Historic, but only the start

The Zero Carbon Bill passing into law in Aotearoa NZ was historic yesterday, but it is only the start. 

By Louise Aitken - 08. November 2019

The Zero Carbon Bill passing into law in Aotearoa NZ was historic yesterday, but it is only the start. Here I share my thoughts on what we must all do to really create an economy where people and the planet can thrive.

Yesterday, in the debating chamber of Aotearoa NZ’s Parliament, we saw history unfold. The passing of the Climate Change Amendment (Zero Carbon) Bill was a watershed moment, not just for the current coalition government, but for the huge number of people whose shoulders they stand on. The passion, drive and tenacity of people past present and future resulted in the creation of this bill; from those passed, like former Green Party co-leader Rod Donald, to those present in the chamber, like Dr Kennedy Graham, and those representing the future, Generation Zero, sitting proudly in the gallery.

It was vital for the bill to receive cross-party support, and that it finally passed with almost unanimous support is credit to the massive amount of work done by Climate Change Minister James Shaw, along with officials and opposition MPs, who put the planet before politics.

But if you think that is it, think again. The 7th of November is the starting line. As for the planet, the starting gun went off many years ago. We are in catch-up mode, and the pace is fast.

Legislation is, and will only ever be, one part of the solution to our climate emergency. We cannot simply hope that new laws will somehow get us to a zero carbon future. A sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive economy will not happen just because a bill is passed into law. It is now up to all of us to innovate and collaborate on the creation of a sustainable economy, by focusing on what will really deliver the long term impact that our people and planet needs to thrive. That’s what matters now.

So, what can we all do?

Start by educating yourself – do you understand the climate crisis? What does it mean to be a zero carbon, sustainable economy? What is New Zealand’s emissions profile?

Over the last few years lots of tools resources have become available to help answer questions like these. Media outlets like Stuff here in Aotearoa and international media like The Guardian have committed to a climate pledge, and are leading the reporting of the environmental catastrophe we’re facing. Organisations like the Ministry for the Environment have great resources, with reports being published regularly. Get on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and start following people & organisations – Greta Thunberg, Al Gore, Kate Raworth and others. Get reading, get Googling, get talking in your classroom, office, house, marae and join the conversation.

 What you do matters – every individual in Aotearoa NZ contributes to our emissions. How you get around, what you eat & drink, how you warm your house, what you do with your waste… it all matters. When thinking about the enormity of the challenge, it’s easy to become despondent, but small changes really do have the opportunity to result in massive impact, if we all commit to them. If you want to figure out what your emissions profile could be, find an online calculator (and be prepared for a bit of a wake-up call!). Some good ones are Tioto, Moto and EKOS. They will help you figure out your starting point, and give you suggestions on how to reduce or how to off-set if reductions aren’t possible yet. 

 Now ask some more questions:

 What are you buying and from whom? We live in a digital age, where information is everywhere, we just need to look. A growing number of social enterprises are leading the way by doing business differently, because simply making a profit isn’t good enough anymore. So, are you buying from organisations who are committed to reducing their emissions or improving their environmental impact? If not, can you find the same or better product from an organisation who is? Think about the life of the product that you are buying – is it zero waste? Can it be reused when you are finished with it? Can it be composted or recycled? If not, why not? Are you sure you need to buy it?

 What are you investing in? Have you got a Kiwisaver? Do you know what it is invested in? It’s easy to find out. Check out Mindful Money, a fantastic website which makes it really easy to find out whether your money is invested in things like fossil fuels and makes it very simple to find a fund that is aligned to your values, and offers support to switch. If you’re fortunate enough to have been able to make other investments – think about whether you can generate an environmental return alongside a financial one. Learn about impact investing and ask questions of those who look after your money.

 A recent report released by The Aotearoa Circle highlighted the need for a sustainable finance system and what we need to do to shift to an economy that takes a long-term view for social, environmental and economic well-being, protecting natural resources for future generations. If we are going to deliver to our global commitments, our entire economy will need to change. This will impact on all of us. 

 Where do you work? Every business in Aotearoa New Zealand contributes to our emissions and many have committed to a zero carbon future. Pledges like The Climate Leaders Coalition, GenLess, #NotBusinessAsUsual are a great start, but what is the organisation that you work for doing to reduce their emissions profile? Do they even know their emissions profile? What are they doing to reduce the risk that climate change will have on their business? How is it linked to their business strategy? Are they buying goods and services from organisations that deliver positive social and environmental value? Start a conversation in your office, with your leaders, or in the boardroom.

If your workplace needs help to tackle these questions, there are an increasing amount of organisations that can help you to change – Ākina is one of these, of course – and there are others out there too.

 Are you voting? Yesterday in Parliament, we saw democracy in action. There are 120 Members of Parliament, but it’s easy to forget they are there to represent all of us. It is vital that we all participate in our democracy, to ensure that our MPs are truly representative of Aotearoa NZ. Make sure you’re enrolled to vote and find out about your local and national candidates and elected officials. What do they think and do in regards to climate change? We are less than twelve months from our next general election. Find someone who you think represents your views and values. Talk to them. Vote for them. Get involved. Talk to your whānau, friends and wider community. Your voice matters!

 Be inclusive and connected. The transition to a zero carbon future needs to be fair and just. Our economy is about to go through a seismic shift. We must ensure those people who will be disportionately affected are identified, supported to have control and the self-determination they will need to be able to thrive. They might be people from minority groups, people with disabilities, those on lower incomes, and those not able to work. It is important that we recognise that for Aotearoa NZ to thrive, everyone must thrive. 

 Lastly, it is important to reflect on the unique position we are in here in Aotearoa NZ. As treaty partners, we must give life to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We must give voice, representation and strength to Te Ao Māori by honouring the indigenous knowledge we have here and in the wider Pacific too.

All of this is about prioritising the solutions that Papatūānuku needs to continue her nourishment of the trees, birds and people born from the whenua.

Because with that, we will all thrive. He waka eke noa. 

(*) Author:

Louise Aitken

Louise Aitken  - Chief Executive Officer at The Ākina Foundation