Corporate New Zealand is increasingly engaged on the real challenges of climate change but the nation’s efforts will need to be much broader based to be effective, the new head of the Climate Change Commission says.
Rod Carr, previously Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury University and a former chairman of the Reserve Bank, says shifting an economy from a fossil-fuel base to a net zero emissions model is not trivial and will not be achieved if people believe only other people will be affected by the changes required.
“All of us are going to change a lot over the next 30 years,” he told journalists in Auckland today.
Climate change is coming into the mainstream, but needs to be there now, he said. New Zealand’s biggest corporates are showing good leadership on the issue, but effort is going to be needed economy-wide.
“New Zealand is a country of a vast number of small and tiny enterprises and the behaviours of those businesses are going to matter as much as the behaviour of the big guys,” Carr said.
“The only way we are going to address this challenge is by a broad-based change in all our behaviour, every household, every small business, every corporate, every arm of government.”
Carr was today named chair-designate of the independent Climate Change Commission and takes up his new role immediately. His appointment will be formalised later in the year when the commission is established with the passing of the Zero Carbon Bill.
The commission is tasked with delivering by February 2021 three carbon budgets out to 2035. It is taking up the work from the Interim Climate Change Committee, which to date has advised the government on how to bring agriculture into the emissions trading scheme and how to speed up electrification of industry and transport.
National Party climate change spokesperson Scott Simpson welcomed Carr’s appointment, saying he will bring a practical, “level-headed” approach to the role.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope called Carr a “strong” appointee and said his organisation looks forward to selection of “similarly high-quality candidates for the remaining commission positions.”
Carr wouldn’t comment on what he considers the commission’s early focus should be on.
The technical advice underpinning the budget-setting process, including costs and benefits, will show where the hard choices have to be made, he said.
But that process will also show potential “easy wins,” he said. In the UK, which has had a similar commission since 2008, the early focus was on reducing coal-fired power generation – something that has largely been eliminated there.
“We will have different ‘easy wins,’” Carr said. “The challenge is to identify what they are and move quickly to deal with those and to recognise that other things may take longer and be harder.”
Climate Change Minister James Shaw says he appointed Carr to the commission role to ensure its independence and credibility, and that it takes an analytical approach in its work.
“The commission will be crucial to keep us on track for our 2050 target and hold successive governments accountable to meet emissions budgets," he said.
“Dr Carr’s strong leadership skills, strategic vision and professional experience will be a huge asset in the commission’s establishment years.”
Carr, an economist and lawyer by training, was previously a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and was chief executive of Jade Software. He previously served on the board of Lyttelton Port and is a current board member of ASB Bank. He left Canterbury University in January after 10 years as Vice-Chancellor.
Shaw said Carr brings many assets to his new role.
“His PhD in insurance and risk markets, alongside his experience leading the University of Canterbury through the post-earthquake recovery period, are exactly what is needed as we get to grips with the implications of sea level rise, coastal erosion, floods, fires, droughts and storms for property and community assets around the country,” Shaw said in notes for his speech to the Climate Change and Business Conference in Auckland today.
While mitigation will be an important part of the commission’s job, adaptation to the impacts of climate change already being felt around the country is rightly coming “more and more to the forefront,” he said.
Carr said lessons he took from post-quake Canterbury was that organisations need to make hard choices and be predisposed to act.
“You need to take people with you, but you do need to be in a position to make tough choices to get moving.”
The seven-strong commission will be advisory only, although the government will be required by legislation to respond to its recommendations publicly and within strict timeframes.
The Interim Climate Change Committee earlier this year advised the government not to pursue its target for 100 percent renewable power generation by 2035, saying it would be too expensive and would deliver little emissions reduction. It instead urged the government to accelerate its efforts to electrify transport and industry.
The government has nevertheless opted to stick with the renewables target.
Carr said that, given the scale of the challenge and New Zealand’s nature as a western democracy, it was appropriate that the country’s elected representatives be held “responsible for the hardest of all choices.”
“But they need to be well-advised, the advice needs to be transparent, and it needs to be evidence-based. It needs to be constructed after due consultation, and it needs to put the government of the day in a position to have the courage to make those tough choices, and for the country to be carried forward.”
Carr will be joined by six other commissioners-designate. Shaw said more than 170 people had been nominated for the positions and that could include current members of the Interim Climate Change Committee. He is still settling on his preferred selection and expects to complete that in coming months.