Insight: The time for waiting is over

With COP26 currently on, our Chair Rod Carr shares why the time to act is now.

COP26 is on. The Glasgow summit brings together thousands of people from more than 200 nations to accelerate action towards the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

This is where rubber must hit the road on the Paris Agreement — where nations including Aotearoa New Zealand committed to playing our part towards holding global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century, and to ‘pursue efforts’ to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Until now we have collectively failed to deliver. 

Why COP26 matters 

As a key part of the Paris Agreement, countries set national targets known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to cut or curb their greenhouse gas emissions — but the total of the NDCs have fallen well short of the emissions reductions needed. Collectively the NDCs would, if realised, still result in 3 degrees Celsius or more of warming this century.  

COP26 is the world’s chance to turn that around and avoid the catastrophic consequences that level of warming would bring. 

The Paris Agreement built in a ‘ratchet mechanism’ requiring countries to return to the table every five years with fresh, more demanding commitments.  

The time for that first ratchet was up on 30 July this year but 70 countries including Aotearoa have not met that commitment. All countries are now being urged to revise their NDCs in line with a 1.5C target before Glasgow. 

So COP26 is a very big deal. And for our country any change to our NDC is a very big deal. Our NDC will shape the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan on which public input is being sought and which is now due by the end of May next year. The NDC will also commit future Governments to offshore payments to make up any gap between our actual level of emissions and what we committed to emit. NDCs, if acted on, will significantly impact all of us: our businesses and industries, our communities, our households, our mokopuna, the people we share the Planet with, and future generations.  

Many businesses and individuals will be anxiously waiting for the outcome of COP26, for our revised NDC, for our national Emissions Reduction Plan... for action.  

But the time for waiting is over  

For almost three decades, world governments have met nearly every year to forge a global response to the climate emergency.  

COPs have come and gone, commitments have been made, plans have been written. Paris signalled a ‘breakthrough’. But we still fall well short of the action required. 

Whatever comes from COP26, the time for waiting has passed. 

We cannot keep waiting for the perfect plan, whether it be from COP, from Government leaders, their officials, or local government agencies. Government plans can provide some certainty but no matter how perfect the plan, the only thing that will transition us to a thriving, low emissions, and climate resilient Aotearoa is action.  

The world is changing — we need to change too 

The drivers are no longer solely environmental – but political, economic and social. 

For our economy, global drivers for climate action are coming from foreign regulators, new technology and changing customer preferences. Businesses and industry in Aotearoa need to respond or risk being left behind — or even punished — by our trading partners and customers. For a trading country like ours that could be devastating. Further it is in our own interest to take up the new low emissions technologies and business practices, and develop the skills to create low emissions products and services. 

We will never have a greater opportunity to transition to a thriving climate resilient and low-emissions Aotearoa than right now. 

And it’s not just business and industry that must act. It’s easy as individuals to dismiss our own actions as insignificant, Aotearoa as too small. But we can all take responsibility for our own carbon footprints and our everyday actions and choices. We can encourage friends and whānau to join us, and urge the businesses we work for and buy from to take action too. Our individual actions at home, combined with individual actions across the world, add up. 

When we look at the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, every tonne of emissions matters, every fraction of a degree of warming matters, every day matters, every action matters. 

And the time for action is now. It may be a challenging time to act, but if not now when? Now is the only time we have. 

If we keep putting off doing the things we should be doing because we are waiting for governments and their plans, we are going to wait too long.