Kiwi businesses have called for an ambitious deal at the UN climate talks in Paris, where a new landmark climate accord has just been completed, with final details to be published in the next few hours.

Nearly every Government has made commitments to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases their countries are emitting in new post-2020 plans, alongside other moves to set up a huge climate fund for developing and vulnerable nations.

Climate action outside government - led by cities and businesses - has been a strong theme of the landmark COP21 summit, with thousands of firms and cities including Auckland pledging their own emissions-cutting efforts.

The Herald spoke with Sustainable Business Council executive director Penny Nelson about what the accord means for Kiwi businesses.


What does COP21 mean for New Zealand businesses?

Businesses see the COP21 negotiations in Paris as a catalyst for greater action on climate change.

It's important for business that New Zealand is playing its part because that will enhance our international competitiveness and support our clean, green, high quality and safe NZ Inc brand.

Having said that, regardless of what happens at Paris, business leaders have been clear that they will continue to act on climate change.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is inevitable.

The question is whether the negotiations create the environment that will support a faster and smoother transition for business.

Would a deal change anything?

The deal reached at COP21 will set the level of ambition and signal the global political commitment for shifting to a low-carbon economy.

Our members have been clear that they want the deal to be ambitious, and they want predictability.

Businesses will be much more comfortable and therefore able to act boldly in the shift to a low carbon economy if that long-term political ambition is clear.


What are New Zealand businesses pushing for there?

Our members want negotiators to know they have strong backing from business to create ambitious global targets on climate, with New Zealand positioned as a strong contributor.

The climate targets agreed need to give businesses the confidence to invest and to innovate.

Businesses want to see long-term clarity, stability and regulatory predictability.

They also want a fair price on carbon that supports the shift to a low-emission economy.

That predictability will be crucial if we want to start looking at long-term investments into research, technology and infrastructure that moves us toward a net zero emission environment by midway through the century.

What talks has it been involved with?

Business has had a good opportunity to input into the conversations in Paris over the past few weeks - both at a New Zealand and global business level.

SBC members have been represented by both the Business NZ representative on the official negotiating team and through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

How have businesses become more sustainable in New Zealand?

Many businesses are embedding sustainability into the heart of their businesses.

On climate, businesses are now seeing the potential costs of not taking action - in the form of changes to access to water or productive land, the health of employees, or their risk profile to investors.

Equally, businesses understand the opportunities of being at the leading edge - particularly when it comes to the products and services that fit the changing demands of a low-carbon economy.

Are any New Zealand businesses getting on board with these thousands of others fronting up with action plans?

In November, BusinessNZ became certified as carbon neutral. It joins dozens of other organisations who are already certified and many more who are measuring and reducing emissions.

Plenty of businesses are already taking action - and will continue to do so regardless of what happens in Paris.

In October the Major Companies Group and the Sustainable Business Council surveyed member companies on climate change.

Forty-four per cent of 121 member companies contributed to the survey including 35 per cent of Major Companies Group members and 69 per cent of Sustainable Business Council members. It found:

• Two-thirds of respondents have emission reduction targets in place, with strong representation from energy, transport, telecommunication and retail sectors.
• Over half of respondents are publicly reporting their emissions reductions
• Fifty-two per cent of respondents said climate was a material issue that warranted a business response.
• Sixty-one per cent have introduced initiatives to reduce climate emissions.
• Eighty-five per cent of business climate activity sits within business operations, working with customers and through supply chains.
• Climate strategies range from 12 month targets with one through to the end of the century.

Only one business is considering aligning its target with the national target of 30 per cent reduction to 2030 versus 2005 baseline; and another is investigating alignment with the 2C science-based target.

NZ Sustainability Council: COP21 goals still to weak

"The world still awaits a meaningful response to the climate emergency," NZ Sustainability Council executive director Simon Terry said.

"What is needed is a mechanism to usher in a steep drop in fossil fuel emissions - the Paris process is not set to deliver that."

Mr Terry, who is at COP21, said the process was nudging action along and would boost sentiment for change, but key structural problems remained.

The goal was too weak, and so not protective enough, he said.

"It is weaker than that agreed 23 years ago, and its expression as a temperature target means there is no meaningful accountability on today's leaders."

He noted there was also no mechanism to generate the actions required to meet the chosen goal.

Mr Terry believed that New Zealand needed to decarbonise under any scenario, and the sooner it did, the more it was advantaged in trade terms as well as potential climate liabilities under international agreements.

"New Zealand is expected to weaken its target if it cannot get access to offshore carbon credits - though it may also push harder on local emissions savings then.

"It also has the option of planting new forests as a way to meet its target, and there is a large capacity for this through the 2020s."

"The equation the New Zealand government will be looking at is what is the least cost combination of emissions reductions and credits from local tree planting and credits from offshore - relative to the size of the pledge it ultimately makes under its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution."