13.05.2019

What does the Zero Carbon Bill mean for you?

A Q&A with Amelia Linzey, Beca’s Sustainability Steering Group Chair

Q: What are the main themes of the Zero-Carbon Amendment Bill?

The key themes of the bill are:

  •  The government sets world-first target to limit warming to 1.5 degrees
  • Separating and setting targets for biogenic methane and ‘carbon’ (both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide)
  • Emphasising the focus on domestic off-setting (focusing on a national carbon economy and only using international off-sets as a ‘last resort’)
  • Emphasising the need for climate adaptation and resilience alongside reducing emissions
  • Establishing a Climate Commission to set budgets (likely along industry lines)

Q: What does the bill seek to achieve?

The ambition of the bill is clear and responds to the pressing need for action – If implemented, New Zealand will be setting a world first in establishing a government led 1.5-degree target. This is consistent with the Paris Agreement, which sought action to limit warming to well below 2 degrees and responds to the call to action from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5-degree report last year. 

It also addresses the increasing need for climate change adaptation and resilience. The bill creates a framework for a National Adaptation Plan, with expectation of input from agencies such as local government and lifeline infrastructure. This will require communities and the services communities rely on to plan for and respond to the environment changes already locked in by greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. flooding and sea level rise). 

Q: In your view, is this bill a good approach for New Zealand?  

In signing the Climate Leaders Coalition in 2018, Beca recognised the importance of action and I am personally heartened that the Government has heard the call for action and put a line in the sand for the goals the country needs to set.

I think the intent of the bill will give business, infrastructure, local government and communities more certainty. The processes established create clearer pathways around action and it allows for a managed transition that gives business more time to adjust to thriving in a low emissions world.  It is well aligned with the science too, for example, splitting the biological methane from other greenhouses gases reflects the different warming impacts on long- and short-lived greenhouse gases. The Climate Commission will also provide a mechanism for flexibility to update interim targets to reflect developments in the scientific understanding and the need for flexible industry response. 

I am also very excited about the approach to adaptation plans, this focus will help our communities to understand what we need to do to respond to the changing environment as I see this as critical to social and community resilience for the future.

Q: What steps should Beca and our clients take to respond to the bill?

While we are positive about the intent of the bill, there are opportunities to improve or strengthen some parts of it. We will be looking at providing feedback to the bill to address these, either through the submissions from the Climate Leaders Coalition, through the Sustainable Business Council and/or by a Beca submission. We would encourage everyone to do the same. 

Q: What steps is Beca already taking to respond to some of the issues of the bill?

First, we need to fully understand emissions and what achieving the targets will mean for the way we do business. The Government has signalled that the Emissions Trading Scheme will be a key mechanism for controlling NZ’s emissions trajectory. Understanding how changing prices on emissions will directly and indirectly impact your business, and what options are available to mitigate that risk are important. It’s clear now from the bill that, while international trading has not been ruled out, the focus will largely be on domestic reduction opportunities to meet targets. Beca is already reporting on our emissions and working on a reduction target as part of Climate Leaders Coalition. We are helping clients to measure and reduce emissions across a number of sectors, including with water, mining and infrastructure clients. 

Secondly, we need to better prepare for the physical risks of climate change: This really brings home how important it is to understand the ways that changes - both in average weather patterns and acute events - will affect the resilience of your business and to consider a strategic response. Assessment of risk should account for the uncertainty of future events, and interdependencies across the operating environment.  Significantly, the bill enables the minister to request information regarding risk and planned response from central and local government, state owned enterprises, and lifeline utilities including water, wastewater, transport, energy and telecommunications. We have and can continue to help many of our clients prepare and report on this. Our approach to physical and transition (carbon price) risk is aligned with best practice recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure.