• James Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, is Minister for Climate Change.

Leading climate scientist James Renwick told us in this newspaper last month we should expect a minimum of 0.5 m sea level rise in the next century. That will affect our homes and our businesses, our infrastructure and our wildlife.

I believe him – the work Dr Renwick and his colleagues do provides a hugely valuable scientific foundation that enables us in the Government to plan for the future.

But there is every reason to also believe that how we plan for and respond to our changing climate can actually improve our quality of life and make us better off than we are today.


The challenge climate change represents also represents the greatest opportunity we have to upgrade our economy to one that is more productive, higher-value, higher-tech, and higher-wage than the economy we have at the moment.

Starting the economic transition now will give New Zealand businesses and farmers a competitive advantage in meeting new demand in global markets.

In normal language: People overseas want to buy the things that New Zealand makes that are bona fide clean and green. And they want to learn from countries like New Zealand who already have experience with wind and geothermal electricity generation.

On the flipside, the evidence tells us the longer we wait to make changes, the harder it will be and the more it will cost. And we will have given away the first-mover advantage to other countries. We'll be buying technology and products from them, rather than selling to them.

Change is already happening – and it's good.

For example, Auckland has signed up to a global network of 90 cities and mayors looking at ways to reinvent how the places we live, work, and play are planned and built.

This will spur innovation and create jobs. It will make Auckland a better place to live now and for future generations.

Our Government does not expect anyone to make changes by themselves. We are all in this together. Some communities and industries might see new types of jobs becoming more prominent. We are absolutely committed to a just transition that doesn't leave any community or any family in the lurch.

If industries have to change the way they generate energy, we're interested in how the Government can help make that happen.

If farmers need to change something about how they farm, we're interested in how the Government can support the transition.

If we need to retrofit commercial buildings to save energy and money, we want to make that easier to do.

That's one reason why we plan to establish a Green Investment Fund. The fund will put some Government money on the table to encourage the private sector to do the same, and invest in projects and businesses that will reduce climate pollution and help our country be more resilient to the changing climate.

There are so many win-win opportunities in this new economy.

Like local solar and wind power that reduce reliance on the big old coal and gas power plants, and also keep isolated communities going if a big storm knocks out the transmission lines.

Or like safer roads and footpaths around schools so kids can walk and bike more often, reducing peak-time traffic and climate pollution from car exhaust.

If you would like lower power bills, a quicker commute, or fewer diesel fumes along your local shopping street, then action on climate change will deliver these things.

If you can see yourself driving an electric car or you'd be interested in investing some of your savings in forestry, then you're already on the way. You're not alone.

The world is moving fast to take real action to get climate change under control.

Countries all over the world are winding down their coal-fired power plants, adapting their farming practices to be more productive with less impact on the climate, and switching their vehicle fleets away from oil.

In Norway, already, fully one in three new cars sold has an electric motor and Shenzhen, China, boasts a 14,000 strong, 100 per cent electric bus fleet.

In the United States, new jobs in the solar power industry are being created 17 times faster than the rest of the economy.

In transport, energy, agriculture – in virtually every sector of the economy – new technologies and ways of doing things are demonstrating that we can become more productive, profitable, and competitive at the same time as dramatically reducing pollution.

As our Government works towards our goal of a net-zero emissions economy, we'll be looking for opportunities to spur that kind of job growth here.

As New Zealanders, we do need to do our bit. We contribute less than 1 per cent of global climate pollution, but if you add up all the countries that contribute less than 1 per cent, the total is 24 per cent: far more than the US and about the same as China.

Acting together, small countries like ours can make a huge difference in this global challenge.

As global political leadership is refreshed and a new generation steps up, we recognise that tackling climate change encourages a new type of politics – one that's focused on getting things done, practical solutions informed by the best scientific evidence we can get, and working together across communities, Governments and businesses to get the best outcomes for everyone.

Later this year, the Government will be asking New Zealanders for their thoughts on how we build a prosperous future and ensure a stable climate for future generations. Watch out for more details.

The environmental science is clear that we have to make changes to protect the things about our ways of life that we hold dear, and the economic case stacks up that we should.

I see climate change as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent parts of our economy and society for the better. That's why I'm optimistic.