Advancing climate action at COP23

3 Nov 2017
Abbie Reynolds, SBC Executive Director

As COP23 kicks off in Bonn today, I’ve been reflecting on my time in Marrakech last year at COP22, and what has changed and what remains the same.

Last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was the first I’d attended.  I was one of more than 15,000 people who did.  And I clearly remember the US election results impacting the mood.

Initially it had a sobering effect.  People were concerned about what the loss of US leadership on climate change would mean. Then the mood tipped into defiance.  There was a sense that irrespective of what might happen in the US, there were plenty of countries still committed to action.

I think those two moods are still prevalent.  President Trump has made his intention to leave the Paris Agreement clear, and there has been plenty of sombre reflection on that.  But it has also catalysed defiance.  Michael Bloomberg’s ‘We Are Still In’ has attracted more than 1700 business and 200 cities, universities and states to its cause.  Would such concerted action have happened without the polarising decision to leave?

Back here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 12 months has seen a major surge in the level of ambition business is bringing to tackle climate change.  When I went to Marrakech I’m not sure many, if any, of our members had set bold long term emissions targets.  Now we have more than ten who have set targets that align with or go further than New Zealand’s contribution to the Paris Agreement (there’s a full list in our upcoming Productivity Commission response).  And I know there are more in the pipeline.

And now we have a government who has announced an ambition for New Zealand to be net zero emissions by 2050, which we know is going to require real change.

Suddenly, it feels like climate change action has real momentum both here, and around the world.  And that is, I think, matched by the growing sense of urgency.  No one who saw Professor Will Steffen speak this year was left in any doubt about that.  If you need a top-up of urgency, you can watch his talk here.

As I reflect on the time since Marrakech, I feel optimistic.  A lot has happened in twelve months, and it feels like we have the bit between our teeth.  We’ve got plenty to navigate in the year ahead, but we’re not debating the need for action any longer.  And maybe that’s the most significant difference of all.

Abbie Reynolds, Executive Director