Phillip Mills and Barry Coates: Stakes too high to stay silent on climate change

Change is possible - the costs of solar power have fallen by around 80 per cent over the past five years. photo / Thinkstock
Change is possible - the costs of solar power have fallen by around 80 per cent over the past five years. photo / Thinkstock

High drama and intrigue are not normally associated with important meetings of Heads of State, but the Climate Summit in Copenhagen five years ago had it all - intrigue, confrontations between world leaders and last-minute rescue efforts. But there was no global deal. We are now six months away from the next opportunity to secure a global agreement on climate change. We cannot afford to fail again.

This is the time for us to make a decision on New Zealand's role. All countries need to submit their targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for the UN climate conference to be held in Paris in December.

These are targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Initial pledges show progress - the EU has pledged 40 per cent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 and for the first time the US and developing countries have pledged to cut their emissions - but these are still well short of the reductions needed to meet the aim of limiting global temperature rise to 2C.

The Government is asking for submissions on New Zealand's target through the Ministry of the Environment's website. It is feasible to reduce our net greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from the 1990 level by 2030 through better policies, including public transport, renewable energy, incentives for afforestation, and low emissions agriculture.

This will mean change, and people on low incomes will need support, but progressive policies will also create economic opportunities, more liveable cities and a better quality of life. We encourage all citizens, businesses and organisations to respond to the consultation by 3rd June.

Change is possible. The costs of solar power have fallen by around 80 per cent over the past five years, and we are seeing dramatic reductions in the costs of battery storage and electric cars. A wave of innovation is resulting in new business opportunities across the OECD and emerging economies. As an example, Germany generated half of its power from renewable energy last year, and major developing countries like China are transitioning away from coal.

A recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate points out a false choice between fighting climate change and growing economies. The report provides evidence of opportunities to improve economic growth, create jobs and boost the economy through low carbon policies. New Zealand is missing out on these opportunities.

From an economic perspective, it is crucial to set the right framework of incentives for business by putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions that reflects the damage they cause. But the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme has been so weakened that our carbon price was the lowest of 60 international schemes analysed by the World Bank last year. Government policy remains fixated on mining, offshore drilling, coal and dairy.

We can do better. For too long we have pleaded that we have special circumstances that mean we can't do our fair share, or that we are too small to make a difference. But the reality is that New Zealand is one of the highest per capita emitters in the OECD.

Many New Zealanders are already taking action on climate change in their lives. Now is the time to press for better government policies and an ambitious target for the future through the current consultation process.

Phillip Mills is CEO of Les Mills International and co-founder of Pure Advantage. Barry Coates is Green Party list candidate and former CEO Oxfam New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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