What is striking about the current moment is the scale of the challenge we face and the enormous opportunities before us.
We can turn the climate crisis into one of the greatest economic and job creation opportunities of our generation. Business will be key to this: as a source of positive change, driving a successful transition to a net-zero carbon economy.
'In this report the Prime Minister takes you through the next steps of our Government's plan for addressing the climate crisis: the decisions we must take about the emissions budgets, and the plan we must devise to meet them; the Climate Change Commission's advice, and the affordable, achievable blueprint they have provided for us.
Here I want to focus on the actions the Government can take to support your organisations to be part of what will be a whole-of-economy transition. Actions that people all over Aotearoa are demanding, and future generations deserve.
There is no part of Aotearoa, no business, no community, no family whose future will not be shaped in some way by what goes into the Emissions Reduction Plan. This plan will set the direction for climate action for the next 15 years, but so too will it set the direction for the future of our economy and business. Right now, agencies all over government are coming to the table with actions they will take to reduce emissions in their sector. Aside from the Budget and Covid-19, this work that's under way is part of one of the largest cross-Government programmes of work we have engaged in.
Achieving net zero will require a whole economy transition — every company, every bank, and investor — will have to adjust the way they do things. And so, if we are going to transform our economy over the coming decades, as we must, then we will need to recognise that the story of change is also a story of collective progress.
The world in 30 years' time will look as different, and as familiar, compared to today, as the world of today is both different and familiar to 30 years ago.
But this change needs to happen in a way that is fair to everyone. That hasn't always been the case in previous periods of economic transition. This time we will do it differently.
There is no doubt we have a historic opportunity ahead of us — the creation of new jobs and opportunities for Kiwi businesses, lower household energy bills, a more sustainable agriculture sector, less air pollution, an enviable global brand, warmer, drier homes, exciting new technologies, protection of native species and eco-systems, cost savings for businesses, and overall resilience. How we go about capturing these gains — and who stands to benefit most — is critical. For me, the answer is clear: we will only have succeeded if we transition to our low-carbon future in a way that also helps unwind existing patterns of inequality. People know that change is coming to their jobs as a result of climate change and other trends, and so we need a just transition to support them through this change.
That means proactive transition planning with business, unions, iwi, and affected communities at the table; widely accessible education and training, dedicated support for workers in transition, working for a fairer distribution of health outcomes, and making sure we fully understand the distributional impacts of climate policies on population groups. It also means looking at how we can change governance structures and business models so they are more inclusive and offer genuine opportunities for working people to shape the decisions that impact them.
These changes will take time, but at the heart of the transition needs to be a faith in the potential of enterprise and Kiwi ingenuity. As a country we are constantly innovating. From the labs coming up with cutting-edge technologies to the smaller, but no less innovative, changes businesses are making all over the country such as reorganising the workplace to encourage more working from home to save on trips to the office, and hours lost sitting in traffic.
The transition to a low carbon economy will require innovation at every level. To make that happen, government has a role to play in addressing the inherent uncertainty of change. That means providing business with the long-term certainty it needs to invest in low carbon solutions. If we get it right, we have the potential to unleash a period of unprecedented innovation and opportunity for New Zealand business which will be the catalyst for growth and shared prosperity for decades to come.
We can create competitive new markets for low carbon technologies, spur creative entrepreneurship, and become the envy of the world for our clean, low-carbon exports. Not just by adopting existing technologies and business practices, but creating our own so the investments we make can be recycled back into our own economy rather than sent overseas — investments that enable our private sector to create the businesses, jobs, and growth opportunities of the future.
It is the Government's job to set the framework for this future — but it is up to you to seize the opportunities it will create. Exactly what the framework looks like through the Emissions Reduction Plan will become clearer in the next few months, but what I can tell you is that we will signal policies early so businesses and communities have time to plan and confidence to invest.
We will work to build consensus and cross-party support for the emissions budgets, so that if the Government changes, the direction of travel stays the same. And we will ensure market-based approaches like the Emissions Trading Scheme provide the right price signals so the polluter-pays — in others words to ensure those who are the source of pollution bear the bulk of the cost for managing it.
For all of this to happen, we need to rise above day-to-day political divisions and come together in a collective effort to address the biggest issues facing the country.
That does not mean we shouldn't debate the best approach to meeting the emissions budgets. We absolutely should. But to deny where we need to get to, and that we will need to make changes to get there, risks betraying future generations and denying us the gains to be made.
Over the last four years, we have put in place the foundations for a low-carbon Aotearoa that will be a catalyst for job creation, innovation, and prosperity for decades to come. But it is what we do next that will matter most. Earlier this year I said that I had never felt more confident that a climate-friendly, prosperous future for Aotearoa was within reach. I still feel that way. But a huge part of whether we do it or not will come down to those of you reading this and the options you choose in your own organisations.
Addressing the climate crisis will never just be about setting long-term emission reduction targets, but making changes, both large and small, that together will add up to a better, cleaner future. The Emissions Reduction Plan will set the framework for a strong, lasting, balanced and inclusive transition.
But Government cannot achieve it alone — it is a job for us to do together.
● James Shaw is Minister for Climate Change.