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2020: the year of collective action and community

In January, EECA Chief Executive Andrew Caseley answered SBN’s call for predictions for 2020, and said it would be the year for “people continuing to recognise the power of collective action – small steps, taken together, making big strides.” As New Zealand looks set to crush the COVID-19 curve, thanks to the team of five million pulling together, it seems he was right, though not in the way he expected.

“Of course, I had climate change in mind when I wrote that,” Caseley says. EECA launched Gen Less last year, a platform that brings together people and organisations taking action on climate change, providing tips, tools and programme funding to help.

While we’ve been tackling a pandemic, that has had a knock-on effect on emissions. The International Energy Agency has estimated travel restrictions and lockdowns around the world will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around eight percent this year, a record drop.

While that reduction is badly needed, Caseley says the way we’ve achieved it has been a nightmare – hundreds of thousands of deaths from the virus, travel severely curtailed and the world economy thrown into turmoil with millions of job losses and countless business failures. “While the circumstances of how we’ve got to where we have are appalling, the emissions reductions are something we must work to lock in as people’s behaviours change forever.”

To that end, EECA was quick to pivot its partner funding programme at the beginning of alert level 4 to enable energy services partners to undertake worthwhile projects, such as energy audits, that could be done as desk-based exercises. “It meant we could not only help with their cash flow, but provide new focus on where businesses could make significant reductions in energy use once they were back up and running and to do it remotely.”

A partnership between EECA and SBN was also announced that will provide SMEs with the tool kit and knowledge they’ll need to reduce emissions. Caseley saves “We’ve worked successfully for many years with New Zealand’s largest energy users, and we’ve wanted to scale those programmes for SMEs for a while. This partnership will be of real benefit.”

The second part of Caseley’s prediction for 2020 was for a continued push to decarbonise the transport sector. Emissions from transport grow year on year, and they make up around 40 percent of our energy-related emissions. “Converting to a low emissions transport   fleet is absolutely vital to bringing down emissions. But I think this lock down experience has also shown us that travel is not as vital as we thought it was, so travelling less will become just as important as how we travel.”

He says there’s guarded optimism in the EV sector – EECA administers the government’s Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund (LEVCF); its latest round of applications closed on March 31 and despite being in alert level 4, a high number of applications came in, while most previously funded projects continue with some timeline adjustments.  

EECA is testing ways of reducing travel with Carbon and Energy Professionals (CEP, formerly EMANZ), by working together to shift their June conference to be delivered online. The conference is already Carbon Zero certified, but travel makes up 96 percent of the total emissions for the event of around 140 attendees. “If we can show that a digital conference can still offer learning, development and networking opportunities that an in-person conference will, that will redefine criteria for ‘vital’ travel.”

Having had one prediction proved (sort of) right in the first few months of the year, Caseley says he echoes predictions others made at the same time – that business will play a leading role in sustainability in 2020. “We’ve seen spectacular innovation in the last few weeks, as organisations have rapidly created the new normal, so I have confidence they can take a leadership role in determining a permanent new, low emissions, normal.”

This story was originally published by The Sustainable Business Network.