Submission on Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill

Dear NZ Government

            Attn: The Honourable James Shaw

Thank you for seeking submissions to this Bill’s latest version. As a citizen, I have been waiting 40 years for real action that moves beyond talk. This Bill certainly offers hope for optimism. I see great potential in the Bill and strongly support such points as its goal of keeping global temperature to a maximum 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the creation of a Climate Commission; the five-yearly budgets for carbon emissions, and Maori representation on the Climate Change Commission. I do, however, have some suggestions I hope you will consider adopting to further strengthen the Bill.

Before offering my comments, I would like to briefly introduce myself. I am a professor at the University of Otago. My area of research expertise includes why organisations make voluntary disclosures about their environmental practices. The successful execution of this research requires my understanding the science behind climate change. Accordingly, although I am not a climate scientist, I believe I have a good command of climate science. I am also the Director of the Centre for Organisational Performance Measurement and Management. In this roles, as well as the research I personally conduct on organisational performance measurement and management, I am conversant with use of goals for improving performance. It is this latter expertise that I primarily draw upon in making this submission.

The Bill’s purpose

The Bill’s purpose requires strengthening. The science is compelling behind climate change. We need to act now and urgently. I strongly encourage you to rescind the use of such words as “can,” “may,” and “might” that appear in this section and elsewhere in the Bill to stronger words like “will” and “must.” In particular, under the Bill’s purpose, please consider changing the wording from “… New Zealand can develop and implement…” to “… New Zealand will develop and implement…”


The targets lack sufficient correspondence with the challenge at hand. The science, including what was contained in the IPCC report released last October, mandates we act faster than the current targets propose. As a scholar who researches the use of goals and targets, I would like to direct your attention to the literature on the motivational benefits of stretch goals.[i] Goals that meet this threshold are ones that require individuals to go well beyond what they are currently achieving and are commonly used when a paradigm shift is contemplated or required.[ii] Toyota, for example, used a stretch goal to promote the development of its Prius car model. Senior managers challenged their workers to create within one year a car with a 100% increase in fuel efficiency (relative to prevailing standards). A second example comes from Southwest Airlines, whose senior managers challenged its workers to achieve a ten-minute gate turnaround for its planes. Although the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing Airlines (the supplier of Southwest’s planes), and competing airlines believed the goal was unachievable (as did many Southwest employees), the seemingly impossible goal was accomplished in part by finding inspiration in practices used by race car pit crews.[iii]

As radically game changing as the Toyota and Southwest Airlines’ stretch goals may sound, they pale in comparison to the stretch goal John F Kennedy proposed when he challenged his countrymen to go to the moon. This goal called for doing something so outrageous that it bordered on the preposterous. Kennedy’s goal gave his countrymen less than nine years to accomplish a feat requiring technology that did not exist. Similar to the reported disbelief among some of Southwest Airline’s employees toward the goal of 10-minute airplane turnarounds, I am sure there were scientists at NASA who were sceptical about Kennedy’s goal. But just as Kennedy’s goal ultimately served to galvanise a nation to succeed, so too could New Zealand use a stretch goal around climate action to captivate our nation’s imagination and focus our collective energy on solving the existential challenge we all face.

We claim to have this knack for Kiwi ingenuity. I encourage you to tap this resource by making your targets more ambitious. Instead of proposing a target for being carbon neutral by 2050, shave this by more than half. Propose a stretch goal along the lines of reducing our use of fossil fuels to 50% by 2025 and to zero by 2030. The science shows that in our current dire straits, there is no such thing as going too fast or too far on reducing carbon emissions. The task of leaders, is to raise people from their everyday self to their better self. I encourage you to use stretch goals/targets to do this.

In addition to my suggestion for more ambitious targets, please delete Clause 5ZJ. Not only does this clause fail to be a stretch goal, but it takes the wind out of everything else in the Bill with the potential to motivate action. Also, and as already noted above, please change the weak wording in Clause 5ZK by removing the word “may” and replacing it with the word “will” or “shall.” Furthermore, please delete the phrase “if they think fit.” And finally, please remove Clause 5ZK (2) in its entirety.


Primacy of the Act

Last, but far from least, it is vital that the Bill have primacy over all other environmental legislation. I am particularly referring to the Resource Management Act. This Act must not be used to undermine the operation of the present Bill. Toward this end, clauses 70A and 104E of the RMA must be removed.


[i] Denning, S. (2012) In praise of stretch goals, Forbes, 23 April, Retrieved from

[ii] Adler, R.W. (2018) Strategic Performance Management: Accounting for organizational control, Routledge, UK.

[iii] Freiberg, K. and Freiberg, J. (1996) Nuts! Southwest Airlines' crazy recipe for business and personal success, Austin, TX: Bard Press.