the second half of the century. They're not alone. For example, over 100 companies - including Shell - have signed the Trillion Tonne Communique?, which calls on governments to set a timeline for achieving zero net CO2 emissions and make a strategy to achieve it. Why? On current emissions trends, global temperature increase is likely to hit 4C by 2100. That might not sound much, but Earth is a bit like the human body - a small temperature change can have drastic effects. A landmark 2012 report from the World Bank put it bluntly: a 4C world offers "no certainty that adaptation is possible". If we don't act, kids born today will live into that world. To keep global warming under the globally-agreed safe upper limit of 2C, there's a limit on the total carbon we can pump into the atmosphere. The IPCC concluded that the remaining global 'carbon budget' for a two-in-three probability of staying under 2C is approximately one trillion tonnes of CO2. That means aiming for zero emissions by around 2070. How to fairly divide this carbon budget among countries is a complex issue. As the infographic below shows, a per capita share for New Zealand would mean aiming to achieve zero CO2 no later than 2050. CO2 is the biggest culprit globally, but the common New Zealand question is, what about agriculture? We have to deal with these emissions too, but for a range of reasons we in Generation Zero think the biggest focus should be on energy (you can read more about this in our report ). How's New Zealand doing? In a nutshell: not good. The Government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 50 per cent below by 2050, but has no plan whatsoever for how we will meet these. To see that, we need only look to the Government's official emissions projections. Our carbon pollution is expected to grow on every possible measure under current policies (including the ETS in its current form). Those policies are expected to reduce total emissions by a pathetic 0.4 per cent compared with doing nothing at all. Looking past the tired old "fair share" rhetoric, it's clear our current emperors really have no clothes. Not only are we failing in our moral responsibility to protect our kids from a climate disaster scenario, we're failing to prepare our economy for the inevitable carbon-constrained future and capture the opportunities that the John Key of 2007 seemed to understand. A clean energy plan In our report A Challenge to Our Leaders, we laid out the case for New Zealand to develop and implement a Clean Energy Plan to phase out fossil fuels for all our energy needs by 2050. Denmark has already done exactly that, and many other countries are not far behind. Is a clean energy future possible for New Zealand? And how? First, we need to understand the current energy picture. Attention often focuses on electricity, but heat and industry (think coal and gas boilers and machinery) and transport cause twice and three times as much carbon pollution, respectively. That's where the big game is for New Zealand. So with the brief space I have left, what are some of the solutions? Transport Improve the poor efficiency of our vehicle fleet. Encourage a shift towards walking, cycling and public transport in our urban centres through greater investment and smart urban development. Get more freight moving by rail and coastal shipping. Accelerate uptake of electric cars, buses and other vehicles, and power these from our ample renewable electricity resources. Develop sustainable home-grown biofuels that don't compete with food production, using wood and biomass as a feedstock Support technological and social change which is already reducing demand for travel in the first place. Heat and industry Cut our energy demand through maximising efficiency. Replace coal and gas with sustainable wood and other bioenergy sources, and direct geothermal heat where available. Switch to electricity and direct solar to provide low-temperature heat. Electricity Through wind, geothermal, hydro, solar, and developing technologies like tidal and wave power, New Zealand has enough resources to squeeze out the coal and gas from the mix and cater for growth for the foreseeable future. The video below from our friends at WWF New Zealand puts it all together nicely, and modelling commissioned by Greenpeace provides a more technical scenario. In Generation Zero we believe this future is 100 per cent possible, if New Zealand chooses to commit to it. It won't be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever was. If we want it, we have to ask for it - and with an election this year, what better time to do so? Paul Young grew up in Dunedin, where he completed his MSc in physics, studying ocean wave power. As one of the founders, he is stoked to be a part of the expanding Generation Zero crew, working on solutions to tackle climate change. 'If I return to visit my dying mother I will be arrested on the spot.'