Leaders across Beca have prepared this thought piece to contribute to the ongoing discussions with all New Zealanders about how we can get the best outcomes from the significant recovery and economic rebuild being proposed post COVID-19. The scale of investment we are making and the legacy of this for future generations, means it is critical that we take this opportunity to significantly accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy. By taking this approach, our recovery will support a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable society.

The effects of global temperature rise (global heating) is arguably the greatest threat facing humanity. If we don’t act now to bend the curve and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we will face challenges far greater than those we’ve already faced in 2020.

By 2030 we need to reduce non-biological GHGs by 50% (≈21MtCO2e/year), and biological GHGs by 10% (4MtCO2e/year).

Our climate is changing rapidly. Even if we successfully halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 the climate will continue to approach 1.5°C of warming. The impacts of this will be felt across the world. With respect to New Zealand, this is expected to result in an increased number of extreme weather events such as sea-level rises, flooding and droughts, heat waves, changes to season durations, more hot days and fewer cold days, as well as climate refugees and increases in vector borne disease. This means that in parallel with reducing our GHG emissions, we must plan and provide for climate adaptation and built and natural environment resilience.

Our Beca thought piece proposes transition opportunities that will reduce our emissions and build resilience to climate change, in a way that will also contribute to a more sustainable and prosperous future. it will do this by responding to the challenges of unemployment, soil degradation, poor quality and unaffordable housing, biodiversity loss, economic insecurity, poor air quality in urban centres, polluted waterways, inequality, overexploitation of resources, reliance on uncertain supply chains and poor waste management.

We propose that New Zealand must find solutions to deliver a prosperous economy that simultaneously increases equality and community wellbeing. It must also protect and enhance our natural ecological systems upon which we all depend. We believe a strong focus on tackling emissions will provide co-benefits to a range of sustainability challenges.

We have identified eight key transitions that would best enable us to rapidly shift to a low-emission economy, while simultaneously creating jobs and addressing many of New Zealand’s critical challenges and moving to a prosperous, circular and equitable economy.

The transitions are summarised below. These have been prioritised based on the combined opportunities to address the urgent demands for decarbonisation and the critical job creation and economic recovery. They are accompanied by downloadable PDFs that provides further detail about the transitions and our recommendations. A full report with all the transitions can downloaded here.

The key transition opportunities we see for New Zealand

1. Transport
Strategic, climate resilient transport network planning that reduces private vehicle use; prioritised through land development that encourages public transport, walking and cycling and flexible transport corridor design. Minimising emissions of remaining vehicle fleet through electrification and green hydrogen. Download more information

2. Industrial product manufacturing
Minimising inputs of energy and outputs of waste through the development of circular industrial ecosystems. Investments focusing on efficient processes and technologies including digital solutions and transitioning remaining energy needs from fossil fuel-based systems to electric, biomass, and green hydrogen alternatives. Leveraging New Zealand’s low-carbon grid by growing our high-value, low-carbon export markets. Download more information.

3. Electricity
Expanding renewable electricity capacity, transmission and distribution to enable the decarbonisation of transport and industry. Decarbonising the electricity grid by focusing on large scale wind; enabling distributed photovoltaic generation, and investing in green hydrogen generation and storage. Download more information.

4. Built environment
Rethinking the way we use spaces and upgrading existing building stock to minimise the demand for new buildings. Improving building codes, design practises and the use of smart building technologies to maximise building energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuel-based systems with electric and alternative fuel-based systems. Prioritising sustainably sourced timber for structures to avoid carbon-intensive materials and to sequester carbon and decarbonising concrete and steel. Download more information.

5. Agriculture and forestry
Prioritising water management to mitigate climate risks. Continuing to increase best practise farm management including support and implementation of on-farm planting. In this transition, promote ongoing research and development to minimise enteric fermentation emissions and build our capacity to provide international leadership in low-emission agriculture. Expanding forest industries. Download more information

6. Recovery of waste
Maximising the embedded energy in waste by re-use in a circular economy that supports new business opportunities. Targeting high-value streams for recycling such as PET, organics and key nutrients in wastewater. Supporting these transitions and driving product design change and alternative ownership-and-use models by shifting the responsibility for waste through legislative change and increasing landfill tax on producers. Download more information.

7. Three Waters
Diversifying water supply and treatment, expanding the use of biogas from wastewater for energy generation and reusing biosolids to fertilise land. Mandating water sensitive design and using smart technologies to control wastewater treatment. Download more information.

8. Social Infrastructure
Resilient social infrastructure will be needed to support the above transitions including healthy public housing, green healthcare and education facilities, a focus on public health and low-carbon healthcare products, and skills development particularly in green technology. Download more information.

This thought piece was initiated by Beca's sustainability leadership team: Amelia Linzey, Kate Meyer and Genevieve Smith.

Authored and verified by Kate Meyer, Genevieve Smith, Eleanor Grant, Rick Lomax, Sarah Bacon, Mike Pharo, Bruce Wylie, Rob Fullerton, Pete Ralph, Jamie Swan, Jack Timings, Andrew Murray, Adrian Dickison, Amelia Linzey, Hamish McCook, Shane Gowan, Marc Dresser, Ross Winter, Peter McCafferty, David Papps, Stuart Bowden, Phil Robson, Alan Barbour, Brendon Dwyer, Jorge Martinez, Stuart Smith, Leif Klasson, Rebecca Nge, Craig Price and David Carter.

Getting to Carbon Positive - Podcast Series

You might also like to listen to our podcast series where we discuss how our post-COVID-19 recovery and rebuild opportunities could support decarbonising New Zealand and contribute to a future of sustainable prosperity. Listen to the series here.