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Insights and Media

A new climate: Why October 2018 was an emergency beacon signalling our opportunity to disrupt or be disrupted


There is no doubt that October 2018 has been a huge month for the climate change agenda. It was a month that made its mark, leaving no doubt that we are in the zone of both great risk and great opportunity.

As the world’s scientists doubled down on their conviction of the magnitude of climate change’s impacts, governments including New Zealand’s own are increasingly signalling changes ahead. A recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that to keep temperatures from rising to disastrous levels, all nations need to instigate radical changes within the next 12 years.

It highlighted a number of impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, coral reefs would decline by 70–90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (more than 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC. Simply put, if ever there was a signal that it’s time to get on board the opportunity train to create breakthrough innovations, or get left behind, then this is it.

We can see the signals of change amplifying across our communities, from the individuals who are grappling with small decisions on whether to ride an e-scooter instead of driving, or order the impossible burger on Air NZ; to the farmers digging deep to understand how best to innovate their business models; to the company boards who are starting to sit up as they see investors moving away from carbon-rich assets by the droves.    

As Laura Parker writes in National Geographic: “Until recently, the consequences of climate change were thought to be so far into the future that many people, including those who live in coastal zones, declared they needn’t bother; they’d be long dead by the time catastrophe struck.”

No more. With the impacts of a changing climate increasing, many are now saying that it is not enough that we try to limit further global warming – we must also do far more to ensure we survive it.

That’s also the message from a coalition of major global figures, including former UN head Ban Ki-moon and Bill Gates who in October launched The Global Commission on Adaptation. As stated by Ban Ki-moon, “without urgent adaptation and action, we risk undermining food, energy, and water security for decades to come”.

Less than 24 hours after release of the IPCC’s report, New Zealand’s own Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, addressed the Australia New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference, sharing what he was able to about our own much-anticipated Zero Carbon Bill, which will set our long-term climate goals and the mechanisms to drive it (such as an independent Climate Change Commission).

The debate is heating up about which are the best technical, economic, and social responses to achieve the formidable challenge. It’s interesting to think about how we can take a systems view to prioritise both our actions and existing solutions for climate change, to those that will give us maximum ‘co-benefits’. This means not just focussing on carbon reduction but including Maturanga Māori approaches, and social and environmental considerations, while giving us the greatest potential to bend the CO2 emissions curve (the infamous hockey stick) down as quickly as possible.

While every one of us has a role to play, there is an urgent need to work as a collective and this means taking the time to synthesise the solutions we already have while taking a humble approach when exploring the large pieces of the puzzle we’re yet to discover. By working through a process to prioritise actions and existing solutions we can truly optimise our mitigation and adaptation pathways. If we can do this, then we have the best chance of minimising unintended consequences of our actions.

What's clear from this month is that the train of change is rolling (and fast) – it’s up to us to jump on board.