Welcome to our two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of articles to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
We open this week with a review of the legal action filed in the Wellington High Court by a Waikato law student – Sarah Thomson, against the New Zealand government over its climate change policy, claiming its greenhouse gas emissions targets were arrived at illegally, and that the low emissions reduction pledge it will make in the upcoming UN climate conference in Paris in December is “unreasonable and irrational”. The Action claims that the Minister for Climate Change Issues has not followed the process stipulated by the Climate Change Response Act 2002 in setting emissions reduction targets, and that the government’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution fails to take into account relevant matters concerning the dire impacts of climate change. New Zealand’s proposed contribution—an 11 percent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030—is claimed to be, in legal terminology, “unreasonable and irrational”. It will be very interesting to see how successful this action will prove to be.
This Action, filed on 24th November, follows the newly released report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, saying the Government needs to start preparing for the huge potential cost of rising oceans driven by climate change, which could lead to the "managed retreat" of coastal communities to higher ground. A total of 9,000 homes were less than 50cm above spring high tides, Dr Wright's report said. Thousands more were within a metre of this threshold. Surely this report is a wake-up call for New Zealand? Apparently not, with Bill English dismissing the recommendation as speculative,
saying that sea level rises were just one of many risks to be considered in infrastructure planning.
Another potential wake up call for New Zealand is a future tax on meat to tackle climate change and improve global health. With meat production responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gases – more than all cars, trains, planes and ships combined – halting global warming appears near impossible unless the world’s fast growing appetite for meat is addressed. With New Zealand being the world’s 4th largest exporter of beef this would almost certainly have a dramatic impact on export earnings.
All risks and risk management. To some it may seem our government is not managing climate change risks very well. So what can we do, if the government isn’t exhibiting leadership? Businesses have the chance to make a difference by using Corporate Responsibility reporting. A recent survey showed that respondents found the process used to produce the report was valuable, maybe even more valuable that the report itself. By engaging key stakeholders, including employees, in the process, relationships improved, and through improvements in business strategy, transparency and identification of risks, they gained sustainability improvements.
The GRI’s second analysis paper released recently provides insights into the shape of reporting over the next decade. Reports will become more integrated, and more “real time” rather than something done once a year. All people in an organisation will need to become responsible for sustainability in their business – not just leave it for “the sustainability person”. A true team effort, where everyone will contribute.
Some very large global companies have realised the way they solve key problems can be environmentally focussed but lower cost in the long run. Our next article gives examples of what Apple, Dow and Coca Cola are doing, with sustainability reporting in mind. A lot can be done if people have the right attitude – a can-do attitude – while thinking about the future, and realising nature based solutions may be possible.
Another way of managing risks would be to understand and incorporate the “circular economy” into a company’s thinking. With the increased prices of (and the decrease in availability of) some key commodities, recycling and waste reduction are imperatives for future stability of the economy. Some examples of companies taking a lead in this are discussed. They realise the benefits (economic and other) to their business as well as the larger picture of taking this route. A move away from the linear model of business is needed.
A vital part of the circular economy is recycling. Recycling is a real source of resources and needs to be viewed as such. Our article on the Future of Recycling identifies that we must recycle even if it doesn’t seem profitable, as we have finite natural resources and increasing demand. Perhaps the concept of ‘profit’ needs to change?
An example of recycling that works well is recycled paper – its impact on climate change and the environment is less than 1% of virgin paper. Recycled paper uses much less water, and doesn’t have the
associated emissions generated by logging huge areas of forests. A winning product all round.
Another good example of introducing efficiencies is 3D printing. It can be
used for everything from tissue printing in the biomedical industry, to custom
metal part production in the aerospace industry and everything in between,
increasing efficiency and reducing waste. Whilst it can’t be used for everything, it will soon be widespread.
Another way of reducing the increasing quantities of CO2e in our atmosphere is to remove it, by creating products from it. Project Drawdown has identified some 100 ways of creating products from captured carbon (sequestration), and some of these methods also solve other of society’s problems e.g. hunger, or rubbish in our oceans.
Green Buildings are without doubt the way of the future, and are becoming more and more “the norm”, with USGBC survey respondents saying more than 60% of projects will be green by 2018. When surveyed, most respondents were driven by client demands for reduced energy and water consumption. Improvements in IT and integration of building technology are also making the move to green easier. We look forward to net-zero-emission carbon new buildings in the near future.
We finish this week with a look at people power, that in this case demonstrates age is no barrier when action is required. A group of 113 children in Cancun Mexico stopped the razing of dozens of hectares of mangrove forest, marked for removal to accommodate a $900 million mixed use development of houses, shops and grand promenades. We applaud this and think Ana, a four year old plaintiff, sums it up perfectly. “If we cut everything down then we’re going to die, Trees help us breathe.” A powerful message.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching
up with you again.