Charting a course for New Zealand’s low-emission future

July 2016

Dr Suzi Kerr, Senior Fellow at Motu and Adjunct Professor at Victoria University. Image: Motu.

A Zero-Net-Emission Vision for New Zealand. Image: Motu.

When Captain Cook set out to observe the Transit of Venus in the South Pacific, it was a part of Earth so poorly explored by westerners that European mapmakers couldn’t agree if he would find a giant continent there or not. Cook steered across miles of open ocean, fighting storms and scurvy to reach Tahiti. These days there’s similar trepidation awaiting those who try to map the future landscape of climate change solutions.

At an IRANZ-sponsored Royal Society Science Forum for Members of Parliament on 28 June, Dr Suzi Kerr discussed the Royal Society’s recent report on Transitions to a Low-Carbon Economy.  This report was informed in part by outcomes from the Low-Emission Future Dialogue – a programme convened by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research over the past two years, engaging a group of cross-sector stakeholders in their personal capacities to explore options for a successful zero-net-emission economy in New Zealand. This dialogue group has identified a basic framework that could underpin a zero-net-emission future as well as a suite of ideas designed to spark discussion

The dialogue group has a vision of New Zealand responding to climate change with smart solutions that safeguard our future, enable a thriving low-emission economy, create new opportunities for our communities, and can be shared with other countries.

The documents produced by the group investigate many of the countless courses New Zealand could chart in its efforts to achieve the vision for a successful zero-net-emission economy (see diagram). Some of them may create exciting opportunities for economic development and environmental and social co-benefits, while others may involve rough waters or stall the country in the doldrums. Our choices will need to be adaptive.

Participants in the dialogue group worked back from a broad vision for a thriving zero-net-emission economy, translating it into a range of potential sector characteristics, milestones and actions covering technology, policy, business and behaviour change that would underpin that economy.

The Transformational Pathways Framework includes breakthroughs in technologies and practices across key sectors. These will be supported by enabling infrastructure and shifting demand away from emissions-intensive goods and services. Residual emissions can then be offset by forest sinks, carbon capture and storage (CCS) or other means.

People who are increasingly concerned about climate change want to know what practical steps they could take to be part of the solution. The Idea Bank of Pathway Milestones for New Zealand’s Low-Emission Future contains detailed ideas offered by the dialogue participants in the spirit of sparking discussion, not as recommendations. While acknowledging the vital role that forestry will play, participants focused on the stationary energy, land transport and agriculture sectors.

The ideas in these documents are not necessarily endorsed by individual participants, their affiliated organisations, or programme funders. While some may already be underway or show significant potential, others may not be technically, economically, or socially feasible or may be undesirable for other reasons. Some may only be remote possibilities.

New Zealanders have a proud history of traversing wide and wild oceans and pioneering solutions to challenging problems. Dr Kerr hopes New Zealand can harness this spirit of adventure and travel forward toward a net-zero-emission future.

Motu wishes to thank the dialogue participants for their expertise and dedication, and the funders who made this initiative possible: the Aotearoa Foundation, Meridian Energy, Z Energy, Ministry for the Environment, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

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