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23 Mar 2023

Something to think about...

Why we need to look beyond just cutting emissions when it comes to climate change.

When we talk about climate change, there’s a lot of focus (as there should be) on our need to decarbonise and cut emissions so that we enable Aotearoa New Zealand to meet its Net Zero 2050 aspirations.

Christchurch Airport’s already net zero for our airport operations – the journey to get there has taught us a lot about emissions reduction and we’re sharing this knowledge with businesses around the world. We’re also very focused on doing all we can to enable our airline partners to remove their emissions too.

But decarbonisation is only one element of the work New Zealand needs to undertake to address climate change.

The other main element can be summed up in two words: adaptation and resilience. To adapt to a changing climate we need to build resilience, particularly, into our infrastructure.

New Zealand cannot escape the fact it is one of the most geographically-isolated developed countries on earth and our population is spread across multiple islands. That makes us uniquely reliant on air connectivity.

There is no other transport system that can get people and products to, from and around New Zealand as quickly and efficiently as aviation does.

Our domestic flight routes span over 20,000 kilometres and are enabled by less than 100 kilometres of runways.

This comparatively low level of ground infrastructure is an advantage. It means air connectivity can be quickly restored after disruption and is often a critical lifeline to shut-off communities. It can takes weeks and months (if not longer) to restore efficient land transport connections when infrastructure such as bridges and roads are damaged.

Pre-COVID aviation supported around 12% of New Zealand’s GDP. It enabled our $17 billion per annum international tourism economy, delivered $23 billion worth of imports and exports and supported 329,000 jobs.

High-quality air connectivity is an important driver of New Zealand’s social and economic wellbeing and our unique reliance on it means it will remain so.

New Zealand will not continue to thrive if our aviation network is impaired.

Ensuring resilience takes a long-term planning approach.

We need to stretch beyond 30-year horizons to consider how our regions will grow and change and how we can enable them to remain well connected through well located infrastructure.

We also need to reduce our enabling infrastructure’s vulnerability to climate change impacts. The Reserve Bank has highlighted $18.49 billion worth of buildings, 2,000 kilometres of roads, 4,000 kilometres of water pipelines and 14 airports may be exposed to coastal flooding in the event of 30 cm of sea-level rise over the next 30 years.

Ensuring access to resilient supplies of renewable energy is also critical, with parts of New Zealand’s energy network already under pressure. For some areas, like Queenstown, the electricity network is near capacity and its ability to expand is limited. This negatively impacts both the cost of electricity and the network’s resilience.

The pressure on the network will increase as we replace fossil fuel powered technology with electric alternatives to meet our Net Zero 2050 goals. Transpower is forecasting electricity demand will increase by 68% by 2050. It says 40 new, grid-scale generation and batteries projects will be required before 2035.

Given electric and green hydrogen aircraft are expected to be flying in New Zealand skies in the future, it’s important airports are working to enable airlines to introduce these low emission planes now.

It’s equally important that we’re working to build resilience in to the aviation system now so we don’t jeopardise the long-term ability of communities to maintain or improve their standard of living.

Afterall, recent weeks have shown New Zealand that climate change is here and its impacts are lasting.