Hitting our climate change targets: Clear science and bold strategies

By David Appleyard |

Words of advice for New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission from their UK counterpart.

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Climate positive high five
Mike Thompson

Reaching our climate change goals is a huge challenge – but we can maximise our success with a science-based approach, focused narrative and brave outlook.

New Zealand has set itself a goal to reach net zero on carbon emissions by 2050. We’ve also pledged to play our part in limiting global temperature increases. To reach those targets, we all need to play our part. But voluntary measures aren’t enough to make sure we hit our goals. Changing the lives, minds and hearts of Kiwis will only occur quickly if the Government applies pressure in the right points.

The agency tasked with helping the Government work out how to do this is the Climate Change Commission (CCC). It makes recommendations to the Government, monitors our progress on meeting targets and offers evidence-based advice. Mike Thompson, Chief Economist at the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, explains that a few simple rules can help the CCC hold the Government to account and ensure we reach our goals.

Lesson 1: Stick to the science

It’s one thing to set targets, but we won’t reach them unless we make major changes. That means putting in place the infrastructure we need to achieve the outcomes we want. To get that infrastructure built requires a whole raft of elements like market frameworks, rules, taxation and subsidies that provide the incentives for action.

Using science creates an opportunity to hold the Government to account if they are not doing what they should be doing. The more straightforward and analytical that is, the more powerful it is as it creates a clear picture of whether the Government is walking the walk.

“Keep science and evidence as the absolute core of the process. There is no wriggle room in science and there is a power in being an analytical body with the freedom to put out numbers,”says Mike.

Lesson 2: Shape the narrative

The CCC acts as a guiding hand to the business community and society – by helping us understand what’s required, we can make better decisions and investments based on reaching New Zealand’s climate goals.

The CCC also has an important role to play in establishing the public narrative. A clear and concise understanding of what needs to be done lets businesses make critical decisions without conflict – like grandfathering gas turbines and investing in new clean energy tech. It helps these businesses get the right support from the financial sector, based on a solid policy framework and science-based scenarios.

“Your impact stretches far beyond politicians and policy. Business is one part of that impact, but public opinion is another really important part,” Mike explains. “As an independent climate body there is a lot of interest in what you have to say. That can have a real impact on public narratives and public opinion. That really matters. It is public opinion that to a large extent determines what is politically possible.”

Lesson 3: Be bold

We need to keep reminding ourselves to be bold and to think beyond the current constraints. Some of the things that have looked really hard in the past have ended up actually being not that hard after all. Many things turned out to be much easier than we thought, and we have achieved more than was considered possible previously. Offshore wind is an obvious example. The UK pushed really hard to get the offshore wind sector going in the 2010s when the hope was that energy costs would fall to £100 per megawatt hour (NZ$197/MWh) by 2020. Today that figure is less than £50/MWh (NZ$95).

“Remember to be bold and not be scared to do things,” Mike says. “Just because the initial reaction is that it is too hard? That is always the reaction when you suggest something new. It is important to always remember to push boundaries because the challenge is so tough you have to be bold [and] also because if we ask a lot of people, then they deliver a lot”.


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