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Great adaptations: James Shaw says climate change is not going away. So we all need to change – now

A few weeks ago Idealog asked me to write a piece for their Climate Change series.

The theme was, “Climate change, can we fix it?”

Idealog’s series would look at the individuals and companies in New Zealand working towards solving climate change.

I applaud the work New Zealand companies and other institutions are doing to address climate change. We need them to do everything they can to meet the impacts of climate change.

As I am saying time and time again, no one alone, no business or organisation alone, and no country alone can do what is needed to deal with the global issues of climate change.

But, to address Idealog’s central question for this assignment, “can we fix it?”

Let me be clear, climate change is one of those things that when it has become glaringly obvious, and, despite a very few deniers, I think it has become glaringly obvious, it is not something which can be undone or fixed, as such.

What I mean by that is, climate change is here and it is not going away.

So what we are now talking about, is how we can stop it becoming worse than life on this planet can sustain.

That is why we need bold targets and bold action to ensure significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

What we are also talking about is adapting to the impacts and risks of climate change.

It is why we need the innovators of this country to seize the challenge and develop the best and most efficient clean energy, clean technology, and clean transport options they can.

And they can.

One area where incredibly exciting developments are happening is battery storage.

Latest generation batteries from Tesla are promising the potential to provide back-up for peak heavy loading and providing zero emissions electricity storage when hydro generating water flows are below optimum.

We are seeing car manufacturers putting their research and development and production efforts into alternative, clean fuel vehicles; both electric and hydrogen.

A recent article on the UK’s Guardian news website profiled the work of British engineer and businessman Hugo Spowers’ plans to roll out 20 hydrogen-powered test cars later this year as he aims to have the car on the market next year.

I know Spowers has his doubters but, as someone once said, often the difference between a crack-pot and a visionary is time.

So we need the innovators and the risk-takers.

But this is a multi-pronged problem.

And that means we need a multi-pronged response; from what we do to reduce the mountain of food wasted every day and which adds to greenhouse gas emissions, to implementing the most ambitious tree planting programme this country has ever seen to absorb millions of tonnes of carbon every year.

We need the power of public pressure in this challenge too.

As I travel around the country talking with New Zealanders about climate change, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that they are engaged with the issue in a way that has not happened before.

And as they see more and more examples of extreme weather events around the country, as they hear talk of the possible implications for their home or business insurance cover in the future, and as they possibly face property with next to no value years from now, people are gaining an understanding that business-as-usual is not the best option.

So, in a way, as Minister for Climate Change I need to harness that public awareness and engagement.

That is why I and the Government of Jacinda Ardern have made it a priority to introduce a Zero Carbon Bill to guide New Zealand to a more sustainable net zero emissions economy.

There will be widespread consultation this year with business, farming and local government sectors, as well as iwi and other New Zealand communities to help draft that legislation.

The legislation will establish an Interim Climate Change Committee of experts, which will feed advice to a permanent Climate Change Commission, which I hope will be up and running by the end of 2019.

The interim committee will provide guidance on whether agriculture should be included in a revised Emissions Trading Scheme and what might be the best path to 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035.

Once the independent Climate Change Commission is established it will set and monitor carbon budgets to track New Zealand’s progress towards net zero emissions, and what might be the best options to help transition New Zealand to a sustainable net zero emissions economy.

And while this transformation needs innovation in policy and practice it also needs investment.

We are looking at big infrastructural needs; both new needs with growing population, as well as the need to upgrade existing old systems.

Which is why I have the commitment of the coalition Government to establish a Green Investment Fund to build the financial capital New Zealand is going to need to invest in sustainable, renewable energy efficient infrastructure for generations to come.

The Government is acutely aware that the changes we face also bring challenges, but we are confident a careful, considered, fair and just transition, which provides support for those who need it, can position New Zealand as a world leader in action to address climate change.

We may not be able to fix climate change but we can certainly find the business opportunities and efficiencies which climate change will bring.

I am deeply encouraged by the businesses, farmers and institutions which already share that vision.

The ‘Can We Fix It?’ series, which looks at how we’re using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some of our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

James Shaw is New Zealand’s Minister for Climate Change.
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