Debra Blackett on Z Energy’s climate change commitment: 'We can't do this on our own'

Sustainability September 20, 2023

Climate leaders on stage

Photo credit: Climate Leaders Coalition 

Over three days in August last year, the Supreme Court heard proceedings against seven of New Zealand biggest companies, including Z Energy (Z), regarding their contribution to climate change. The case – Smith v Fonterra & others – involved Mr Smith, chair of the Iwi Leaders Forum, seeking either a cessation of emissions or a court-supervised decline that would be far steeper than current Government policy.

Astonishingly, the case – which was earlier struck out at the High Court and the Court of Appeal – hasn’t received a lot of attention here in Aotearoa, but it’s being closely followed around the world as climate change activists increasingly turn to litigation. The fact we’re still waiting for a decision a year on shows just how significant an issue this is.

As General Counsel at Z, I sat through that trial, and something I was particularly struck by was the evidence presented which suggested that humans have psychological limitations for dealing with the climate crisis. Research suggests we’re almost incapable of imagining the world without us as a species on it and are therefore unable to do what is needed to halt climate change. The reason this evidence was introduced during proceedings was to support the notion that courts need to intervene due to this innate psychological barrier.

Since its inception in 2010, Z has acknowledged its role in New Zealand’s climate problem, and we’ve always had the philosophy of moving from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. As we continue to deliver the fuel Aotearoa needs today, we are committed to contributing to the decarbonisation of New Zealand’s transport network. But we can’t do it alone – there must be a stronger level of private-public partnership than we currently see. For Aotearoa to deliver on our climate change commitments, collaboration between Government, private business and communities is required.

Our recent submission in response to He Pou a Rangi Climate Change Commission’s draft advice on the Second Emissions Reduction Plan made it clear that there are significant gaps in current and announced policies to achieve the emissions reductions needed. It’s extremely concerning that Aotearoa does not appear to be on a pathway to achieve the first emissions budget, thereby placing additional pressure on the pace of transition for later budget periods. The impact of this delay will ultimately be borne by all of us.

In our industry, we are faced with an energy trilemma, which is the tension between the need for energy security, affordable energy pricing and energy transition. Policy settings have got to recognise the interrelationship between those three factors, but at the moment, this tends to be done separately without reference to the others.

As Aotearoa’s biggest fuel supplier with a nationwide footprint, we want to see a transition to a low carbon future, and electrification of the transport network is a big part of this. For businesses like Z to continue investing in and delivering private and public charging, the government has a key role in ensuring that regulatory settings are fit-for-purpose and market failures are addressed.

We need policy settings that help to unlock private sector investment and targeted government investment in the roll-out of public charging, for example where it is uneconomic for the private sector to invest. Ultimately, there needs to be an environment created whereby government, local government and private sectors can collaborate to deliver a charging ecosystem in Aotearoa.

While the issues around energy security, affordable energy pricing and energy transition can often feel overwhelming, the reason I'm at Z is that I have a firm belief that corporations can – and do – make a difference. Solving these issues requires the right people to look at these problems holistically if we are to get the settings right and solve the massive problem that is climate change.