The business of climate change — who really bears the burden?

By Gareth Renowden 11/12/2009

This guest post comes from Mahara Inglis (left) and Oliver Bruce, members of the New Zealand Youth Delegation to COP15 in Copenhagen, who describe themselves as “a group of 12 young people passionate about ensuring our climate policies look after the planet for generations to come!” The original was posted at Mahara’s blog. They make a strong case that NZ should adopt a leadership role in low-carbon development.

So here we sit; two young Kiwis at the heart of the United Nations Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen. More than being just a beehive of policy wonks and bureaucrats however, it is also a centre for hundreds of companies and governments from all over the world to showcase innovative, low-carbon solutions to climate change. It really is the new frontier of the global marketplace.

Yet, amidst all this the New Zealand government is unfortunately acting like the world is not changing. In the negotiations, it is pushing for weak emissions reduction targets, working to offload the burden of action onto poorer countries, and publishing inflated and misleading figures on the costs of adaptation.

Contrary to the traditional conservative business rhetoric, we believe these actions are compromising our future economic integrity and prosperity, let alone our environmental and social wellbeing. There are several reasons this is the case. Firstly, by setting low emission reduction targets we’re failing to create the necessity to innovate. This makes us uncompetitive as we head into an increasingly carbon constrained world economy. Secondly, we’re failing to foster development of the next generation of low-carbon technologies that are, and will continue to be, massive areas of growth. Lastly, we’re compromising our clean green brand of 100% Pure, and any business worth their salt protects their brand fiercely.

Fundamentally, we believe that the stance being taken by the New Zealand Government is akin to the protectionist policies of earlier years. It only serves to insulate us from the realities of a changing global marketplace and pushes the burden of adaptation from today’s business on to tomorrows. In the mid to long term, this will compromise the New Zealand economy as it is forced to buy low-carbon technology and skills from overseas, rather than becoming a net exporter. We’d like to remind John Key that ‘fast followers’ still come second.

We’d like to remind John Key that ‘fast followers’ still come second.

The truth is high legally binding emission reduction targets are not anywhere near the death-wish some people make them out to be. Those who claim that New Zealand is a special case because of its high agricultural emissions fail to recognise two key points. Firstly, that bold commitments will provide us with the incentive to develop technologies that will be valuable the around the world in the years to come. And secondly, that we have already started making progress towards reducing our agricultural emissions. An Agresearch trial farm in Waikato has preliminary results showing a 20% reduction in their carbon footprint. This is supported by further research in the Waikato, oftentimes showing 12-15% reductions with no significant impact on farm profitability. This progress highlights that higher emission reduction targets are within our reach.

We believe that with the right policies New Zealand has the potential to leverage our strengths (high education, great brand and entrepreneurial culture) to develop a knowledge economy based around low carbon and sustainable solutions. But to take advantage of this in an increasingly carbon constrained world economy we need:

  • Strong binding (minimum 30-40% by 2020) commitments for emissions reductions;
  • Supportive governmental policies that actively encourage emission reductions, and
  • Financial and institutional support for research and development of sustainable technologies and businesses.

New Zealand has always been a home of innovation. Seeing the opportunities that are being showcased here in Copenhagen, we know New Zealand has something to add. As budding young entrepreneurs we see the opportunities to lead in a range of industries are abundant, but at risk of passing us by.

New Zealand can be at the forefront of low-carbon business development which would only further our position as world leading innovators. But without solid commitment now, we risk passing up these opportunities and laying the burden of change on future generations.