It has been three years since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment".
While the previous Government was unable to declare a climate emergency in the last term — believed to be because Labour's coalition partner New Zealand First blocked it — she has now made it a priority with a declaration of a climate emergency.
Since Covid swept the world, it has done a lot to emphasise the social and economic inequalities that exist globally. The harsh reality of the lockdown exposed that, even in New Zealand, women and low wage workers were most impacted by job losses and reduced work hours.
Similarly, the relationship between climate change and inequality will see those who are disadvantaged suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects of global warming. The need for action to achieve New Zealand's vision of a thriving, climate-resilient, low emissions future is widely understood.
The same areas that New Zealand used to successfully respond to the Covid-19 outbreak are needed to address global warming: listening to scientists, public policy and international co-operation.
When US President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Ardern for the first time since the US election last month, he spoke positively about her handling of the pandemic and said he looks forward to working closely with her on common challenges, including tackling climate change. Biden has named ex-US Secretary of State John Kerry — one of the leading architects of the Paris climate agreement — as his climate envoy.
"America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is," said Kerry.
This break from the Trump administration's climate policy will put our Government to the test, and necessitate that our ambition reflects our action.
Speaking recently at the Institute of Financial Professionals in New Zealand (Infinz) conference, Climate Change Commission chair Dr Rod Carr said the commission's current programme of work is to produce the first emissions budget out to 2035 — and to the extent that we are not on track to achieve our domestic targets and global obligations, advise on a reduction plan that will reduce those emissions having regard to a wide range of impacts.
"It is important to understand that climate action is now mainstream conversation, and understand what is to be done, by who, and by when," he said.
New Zealand emits about 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases every year, and under the international accounting rules sequesters about 10 million tonnes, largely through forestry. Nearly half of those emissions come from agriculture.
The challenge for New Zealand, says Carr, will be that although our form of pastoral agriculture may be one of the most efficient ways of producing meat and milk protein in pastoral agriculture, there may now and in the future be ways of producing meat and milk proteins with an even smaller greenhouse gas footprint.
Of the remainder of our greenhouse gas emissions, transport makes up about 40 per cent. It is a growing contributor, with household transport emissions increasing by 15 per cent between 2011 and 2017.
Carr says this will be one of the major challenges that will go to the heart of both the allocation of capital by private vehicle owners, fleet operators and government infrastructure providers.
"Converting ground transportation to low or no emissions is a 100 plus billion-dollar investment challenge over the next 30 years," he says. "Known technologies exist. They largely require electrification, and that electrification needs to be provided from renewable energy sources, unless it is to continue to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions."
Navigating our economic recovery from Covid-19, while finding solutions for our climate change challenges will require a substantial and coordinated response. This will mean making sure capital is deployed to support the new age, new technologies, and new and necessary ways in which we conduct business.
Covid-19 exposed major weaknesses in our society. But it has also given us the impetus to make fundamental changes that will address inequality and fuel an economic recovery that is long-lasting and sustainable. Without a handbrake on the Government — and with a renewed impetus from international leadership to deliver — now is the time to make sure New Zealand isn't left behind.