A consensus is building between business leaders and representatives from New Zealand’s major political parties on the transition to a low carbon economy, according to the Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor.

He said one of the outcomes of the Climate Change and Business conference held last week in Auckland was an endorsement by some of the speakers, including key political leaders, of the concept of establishing a Climate Forum.

“There is a strong appetite for a collaborative process that brings together stakeholders from key sectors to discuss the pathway to lower emissions,” Mr Taylor said.

These stakeholders would include business, environmental interests and the government, he said, and the hope is that it will be led by business.??“There is a sense that we have been having a number of disparate conversations that should be brought together to consider a low carbon transition for New Zealand.”

He said discussions should include the review of the nation’s emissions trading scheme, which the Central Government has said will commence this year.

Mr Taylor said climate change minister Tim Groser, who was one of the speakers at the conference, had indicated personal support for a Climate Forum, but had not committed the government to the concept.

“[Mr Groser] said that he thought we had made good progress and that action on climate change had some real momentum behind it now,” Mr Taylor said.

“Energy and Transport Minister Simon Bridges also indicated a willingness to engage with a collaborative process that would focus on the complementary measures that could sit alongside the ETS.”

Green party co-leader James Shaw and Labour spokesperson Dr Megan Woods also indicated support for the initiative.

EDS will now focus on getting the forum established, with the business sector to take the lead.

The conference also involved members of the NZ Sustainable Business Network, the Sustainable Business Council and BusinessNZ, with speakers including Martin Kraft, regional manager NZ for Munich Re; chief executive of the Insurance Council of NZ Tim Grafton; chief executive of BNZ Anthony Healey; and GHD principal Alison Lee.

Australian representation included Environment minister Greg Hunt [by video], Rob Kelly from ClimateWorks, Investor Group on Climate Change Australia and New Zealand chief executive Emma Herd, and Greenfleet chief executive Wayne Westcott.

International speakers included Paul Polman from Unilever [by video] and Dr Rachel Duval from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Penny Nelson
Penny Nelson

SBC executive director Penny Nelson said NZ had “some big choices to make about how we move towards a low-carbon, high-growth economy”.

“Business clearly has a role to play in getting there and are now leading that discussion.”

She said unless stakeholders have a plan, the nation will not meet the government’s emissions targets.

“Climate change is everyone’s responsibility – business, government, consumers. We need to work together and support each other if we’re going to make a difference,” Ms Nelson said.

Head of climate change policy at BusinessNZ John Carnegie said there were some strong climate leaders emerging in the business community.

“The number of businesses working to reduce their emissions suggests they are now embedding their climate responses into the way they work,” Mr Carnegie said.

He said that following the conference, there would be meetings between a large number of business leaders, including the chief executives of some of the nation’s largest companies, to discuss what outcome they need from COP21 in Paris and what action will need to be taken on climate change between now and 2020.

“Business unequivocally supports a price on carbon and that will be part of our discussion,” Mr Carnegie said.

The Sustainable Business Network said NZ needed to act now on climate change, and had six key takeaways from the conference:

  1. The main focus is on the role of nation states in tackling climate change rather than on the role of business, yet it is a huge economic opportunity for NZ. These opportunities include the savings that can be made from resource efficiencies, and investing in clean technology.
  2. Forty per cent of New Zealand’s carbon emissions come from transport, even though low carbon options exist. These include biofuels; electric vehicles; greater investment in cycling infrastructure; and new technologies facilitating smart transport options like car sharing.
  3. The finance community believes climate change will materially impact business and needs to embed this in decision making, through measures like supporting loans to clean technology and sustainable infrastructure developments. Information on the carbon exposure risk of investments is available at the Low Carbon Investment Registry. There is also a need to consider long term value, not just short term performance measures such as trading stocks that don’t perform well over a quarter.
  4. Although farming has profited well over the past 10 years, it still contributes to nearly half of NZ’s total greenhouse gas emissions. NZ has invested $60 million since 2002 in agricultural emissions reduction, with in-depth research from the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium in particular. Increased efficiencies on farms have meant that we are tracking in a better trajectory, but in the absence of a solid Emissions Trading Scheme, there has been little traction in improving our agricultural emissions profile.
  5. Without clearer support for forestry, we are likely to see large scale deforestation. Forestry makes a positive contribution to the nation’s emissions profile as it is a carbon sink, but the rate of planting has dramatically slowed since 2008. There is a need for stronger market signals and policy to support the industry.
  6. NZ needs to respond to the global practice that exists on adaptation and get up to speed.

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