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.
COP21, 196 nations, 50,000 delegates and two-weeks of discussions and negotiations culminated on Sunday with what has now been labelled as the ‘Paris Agreement’ and the world’s greatest diplomatic success. We open this week with an excellent article from Fiona Harvey, writing for the Guardian, which depicts the COP21 final day’s rollercoaster ride and how all parties came together in compromise to clear the pathway for success.
Despite all the powerful language of the Paris Agreement itself, it however does not immediately oblige countries to do anything more than what is contained in their already released climate pledges, or “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).” In NZ’s case this is to reduce emissions by 11% over 1990 levels.
And — as has been often stated — these pledges are not compatible with the Paris Agreement’s ambitious temperature target, which is to limit “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
It has however set the international political tone that the world is finally serious about limiting future temperature rises. The new text sends “a very strong signal to business and investors that there is only one future direction of travel to reduce emissions in line with a 1.5 degree pathway,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, whose members manage assets valued at over 13 trillion euros.
It is now up to individual countries to implement whatever changes will be required to meet their INDC. Some countries will be more aggressive in realising these than others and some may see it as simply business as usual.
Sadly, by signalling the intention to continue issuing oil and gas exploration permits, the New Zealand government seems to be largely in the latter camp. We also believe that labelling it as a cost of $100 per household signalled it as a burden, rather than a positive contribution or opportunity, and also fails to acknowledge the number of jobs that could be created by truly embracing a green economy.
In the end, however, what governments do or don’t may be largely irrelevant as the business community appears to have clearly got the message that moving to a low carbon future is not only good business, it is essential. Improving efficiencies throughout the business and supply chain reduces costs, builds resilience, improves relations with stakeholders and makes the business more profitable.
In order to achieve this, there’s a need to look beyond their value chains to the larger systems in which they’re operating. To achieve the ambitious goals companies and countries have set for themselves — to live up to the promise of warding off climate change’s worst impacts — will require rethinking systems. That includes the consumption model that has become the expectation of any self-respecting developing economy. It also means rethinking the purpose of business: to make money, or serve society?
On that thought provoking note, our next article discusses whether the Paris Agreement can actually work, or more broadly do UN climate change treaties ever work? Granted, it looks at some of the fraud and manipulation under the Kyoto Protocol and it is accepted some practices such as these are likely to continue under the Paris Agreement, but likely on a much smaller scale. The reason for this is that there is now a far higher degree of transparency and systems in place, plus far less tolerance by businesses, governments and investors to overlook or accept such behaviour.
Not that everyone is going to want to see change. Vested interests will want to retain their hold on power or maintain the extractive and unsustainable business model we presently operate under. The article “2 World Wars are Converging – the War on Nature and the War of Resentment” outlines how these interlocked conflicts are going to pose a significant challenge. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t offer any solutions which, whatever they turn out to be, will have to be bold and creative.
An example of vested interests are those of the fossil fuel industry and their blinkered approach that a transition period into renewable forms of generation is inevitable. And in doing so are continuing to explore for new fossil fuel reserves instead of perhaps diversifying into other commercial opportunities. In so doing they pose risks of up to $2 trillion of investor’s money. Perhaps they are under the illusion they can spin their way out of having to change by continuing to deny climate change is a problem, just as they have been doing for the past couple of decades. The sting operation, staged by Greenpeace, shows there are scientists willing and able to doctor anti-climate change discussions, providing the price is right.
There is however some positive news, that perhaps the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions might be achievable in the context of the world’s human population continuing to increase. In 2014, the rate of growth in global emissions slowed significantly, but, unlike past periods with little or no emissions growth, global gross domestic product grew significantly. In other words, emissions and economic growth have decoupled – at least over the last two-years anyway.
Another good news story is from Landcorp. NZ’s largest farmer, Landcorp, has pledged to become carbon neutral within a decade. With more than 800,000 stock on 140 farms around NZ, Landcorp will be planting 1,000 hectares of forests each year for ten-years. As Phil McKenzie, Landcorp General Manager for the Environment put it “It’s an aspiration, but for us it’s about building a climate smart, resilient farm”.
We wrap this final Snippets for 2015, with the news that the current extreme El Niño is now the strongest ever recorded, smashing the previous record from 1997-8. To get that into context, the 1997-8 El Niño killed 20,000 people and caused almost $97 billion of damage as floods, droughts, fires, cyclones and mudslides ravaged the world.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again in 2016. May we take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for the Christmas and New Year break. As always, if you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.