Climate change

Climate change, New Zealand

Climate change and global governance: Personal reflections on the journey from COP6 to COP26

This post is an adaptation of Catherine’s response to an address by the Hon James Shaw, New Zealand Minister of Climate Change, at the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies’ 8th Annual Global Affairs Lecture (‘The UN and Climate Negotiations: Implications for our planet and country’) on 6 December 2021. Catherine’s response was given in her individual capacity and does not represent the views of her affiliated organisations.

Photo credit: iStock

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. While tangible progress was made both inside and outside the formal negotiations, the world still faces a critical target gap to limit rises in global temperatures to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.

I would like to share my personal experience in the international climate change negotiations and offer further reflections on the challenges of climate change and global governance. These are only reflections, not answers.

I have attended five COPs, three as an NGO observer in the Climate Action Network and two as a New Zealand negotiator. My experience has been dominated by the COPs that collapsed.

Behaviour change, Climate change

Waging collaboration on climate change: Finding effective narratives

© Dave Bredeson |

(Updated in November 2018) On 22 April 2016, 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement, setting a world record for the number of first-day signatures to an international agreement.  The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions ratify it.  The photo of US Secretary of State John Kerry signing the agreement with his granddaughter on his lap was a compelling reminder that this agreement is about protecting future generations.

Building on the scientific consensus that humans have been the dominant cause of the warming observed since the mid-20th century, we now have a diplomatic consensus that countries should limit temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius – and strive for below 1.5 degrees – above pre-industrial levels. What is needed now is a social consensus about how quickly decarbonisation should occur in each country and at what acceptable cost.  Speed matters.  Keeping the 1.5-degree goal within reach requires limiting cumulative emissions of long-lived gases below a threshold which we will pass by about 2030-2052 under business as usual.  The 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement will only take us to roughly 3 degrees and there are no legal penalties if countries fall short.  Making more reductions more quickly buys us more time for new solutions to emerge and mature. …

Climate change, Emission pricing, New Zealand

New Zealand’s journey toward a low-emission future: Today’s climate change landscape

Note: Through Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, I have just published two Motu Notes on climate change issues prepared as background papers for Motu’s Low-Emission Future Dialogue. The first in the series presents an overview of the climate change challenges facing New Zealand and the current policy context.  This information is highly relevant because in 2015 New Zealand will need to present its post-2020 emission reduction commitment – referred to as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – under a new international climate change agreement currently under negotiation. The paper’s executive summary is provided below.  The full paper is available here.

Motu note v3 300In the coming decades, New Zealand will face important choices shaped by both the risks and opportunities created by climate change. This paper provides an overview of the current climate change landscape from which New Zealand is starting the next stage of its journey toward a global low-emission future. The key findings are:

Climate change science, emission trends and mitigation scenarios The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reinforce the case for significant reductions to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under business-as-usual growth in emissions, the global mean surface temperature in 2100 could increase by 3.7oC to 4.8oC compared to pre-industrial levels. A least-cost pathway to limit temperature increases to not more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels would involve reductions of 40–70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050 on the way toward a zero-net-emission global economy. A key objective should be limiting cumulative emissions, and delaying action significantly increases the costs of mitigation. …

Behaviour change, Climate change

The gift of the present: Making climate karma count

Beach scene for web ed 1
Why climate karma counts

Over the holidays, a gracious lady from Tonga shared with me the story of Tu’i Malila, the “Little King.”  This Madagascar radiated tortoise was presented as a gift to the King of Tonga by Captain Cook in 1777 and he lived until the age of 188, dying in the mid-1960s.  This tortoise had bridged the human eras of sea exploration and space exploration.  I wondered if Captain Cook had any inkling how long his gift would endure and how much the world would change over that time.

I’ve been reflecting on how the choices we make each day about climate change represent our gift – or our burden – to future generations.  They don’t have a say in what they will inherit from us, they can’t vote for today’s visionary leaders and they can’t remind us to change our habits.  The collective impact of what we emit now will extend well beyond the typical climate change modelling threshold of 2100, which lies within the lifetime of today’s children.

Behaviour change, Climate change

Willingness to change: The “elephant in the room” for climate mitigation

By Mara Ellis | © Xtremesafari | Dreamstime Stock Photo

I read an inspiring story recently about Dr Donald Berwick, former CEO of the US Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).  His research showed that hospitals were repeatedly making avoidable mistakes that were costing patients’ lives. Although he only had a tiny staff and limited resources, he decided that things needed to change. At a convention of US hospital administrators in 2004, he set out a challenge: saving 100,000 lives in the next 18 months.  He spoke to the heart of why change was needed, identified six clear, manageable interventions and launched a campaign to enrol hospitals in making the necessary changes.  He knew it would be hard for hospitals to admit they were routinely making mistakes and change standard practices, but he made it easy for hospitals to join and provided mentoring, information sharing and feedback.  Eighteen months later, they had prevented an estimated 122,300 avoidable deaths (Heath and Heath 2010).

How does this story relate to climate change?  Collectively our society is repeatedly taking avoidable actions which are changing the climate and causing harm.  Like the hospitals at the beginning of the story, we have practical solutions with valuable benefits at our fingertips but we aren’t using them seriously yet.   Fundamentally, the challenge of climate change is a challenge of people change.  In government departments, businesses and households, our lack of willingness to change is the figurative “elephant in the room.”

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