As individuals, an industry and a country, we’ve fought hard against COVID-19 and can now (cautiously) enjoy the privileges of being in a country with very few cases of the virus remaining. Can we now step up and fight climate change with the same collective commitment?
During lockdown, our team took advantage of the surge in webinars. More than ever, we are feeling inspired and determined to reduce our impacts on the environment and contribute to healthier and happier societies. We’ve summed up what we learned into three key messages:
- Harness the opportunity to reduce transport emissions
- Let’s reset, not rebuild
- Make the most of now
An opportunity to reduce transport emissions in NZ
Several webinars highlighted the global effort to reach net zero carbon emissions in time to prevent global warming beyond 1.5°C. In the “Sustainability Insights and Opportunities in the COVID Landscape” webinar, hosted by the Sustainability Society (TSS), Professor James Renwick from Victoria University of Wellington discussed the massive scale of global carbon emitted annually. He noted that even with the lack of movement during 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, global carbon emissions in 2020 were projected to be only 4-5% less than 2019 levels. An annual linear reduction of this scale would not even keep us on track to meet the current emission reduction targets outlined by the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
Some good news: New Zealand passed the world’s second-ever Zero Carbon Act in 2019, which aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Dr Paul Winton, founder of the 1point5 Project, explained in an Association of Consulting and Engineering New Zealand webinar how difficult that goal will be to achieve, even with full implementation of measures like the One Billion Trees Programme. He believes that our best shot will be to decarbonise road transport by 2030. Road transport is the second highest source of NZ greenhouse gas emissions, which was around 15 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2018 (behind agriculture at 38 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent).
Dr Paul Winton explained that in Auckland alone, this would require the following by 2030:
- Full roll out of the City Rail Link project + doubling of bus ridership
- Reach Copenhagen level cycling: 12 times our current cycling mileage per person
- Reduce vehicle kilometres travelled by a quarter
- Electrifying 1/3 of vehicles
- Improve the remaining vehicle fleet to the new in 2014 standard
In the transportation sector, we have both a massive opportunity and responsibility to decarbonise NZ.
Another speaker from the TSS webinar, Alec Tang (Chief Sustainability Officer at Auckland Council), emphasised that we (as individuals, organisations and countries) should talk about ‘reset’ rather than ‘recovery’. We know that our existing economy still contributes to global warming, and we now have the opportunity to reset our actions. Seeking to return to ‘normal’ would be irresponsible. Alec highlighted that lockdown was a mass trial of working locally, and that small changes like spending just one day working in our local area (home, library, café – wherever suits!) can add up and make a difference. Watch the TSS webinar here.
Like many organisations, Abley’s commuting emissions were near zero over the lockdown period. However, as we all start heading back to our offices, some of us will be driving again, especially during winter and while health concerns remain around using public transport. Many team members have ‘reset’ their thoughts on coming into the office altogether, and with Abley’s flexible working policy, we’re looking forward to reporting reduced commuting emissions compared to pre-lockdown levels. Stay tuned for updates on Abley’s collective mode share going forward.
Make the most of now
A common climate change message is that each person taking small steps makes a difference. Living locally in lockdown gave us an opportunity to see the truth in this with our own eyes.
A ‘Rethinking the Streets’ webinar hosted by CoMotion (watch it here), highlighted the impact of experiential learning. During lockdown we missed things like travelling and eating out, and now we are missing quiet streets, neighbourhood walks, visits from native birds and cleaner air. We need to capitalise on the good experiences during lockdown and make more permanent changes.
Our Sustainability team at Abley are actively working on initiatives to support Abley’s commitment to care for people, the community and the planet – be the change and start making noise where it’s needed!