He waka eke noa. We're all in this together: New Zealand's journey to net zero

  • Hon James Shaw
Climate Change

He waka eke noa

We’re all in this together: New Zealand’s journey to net zero

 Ni sa bula vinaka

Tena koutou katoa

Excellencies, from Fiji and around the Pacific, thank you for your time.  I am very pleased to be here in Fiji.  It is a great pleasure and an honour to be here with you this afternoon. 

I’d like to start with some very warm thanks for our hosts, Fiji, who have shown great leadership in their Presidency of the twenty third UN climate change conference of parties (COP 23).

We cannot under-estimate the message that it sends internationally that a Pacific island nation like Fiji holds this important role.  It’s the first time that it has happened.  It is incredibly significant. 

All of us here, as Pacific nations, understand the importance of making sure that the world does not ignore the very serious impacts that climate change has on some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.

And Fiji has used its position in the COP Presidency to great effect in that regard.

Because here in the Pacific we are talking about some of the smallest island nations on Earth, located in the largest ocean on Earth.

And that huge ocean is being subjected to some of the greatest forces of change that humanity has ever known, in our entire time on this planet. 

We cannot ignore what that means here in our part of the world.

Fiji’s Lau island group couldn’t ignore what it means when they were hit by Tropical Cyclone Gita earlier this year, along with Samoa and Tonga, and also parts of New Zealand.

We are seeing what climate change means here in the Pacific, and we are also seeing it more frequently.

So we must not, and we will not be ignored when it comes to global decision-making to deal with climate change.

And, though we may each be relatively small countries, together we are being heard.

As Samoa’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Tui-la-epa reminded us earlier this year when he spoke at the 2nd Pacific Climate Change Conference in Wellington:

Pacific island countries were instrumental – back in 2015 - in concluding the tough global negotiations that saw the Paris Agreement adopted.

It was the tireless work of Pacific leaders and their delegations that made the world see climate change through the eyes of vulnerable island communities.

Those efforts were decisive in the Paris Agreement including a goal to limit global warming to 1.5˚C.

I saw some of those impacts myself when I joined our Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Jacinda Ardern, on visits to Tonga, Niue, the Cook Islands and Samoa in March this year.

I remember meeting a group of children in Samoa who made their daily trip to school across a walk-bridge because sea level rise had made that the only way to get to school, and yet even that walkway itself was under water and they were needing to build upon it a higher platform. 

And I saw, through the eyes of a Tongan school community, the challenges they faced in rebuilding their school after Cyclone Gita’s devastating damage just a few weeks before our visit. 

Those realities are becoming all too frequent and severe in the Pacific now. 

They serve as real reminders of why we cannot afford to let the Paris Agreement fail. We cannot. 

It is a vital Agreement to help chart the course that we must follow if we are to address the realities that are facing many people here in the Pacific.

The Paris Agreement has not just given us a global consensus, but it’s given us a target, which I believe is achievable, to reduce the world’s climate producing emissions to net zero in the second half of this century.

We have a clear, shared purpose now like we have never had before.

But the work is far from done. 

As Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama said earlier this year, “We need to get the message out loud and clear to the entire world about the absolute need to confront this crisis head on”.

An essential part of that is maintaining the momentum of Paris and building upon it.

That has to happen when we go to Poland at the end of this year for COP24. 

We must agree the guidelines for implementing the Paris Agreement at this next Conference of Parties.

 NZ’s Work Programme

In that light, I’d like to share with you some of the work that is happening in New Zealand.

It does feel like we have a new and exciting momentum building around climate change.

Last week we completed a month and a half of public consultation seeking feedback and ideas across New Zealand on legislation that I plan to introduce later this year in the form of a Zero Carbon Bill.

The Zero Carbon Bill will set a target in law.

It will be a long-term commitment for New Zealand’s transition to a net zero emissions economy. 

It will provide certainty for businesses, for households, and for local government so they can make confident decisions about the investments that they need to make over the coming decades. 

The Zero Carbon Bill also proposes to establish a politically independent Climate Change Commission. 

The Commission will provide independent, expert advice to government on the emissions budgets needed in the short to medium term in order to reach our 2050 target. 

Having an independent body to provide such advice helps to take the politics out of climate change, and could help to hold successive governments to account for progress on emissions reductions. 

That should help ensure that with future Governments, whoever is in Government, the commitment to shifting to a low-emissions economy will continue.

We are also about to seek feedback and ideas on improving our Emissions Trading Scheme to ensure that it is a scheme which is robust, which has integrity, and which actually works to cut emissions.

What is equally exciting is the momentum that is building in the business sector, in farming and in agriculture, in New Zealand to take action - where they can - to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this month, 60 of New Zealand’s leading businesses announced that, as a Coalition, they supported the Paris Agreement. 

They see the low emissions economy as an opportunity to improve New Zealand’s prosperity. 

So they have committed to measuring and reporting regularly on their reductions in greenhouse gases.  And they are also going to help the companies in their supply chains to do the same.

Together that group of 60 businesses and their suppliers makes up nearly 50 percent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions output. 

So if those 60 businesses achieve their goal, New Zealand is half way there already.

And there is also support coming from the agricultural sector.

Agricultural emissions make up around 49 percent of New Zealand’s emissions.  And a large portion of our economy, and of our exports. 

So I am very grateful for the support from farming leaders in New Zealand who are backing the transition to a low emissions economy. 

Farmers that I visit in various parts of New Zealand are doing some incredible things to farm more efficiently, more sustainably, and to cut emissions at the same time. 

Last week there was an opinion poll, which was commissioned by one of New Zealand’s leading insurance companies. 

The fact that it was commissioned by an insurance company shouldn’t be lost on anyone. 

Because while we have to focus on mitigation to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, we are also becoming very aware that we have a substantial adaptation challenge ahead of us as well. 

One recent study suggested that, from sea level rise alone - ignoring drought, storms, fires, floods - we have at risk five regional airports, 46 kilometres of railway, over one and a half thousand kilometres of road, and 70,000 residential and commercial buildings.  At a cost of NZ$19billion. 

So you can see why the insurance companies are interested in what New Zealanders think about climate change. 

And 79 percent of the one thousand people taking part in that poll said New Zealand needs to act now on climate change.

78 percent thought New Zealand should act even if other countries don’t. That is significant. 

It really does feel like momentum is building at home.

Another part of New Zealand’s climate change work programme involves setting up a Green Investment Fund.

Our Government has committed NZ$100 million in initial capital for the fund on the understanding it will become self-sustainable in ventures that provide crucial projects for New Zealand’s change to a low emissions, climate friendly economy.

What I also feel is valuable, and will be reinforced by the success of this Green Investment Fund, is that this is a financing vehicle which looks at action on climate change as an investment, not as a sunk cost. 

Because if we look for projects that line up with low emissions, and climate adaptation, AND which generate a financial return, we are going to find solutions to help us meet our climate change obligations.

It’s already happening.

Business leaders - like those 60 New Zealand company bosses I just mentioned - aren’t just cutting emissions because it’s the right thing to do.

They are doing it because they know that it is the way that they will survive and thrive in the future.

As a representative from one of New Zealand’s main electricity companies said the other night at an event that we attended – and this is a company that is generating 100 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable sources – she said, “Sustainable businesses will be successful businesses. Those that are not sustainable will fail.” Those are words from one of New Zealand’s largest companies. 

NZ support in the Pacific

That is some of what we are doing at home.

And we do know that we need to do it as part of a wider effort.

We know that an important part of our programme to deal with climate change is working with Pacific partners to understand their needs and their priorities and how we can help each other to achieve them.

It’s why the New Zealand Government’s Pacific reset recognises climate change as a high priority for the Pacific. 

It’s why helping the Pacific tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts will be a priority for the over $700 million of new development cooperation funding that New Zealand will spend over the next four years.

We do want to work alongside our Pacific Island partners to find regional solutions to our shared challenges – including climate change.

Working together to find solutions

Working together has to be at the very heart of how we and the rest of the world are going to succeed in meeting the challenges of climate change.

I feel that we are starting to understand that in New Zealand. 

We have a group called Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) NZ, which is made up of all the parties in Parliament and dedicated to achieving cross-party agreement on climate change policy.

And we now have the commitment of the Opposition National Party saying they support an independent Climate Change Commission and an evidence-based approach to action on climate change.

They have also indicated that they would be willing to work with us on drafting the Zero Carbon Bill, and I am keen to take up them up on that.  Because I believe that bipartisan support for the Bill as it passes through our Parliament can only help to create that sense of certainty that is so desperately needed about our long-term, future direction.

It has to be about cooperation.

That is absolutely central to this year’s Talanoa Dialogue where our shared stories help us to understand where we are now on climate change, where we want to go in addressing climate change, and how we plan to get there.

What the world needs now…

So where do we go from here?

Firstly, as I said, we need COP24 to reach agreement on implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement. 

I would also like to see COP24 embrace a positive Talanoa Dialogue which can help to inform countries’ thinking on future ambition and action to address climate change.

We, as a Pacific family with shared interests, need to maximise our strength together and set an example for other small nations around the world that we have a significant contribution to make in addressing climate change.

I am constantly challenged at home by people who say that New Zealand creates less than one percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, so therefore why should we tie ourselves to being net zero by 2050?

But of the 197 countries who signed up to the Paris Agreement, most of us create less than one percent of the world’s emissions. For those countries – which includes New Zealand, and includes Pacific Island countries – whilst our individual contribution to the global total is small, together we make up more than 20 percent of the total. Together we make up as much as Europe or India or China, some of the largest players.  Being small is no excuse for inaction. Quite the opposite: it gives us the opportunity to be world leaders by taking collective action.

We need to be a part of the global economic transformation that is underway and which is not going to be reversed, and we need to seize our share of the opportunities that can come from that transformation.

The thinking is changing.

Rather than trying to ignore action on climate change because it costs too much, which is the traditional thinking, we are seeing – both at government level and in the private sector – that responding to climate change is an investment in the future.

And we are seeing – through initiatives like the Talanoa Dialogue – that the language of blame is shifting to discussion about how we can work together to secure a better future.

Talanoa also reminds us – very importantly – that climate change response has to have people at its centre, providing support for those who need it, and building a consensus amongst our citizens about the changes that need to be made.

I firmly believe that one of the keys to the success in dealing with climate change is to break down traditional political barriers.

Climate change is bigger than politics.

It is why we need to work across political party lines with groups like GLOBE NZ to try to find common understanding and commitment around climate policy.

The GLOBE model is in place in many countries and regions around the world. 

A similar grouping in the Pacific may be an idea worth exploring. 

I believe one of our best chances to advance the achievements that have already been made by our fellow signatories in Paris is to reinforce that we are all in the same waka – “He waka eke noa”, “We’re all in this together”.

That notion, combined with what Fiji has so successfully created this year with the Talanoa Dialogue, provides a really constructive way for us to engage with what has to be our shared purpose.

And that purpose is to see our people thrive for generations to come.


Vinaka vaka levu. Thank you.