New Zealand hasn't been "walking the talk" on climate risk, finds a sweeping new analysis of hundreds of annual reports and statements.

Climate change threatens hundreds of billions of dollars of property and infrastructure, and will require an economy-wide shift toward lower emissions.

A leading policy analyst was therefore shocked to find scant information about climate-related risk in reporting by companies, councils and government departments.

Of more than 380 large organisations analysed, just 40 recognised the risks as of serious concern - suggesting that boards either opted not to publicly disclose the implications, or didn't discuss them at all.


"Both are horrific - but the latter is particularly more horrific," said Wendy McGuinness, chief executive of Wellington-based think-tank the McGuinness Institute.

She was further alarmed to find little reporting from the public sector.

Even one or more mentions of the words "emissons", "carbon" or "climate" weren't found in nearly two thirds of annual reports of 11 government departments - and more than three quarters of statements from other Crown bodies and entities.

"That was quite surprising and disappointing to me - I expected a lot more from government."

Councils made greater reference - nearly 70 per cent acknowledged the risk - but just a third of the Deloitte Top 200 companies did.

In any case, little climate risk information was audited among costs and figures.

What detail she could find also didn't cover the three basics - identifying the risk, understanding what it meant, and trying to manage it.

Unsurprisingly, climate risk was best recognised by companies and groups in the electricity, gas, water and waste service industries, or those that depended on our natural environment.


McGuinness said the analysis, released today, suggested countless conferences and workshops on climate change hadn't come through in what organisations were telling the public.

"If we are doing it, we're doing it in initiatives - I'd call them green fuzzies - yet we're not seeing real acknowledgement of the risk."

She suspected the area was a difficult one because climate risk was a relatively new consideration, and there were few templates for companies to start from.

McGuinness hoped that might be about to change with a just-launched coalition of 60 major companies making up nearly half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

Those major players in the Climate Leaders Coalition - among them Fonterra, Air New Zealand and Spark - pledged to work toward the Paris Agreement's aim to limit further warming within 2C, and to measure and report regularly.

Convenor and Z Energy chief executive Mike Bennetts, whose company began working on climate-related disclosures seven years ago, said he had no doubt the new push would bring widespread improvement.


"There is obviously going to be some variability around the basis of reporting, but increasingly we see companies adopting globally accepted standards as a way of providing further assurance to stakeholders around the integrity of what they report."

The Productivity Commission recently recommended that climate risk disclosure should be mandatory.

The New Zealand Stock Exchange also now required listed companies to report on their environmental, social and governance performance - or explain why they hadn't.

That change had been encouraged by the Sustainable Business Council, whose member companies were certainly now thinking about climate issues and their impacts, its executive director Abbie Reynolds said.

At government level, climate risk was part of the Reserve Bank Act's current review and MBIE was leading separate work.

But Climate Change Minister James Shaw said he was still unsurprised at the new report's findings.


"I think what you'll see over coming years - and it won't happen immediately - is much greater reporting on climate related risks."

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said the bulk of national emissions came from the private sector - notably agriculture, industry, and industrial transport - so businesses had to be on board.

"Government can send price signals, though carbon taxes and incentives and through the emissions trading scheme, but the business sector are the ones who must respond to those signals."

The longer it took to adapt greener practices and slash emissions, Renwick said, the harder and more costly it would be to respond and ultimately prosper.

"Climate change can definitely be seen as a business opportunity, by taking leadership on use of renewables and on finding low-carbon solutions," he said.

"I would love to see New Zealand businesses at the forefront of those changes."


New Zealand and climate change

• This century, sea levels are projected to rise between 30cm and 1m while average temperatures are expected to become several degrees warmer, bringing more floods, large damaging storms, drought, species decline and ocean acidification.

• As at 2016, national greenhouse gas emissions had risen by nearly 20 per cent from 1990 levels. New Zealand has already committed to cut emissions to 11 per cent below 1990 levels within 12 years.

• Through its Zero Carbon Act the Government is proposing to slash carbon emissions - if not all forms of greenhouse gas emissions - to zero by 2050, after achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2035.