Can we fix it? Climate Change

Throughout history, blockades have been overcome by new ways of thinking and experimentation – try, try and try again, as the saying goes. This faith in the human ability to find solutions has led to everything from penicillin to electricity to flying machines. So, in a regular section in print called Can We Fix It? and in a series of online pop-up sections throughout the year – Idealog and Kiwibank will explore some of the world’s biggest – and, in some cases, most intractable – problems and then showcase some of the clever people trying to tackle them. First up, the existential threat that is Climate Change. 

There have been five mass extinctions on Earth that have reset the planetary clock to zero. Only one of those was caused by asteroids, while the other four were due to climate change caused by greenhouse gas – a phenomenon we’re living through now.

If that sounds concerning, it’s because it is. Without changing the way we live, it’s predicted parts of the world (Bangladesh and Miami, for example) will become close to uninhabitable, while others will become horrifically inhospitable by the end of the century. And not only do we have to grapple with extreme weather, inhospitable land and millions of climate refugees, but, alarmingly, trapped in the Arctic ice are diseases that haven’t circulated for millions of years.

So yes, we are facing a challenge, and yes, it is easy to be fatalistic about it, but modelling has shown it’s also true we can curb the phenomenon and last year’s global push to get the Paris Agreement together showed the impetus to do that. The Paris Agreement commits countries to holding the increase in the global temperature to below 2C above pre-industrial levels in order to slow the growing energy imbalance in the earth’s atmosphere. New Zealand ratified the agreement last October and now has to find a way to get there. Kiwibank corporate social responsibility manager Julia Jackson says innovation and investment are the keys to success.

“The real answer is that we’ve been under-investing in climate change solutions and for our optimism to be rewarded with real change, we need to wake up and start acting now.”

Although it’s easy to be pessimistic, companies and individuals are already making a difference, she says.

“We just need to get faster, smarter and start working together.”

Collaboration between businesses and individuals demonstrating brave leadership are ways to get things moving, while in turn, she says companies can expect operational efficiency, decreased risk and enhanced opportunity. Jackson also says we should look to our heritage for guidance.

“There are lots of examples of iwi that are doing innovative things to both create meaningful employment for whanau at the same time as environmental resilience.”

It’s not just businesses that should be investing in finding solutions. Government, the private sector and philanthropists all need to put skin in the game. A recent report for GLOBE-NZ also concluded a larger governmental role was needed, saying there needs to be a supportive policy environment and a strong predictable emissions trading price significantly higher than the current ETS.

A large share of the country’s emissions are in the land sector. In the immediate future, the gains we can make fighting global warming will largely come down to how we use our land and what new technologies arise, the report states. The report lays out two scenarios that would bring New Zealand’s emissions down by around 70 percent by 2050.

One has emissions reduced through technological advances, such as electric vehicles and heating, with a 20-35 percent reduction in pastoral agriculture and afforestation. The second, with slightly lower rates of emissions reductions, has a significantly larger forestry sector to increase carbon-sequestration and no reliance on technology.

With those two scenarios aside, the report lists pursuing vaccines for livestock, electrification of transport and heat, increased afforestation, new breeds of animal, home insulation, urban design for walking and cycling and higher-value-added lower-emissions industries such as horticulture as ways the country could make a start at reducing its carbon footprint. 

What’s reassuring is there are already local businesses that are dedicated to doing just that, in their own unique ways. So over the next week we will look at some of them and look at the issue through the lens of innovation. 

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.

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