Advocacy Update and Comment on IPCC Report AR6

06 September 2021

'Changing' Art by Alice Singer - 2021

Kathleen Bell 

Research and Policy Advisor 

At NZGBC we value being independent, visionary, trusted, thought provoking, and collaborative. These principles serve as the foundation that inspires our organisational mahi. We’re also guided by our membership and the ongoing feedback we receive. For this reason, we have recently expanded our research and advocacy capacity. Our team has been leading and advocating on your behalf with the Environment Select Committee at Parliament (virtually) and with various other government ministry submissions on topics that have a direct impact on your businesses and livelihoods. These include the Natural and Built Environment Bill, the Government Policy Statement on Housing and Urban Development, as well as, the He Tūāpapaka Ki Te Ora – Infrastructure for a Better Future and Building Code Update 2021 – Building Code Protocols. You and your team can find each of these submissions under the Advocacy and Submission section of our website.

We have also taken the time to review the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Annual Assessment Report (AR6) entitled Climate Change 2021 – The Physical Science Basis, which was released on 9 August 2021 from Working Group 1 (WGI). As the first scientifically based assessment produced in eight years, it concludes that climate change is ‘unequivocally anthropogenic’ (pollution or environmental change that is caused by humans) and is now happening locally, regionally, and nationally. AR6 was released in advance of COP26, being held in Glasgow, Scotland from 31 October to 12 November 2021.

The purpose of the report sets out the physical science case to close the mitigation/adaptation strategies gap and to inform on current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) or individual country plans addressing climate change. New Zealand's NDC was submitted to the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015; and further updated in April 2020

While the report itself provides an update to the public on progress (or lack thereof) to meet our climate reduction goals to date, it's primary function serves as negotiating tool. Assessment reports are heavily geared toward policy makers and ministerial agencies that can compel their member-state governments to increase national commitments.

Aside from government, it's also important for those with a decision-taking function.  In the built environment sector, this includes, but is not limited to architects, civil engineers, builders, quantity surveyors, and property developers. AR6 simplifies the narrative for all of us, “As the planet warms, climate change does not happen uniformly across the globe, but some patterns of regional change show clear, direct, and consistent relationships to increases in global surface temperature.” (p.1055, AR6). There is a near linear relationship between our increase in global temperatures and carbon emissions. You can explore the report in more detail with the interactive data atlas.

We are truly in a climate emergency; exceedingly and continuously overdrawing our planetary current account without an overdraft facility, because it has long been exhausted. This includes experiencing environmental degradation predicted in the Fourth (AR4-2007) and Fifth (AR5-2013) Assessment Reports.

Evidence confirms in New Zealand, there have been changes in our land temperature, with an increase of 1.1 degrees. Consequently, for each additional degree of warming, rainfall events increase by 7%.  Last week, West Auckland saw emergency flash flooding, while in Hamilton and New Plymouth, they're contending with drought and the impact on long-term dry conditions.  Weather patterns are changing in the North Island, South Island and Stewart Island.

Additionally, once thought rare, there is greater potential for compound extreme weather events. This is defined as 2 or more hazards that can happen back-to-back – ie: rain/flooding and droughts/higher temperatures/bush fires – leaving less time for recovery before the next climate event occurs. Scientists have also confirmed with high confidence that an increase in land temperature will cause a decrease in the ocean’s pH leading to acidification and deoxygenation. Sea level is also modelled to rise.

The best solution remains decarbonising. By reducing our carbon emissions, we can begin slowing the speed of surface warming and move toward becoming a carbon zero country, while improving our health and well-being.

So, what does this mean for you? We know that our sector is responsible for 20% of New Zealand’s carbon footprint, and that means we have a crucial role to play in the journey to a greener, healthier Aotearoa. And we know that our members want to do right by their clients, and for all New Zealanders. We know that your teams and technical specialists already report on insulation levels, air tightness, water usage, ventilation, heating, energy performance, and efficiency standards for new builds and are retrofitting older buildings too. In some cases, accounting for your carbon output may not be fundamentally different. You can often use your existing data being gathered. Corporate behaviour change is also vital for companies that are finding success in the space and should be included at each strategic level.

Climate change also requires businesses to conduct financial risk analysis – internally and externally. Legislation has been introduced by Government to call for mandatory financial climate disclosures. Pending passage in Parliament, this would apply to all banks, building societies, and credit unions with total assets of $1B+, all managers of registered investment schemes with $1B+ under management, all equity and debt issuers listed on NZX, licensed insurers with total assets of $1B+ or annual premium income greater than $250M+, and finally, Crown financial institutions with $1B+ in total assets under management. If passed the law would amend the Financial Markets Conduct Act (2013) and could require reporting by approximately 2023. The disclosures will be modelled against standards developed by the External Reporting Board and alongside previous advice given by the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

We would also encourage your senior leadership to embed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their company strategy.  Both Homestar and Greenstar are aligned to the SDGs and you can find more information on our website.

Finally, our technical team at New Zealand Green Building Council, are here to answer questions you may have, about sustainability and how our tools could help you to decarbonise. We all must do our part to ensure Aotearoa is green, healthy, and sustainable - now and for future generations.