Climate Action in Focus: Highlights and Insights from the Carbon and Energy Professionals Conference

As Gold Partners of the Carbon and Energy Professionals (CEP) association, we are immensely proud to have sponsored this enlightening event for the third consecutive year. We're truly grateful to the dedicated team who crafted this conference into a robust platform for illuminating discussions, bridging the divide between current challenges and future opportunities. It's through this continued collaboration with CEP that we have been able to contribute to these essential dialogues. Now, let us delve into the insights. 

Are we making an actual difference in climate change? 

Climate conferences often kick off with a bleak snapshot of the global environmental landscape, dwelling on the lack of substantial progress, roadblocks to united global action, and ever-mounting greenhouse gas emissions. The recent Carbon and Energy Professionals event in Wellington, however, marked a departure from this traditional narrative, infusing the atmosphere with a much-needed breath of optimism. 

At this technical summit, the spotlight was firmly on policies, projects, and technologies that are already in action, making a difference in the real world. Instead of a litany of problems and barriers, attendees were regaled with stories of tangible progress and concrete steps taken towards achieving specific environmental outcomes. It was refreshing and inspiring to be part of a climate conference where the focus was on action, and to witness first-hand that meaningful changes are underway and projects are gaining traction. 

However, while the event was invigorating, it also underscored that we are not yet moving at the speed required to avert a climate catastrophe. Compounding this urgency was the troubling realization that the once-unified political resolve around climate action in New Zealand has fragmented in an election year, with short-term issues overshadowing the long-term climate crisis. 


What more can businesses achieve, and how? 

Despite the significant transition and adaptation challenges that lie ahead, the event highlighted the pressing need for organisations to seize sustainability as a competitive advantage. The conference offered encouraging evidence of an escalating pace of innovation, not just in technology, but also in enabling sectors like finance. 

To maintain this momentum, we must steadfastly pursue a course of collaboration and cooperation, invest in nurturing individual talents capable of spearheading our collective acceleration, and strive to stay united in our commitment to a more sustainable future. 


Summary of insights 

The event featured over 40 speakers in industries ranging from Finance to Engineering with several prominent voicing calling in from Overseas. Below is a snapshot of some of the sessions: 

  1. Justin Bean, author of “What could go right,” started the conference on an optimistic note, discussing his concept of "sustainable abundance". He emphasized the potential of sustainability as a business competitive advantage, amid the backdrop of rising emissions. Bean highlighted the rapid advancements in technology and policy adaptation as positive drivers for change, suggesting a potential pathway towards a sustainable future.
  2. John Clarke from Transpower spoke about the double-edged nature of economic electrification. As we increase renewable capacity and shift towards EVs, Clarke called for proactive investment, enhanced resilience against climate events, and the attraction of new talent into the energy sector. He underscored New Zealand's favourable position due to its low carbon capacity, but also noted the necessity for capable individuals to effect change. Learn more about how Transpower has made great strides in meaningful climate action.
  3. Andrew Knight, the Chief Executive at Gas Industry Co, shed light on New Zealand's considerable gas production and how its role will diminish but remain present in the future. Knight discussed the potential of biogas blending to decarbonize residential and commercial usage, and the potential use of emissions capture in transitional processes for industries and electricity generation. He also highlighted the existing capabilities for carbon capture within industrial processes that could be exploited further.
  4. Glen Smith from Airtech discussed the practical challenges of decarbonization projects, including logistical concerns and on-site upgrade difficulties. Smith stressed the importance of early de-risking of projects and the need for close collaboration with qualified professionals.
  5. Nicki Sutherland, GM at EECA, reflected on the performance of the GIDI Fund after three years. Despite significant successes such as the NZ steel deal, barriers for businesses wishing to decarbonise remain intact. Sutherland discussed an array of challenges from SME support needs to capability gaps. As a response, EECA is launching new programmes, including the GenLess campaign and expanding its product to SMEs. Sutherland emphasized the importance of initiatives like EECA in driving the early momentum in the transition to a more sustainable future.
  6. In a financing workshop, Steve Dixon from ANZ and Nicki Sutherland discussed the use of Energy Performance Contracts (EPCs) to fund decarbonisation projects, where payments come from savings rather than capex. The approach ring-fences savings and allocates them to the investment reducing the upfront cash requirement. However, this approach is not a silver bullet as it still impacts the client's balance sheet.
  7. Melanie Gall from Arizona State University introduced HazardAware, a software designed to increase awareness of natural hazard risks for coastal residents. The software aims to balance people's focus towards risks in addition to amenities while buying a house. Technical difficulties curtailed the presentation, but the tool stands as an innovative way to encourage climate-conscious decisions.
  8. Cristiano Marentes from Ara Ake showcased three examples of projects supported by Ara Ake that aim at fostering innovation in delivering a resilient future. These include a guide for community energy projects, a residential solar battery pilot, and a pilot with Kainga Ora to enable energy sharing between accounts. Marentes' examples show promise in developing a more dynamic energy system and addressing energy hardship.
  9. Finally, Debbie O’Byrne from BECA put forth a strong case for a circular economy to achieve a 1.5-degree world. She highlighted that while energy accounts for 55% of global emissions, the remaining comes from product usage, which is often overlooked. O'Byrne urged for a shift towards a circular economy, emphasising material reuse and adaptability. Her energetic talk peppered with facts added a contrasting perspective on resilience to the day's discussions.

Inspired by the insights shared at the Carbon and Energy Professionals conference? Take the next step in your sustainability journey by exploring our range of resources and tools designed to help businesses navigate the transition to a low-carbon economy.