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Our share of the work to head off calamitous planetary heating will take some doing, but it can be done and we know how to do it.
That is the assessment of He Pou a Rangi the Climate Change Commission, which this week delivered its final advice to the Government on how we must begin to decarbonise our lives in earnest.
Its report, ‘‘Inaia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa’’, is the product of the process initiated by the passing of the Zero Carbon Act, which established the commission and asked it to advise on carbon budgets to carry us to our 2050 net-zero target.
The commission’s report sets out the size of the mountain we must climb and identifies several routes to the summit while leaving it up to the Government to decide precisely which is best. Importantly, the commission has further emphasised the central role matauranga Maori must play, and it is time to fully engage with this rich store of wisdom.
The report follows a consultation period during which time further evidence of our profligate emitting emerged, in the shape of higher figures for 2019.
As a result of that number, and other factors, the commission is now recommending a 7% cut to carbon emissions from next year, and maintaining that level until 2025. It then recommends a 14% cut for the second budget period, 2026-30.
Even Covid-19 managed only a fleeting 6% reduction in our emissions, courtesy of lockdown, underlining the scale of the task. And hot on the heels of the report was news that we have been burning more coal at Huntly than we have for some time, due to low lake levels.
We must stop doing so. Indeed, the commission recommends we concentrate on reducing emissions at their source, rather than relying too heavily on tree-planting our way out of trouble.
Expectations of the commission’s work were high, its membership commensurately eminent. It was hoped they might give us both a comprehensive assessment of the task and solutions elegant and achieveable, putting the matter beyond contention.
On balance, it has delivered. No doubt remains about the challenge, and the solution is to transform our economy, leaving hardly an activity untouched. We must derive our energy differently, travel differently, farm differently, live differently.
Technology will play a part. A bright note in the report is the forecast that electric planes might be flying our skies from about 2030. Technological novelty, though, is not what this is about. It is about deploying the tools we have now to do the work today.
Importantly, then, the report also calculates that taking action is not only in our best interests by any environmental measure but also economically. If we cut emissions as it suggests, the commission estimates GDP will be about 1.2% lower in 2050 than it might otherwise have been. If we do not, passing on the opportunities change presents to innovate, GDP will be 2.3% lower.
It means a just transition will be easiest if we act. Delay is the enemy of equity now.
Further, as has been argued for some time, the actions necessary to arrest planetary heating stack up on their own, bringing co-benefits particularly for health, many also say happiness.
Much early commentary on the report has been favourable, though questions remain about separate treatment of biogenic methane. Others say the commission’s approach has been too narrowly focused, ignoring the wider failings of our extractive, consumption-obsessed economies. Those debates will continue, but they must to do so while we cut emissions, not instead of.
Under the Zero Carbon Act, the Government has the rest of the year to turn the report into an action plan. It must. The title of the commission’s report, ‘‘Inaia tonu nei’’, says it all. It means the time is now.