JUST GOOD BUSINESS – SUSTAINABILITY: The Roar Of Business On Climate Change: Get On With It

If you’re seeing renewed effort by special interests around the world to avoid paying their carbon pollution bills bear in mind how out of touch they are with the broader view of business people.
The Parliamentary Select Committee review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which has been enjoying ever-later reporting back times, will be urged by some to excuse them from facing marginal price on their excess emissions. Some want taxpayers to pick up the whole cost funded by an interim carbon tax to cover the country’s excess emissions between 2008 and 2018.
A truly representative national survey of business people by ShapeNZ in February this year shows they believe:
• the time has passed for doubts over climate change being caused by human activities (63 percent)
• climate change impacts have already begun (66 percent)
• it’s problem to be dealt with now (72 percent)
• New Zealand isn’t doing enough to manage it (46 percent agree, compared with 40 percent who disagree), and
• the country should get in behind new international treaty to manage climate change, even if some large emitting developing countries don’t.
While the current Government has been scoring well on overall performance since taking office, on climate change only 13 percent of business people give the new administration four-plus rating on one to five scale, where one means poor and five excellent. That’s about the same as for the previous government.
Importantly, business people are much more likely to think New Zealand has more, rather than fewer, economic opportunities as result of climate change: 42 percent of business people believe this, compared with 20 percent of all respondents. Only 16 percent of business people believe it will cost economic opportunity, while 26 percent say it will make no difference.
There’s “let’s get on with it” mood on climate change.
The weighted sample of 574 business people (maximum margin of error +/- 4.1 percent) also shows there’s very little tolerance for any move to excuse major emitters from facing bill (at the margin) for their emissions in excess of 2005 levels, now provided for in 2008 ETS law.
When asked, in principle, if they would prefer policy under which polluters (businesses, industry) pay for their own emissions costs, or where the government pays, resounding 80 percent of business people say polluters (77 percent for the general population). Only three percent think the Government (actually taxpayers) should pay.
Which presents MPs with dilemma: current ETS law allows for Government to pay 90 percent of emissions in excess of 2005 levels between 2008 and 2012, with free allocations reducing in straight line by eight percent year until 2030.
There is just one percent support among business people for the current law giving assistance until 2030. Business people think large emitters should get transitional assistance, but most only tolerate that until 2012, or until our large emitters’ overseas competitors also face price on carbon.
Cap and trade schemes are in place in the European Union and are planned in Australia and the United States, from whom we earn 55 percent of our export income.
What’s more the United States president wants to give emitters there no free credits, but instead sell them and recycle the revenue into clean energy and other green job sectors to stimulate sustainable growth.
Business people here and Kiwis in general know pricing carbon will cost them. They back transitional assistance for all businesses and households. But they don’t want cash.
They most favour the Government recycling revenues from any windfall SOE renewable energy company profits (from imposing carbon price on electricity) into helping them become more energy efficient and lower their emissions.
That’s long-term answer, which is good for the environment – but also accommodates their concern that it’s past time to act on climate change.
There’s also overwhelming support for range of “can do” type policies to complement the ETS and cut emissions – and improve the country’s trading position as result. For example, asked if they’d support or oppose these policies if they were offered by the Government:
• 87 percent back more incentives to improve household energy efficiency
• 82 percent support incentives for businesses developing renewable energy projects (like wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydro)
• 80 percent are for lower registration fees for low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles.
There is 50 percent support across the country (and 61 percent among business people) for the move to have select committee review the ETS.
This indicates this process is golden opportunity for the committee, submitters and vested interests, to arrive at final ETS and climate change policy package which has broad support. It will mean heavy emitters listening to other businesses, like those reflected in the latest survey, and MPs from all parties looking for agreement on broad principles, emissions reduction targets, and fair sharing of the transitional costs. Then we can also focus on the smart extra ways we can improve homes, energy efficiency – and give our world-leading low-emissions technology quick leg up to sell internationally.
There’s no reason at all – recession or no recession – why we can’t do the right things now on climate change, and turn it into job and money maker.

Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. On the web: www.nzbcsd.org.nz www.shapenz.org.nz

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