Wise Response Press Release re Low Carbon Report

A PDF is available here: WR Op Ed on Prod Comm’s Final Report. 18Sept2018

Opinion Press Release:

Low Carbon Report exhibits dangerous political compromise

After decades of sitting on our hands, the simple the act of commissioning an inquiry into becoming a low carbon economy has been hugely positive on public perception.  But the Productivity Commission’s final report on transitioning to a low carbon economy seems flawed in a way that could seriously undermine our future efforts to combat climate change.  These are conclusions of the Otago-based but NZ-wide Wise Response Society, according to its Chair, Sir Alan Mark. 

It is self-evident that the earth’s life supporting capacity sets the upper bound for our continued safe occupation of planet earth.  Currently, the combined ecological footprint of the way we do business and our lifestyles exceeds that capacity by more than 50%, which, if not reversed, can only lead to a sticky end.  Indeed, the imperative to transition to a lower carbon economy at all, is but one expression of that excess.  

“Thus” Sir Alan says, “the key flaw in the assessment is the Commissioners refusal to consider the transition in this context of ecological overshoot and the profound impact it will have on correctly framing the issue and on our ability  to remedy it”.  

And while some technological changes will help, the Commission appears over-reliant on these, while the more fundamental changes required to respond to our energy and material limits, are not included.  Neither are the implications for our international transport (including air travel which is clearly an intrinsic element of our domestic economy), or changes to food and tourism sectors properly addressed.

Terms with insufficient scope to tackle the deep seated issues has been a reoccurring issue with recent inquiries, including on the Zero Carbon Bill. Thus, our fear now, he said, is that key flaws in the report will be carried over into terms of reference for the proposed Climate Change Commission, when it is crucial it has the expertise and scope to operate without constraint in recommending whatever it considers necessary to achieve the goal of net zero carbon by 2050.   

Conflicted terms of reference

The previous Government defined the purpose of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry as to “identify options for how New Zealand could reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions through a transition towards a lower emissions future, while at the same time continuing to grow incomes and wellbeing”. The Terms also required “increasing wellbeing … including sustainability …increasing equality, social cohesion, and resilience to risk”. 

“Given the close relationship between GHG emission levels and GDP, many would agree that growing incomes, while at the same time slashing our emissions, might not just be feasible.  Moreover, it is common knowledge that the global economy has been sulking ever since the 2008 Global Financial Crash, which we know has economics experts scratching their heads” he added. 

Growth ideology persists

Yet for decades, systems modelling has predicted the global economy will fail due primarily to resource constraints.  This prediction is supported by steadily diminishing energy returned from each new unit of fossil fuel extracted – be it oil, gas or coal. A “no growth” scenario would literally reconfigure the “decision space” for a transition that is the subject of their enquiry.  It is not a question of if, but when, yet that scenario is still entirely ignored in the Final Report.  “We provided examples that contraction is already happening, and we argued for focusing on the how to handle limits collaboratively, rather than just the same old expansion and more through competitive advantage ” Sir Alan added.

Treating gases differently

Perhaps due to political pressure, the Commission’s emphasis seems to have become focussed on “low emissions” rather than “zero emissions”. They may believe that this could be compatible with the 2oC target, but it seems a high risk approach leading to a 50 – 100 year overshoot before coming anywhere near a target like 1.5oC. Importantly, some changes triggered by an overshoot can be irreversible – e.g. collapse of part of the Greenland ice sheet or permafrost collapse, or a transition in thermohaline circulation – and that is before getting into all the biophysical and social impacts. Thus, peak climate forcing is important and making exceptions for short term agricultural gases, deviates from international practice and increases the risk of losing control of the climate.

Other issues

Other errors of judgement Wise Response identify include an over-reliance on forestry to offset gross carbon emissions (particularly those from fossil fuels) when it’s high risk and at best, just buys time.  They maintain optimism in technological innovation as well as the concepts of “decoupling” emissions from economic growth and carbon capture and storage, when their feasibility at scale is still unproven.

Helpful recommendations

Recommendations the Society does applaud include the clear statement that our very small share of the total global emissions (<0.2%), does not justify inaction, as about a quarter of global emissions come from countries with emissions less than 1%; we need a system of emissions budgets recommended by an independent advisory Climate Change Commission; the advantages to be had of moving urgently against emissions; and the massive opportunity for offsetting by restructuring our transport systems. 


Political challenge

A key observation Wise Response endorses is that “shifting to a low-emissions trajectory will critically depend on cross-party political leadership and fortitude”.


Wise Response says that they are not blind to the political conundrum facing the Government between recognising the extent of change required by NZ and other nations together to restabilize the climate and that some of the measures required to achieve it are likely to be deeply unpopular. 

But what we deny at our peril is that the prerequisite for a productive economy is a stable climate and sustainable resources, so the transition pathway must be determined by what achieves that and not what we are willing to forgo.  

“Our next, and possibly last, opportunity to get this right is through an adequately briefed, independent and representative Climate Change Commission.  If all political parties and sectors fully appreciated the gravity of our situation, we are sure there would be no demand for political compromises that might hinder genuine analysis or delay essential action” Sir Alan said. 

“It’s also apparent from efforts by other states to shift to a lower-carbon economy that our government will need to be prepared to explain the need for some possibly harsh new policy to the public, so that they are willing to accept them in our common interest for the younger and future generations welfare ” he concluded. 

Further information:

Alan Mark PhD, ΦΒΚ (Duke), Hon DSc (Otago), FRSNZ, KNZM

Emeritus Professor

Ph: +64-3-479-7573; Pt: +64-3-476-3229; Mob. 027 2473093

email: alan.mark@otago.ac.nz


Wise Response AGM, 28th August 2018

The Wise Response AGM will be held in the Centre for Sustainability Seminar Room, Castle St,  Dunedin from 3.30 – 5.30pm, Tuesday 28th August 2018.

The committee can number up to 14 members, can co-opt and is currently:

Alan Mark (Chair), Bob Lloyd, Brian Turner, Donna Watson, Janet Stephenson, Jim Simpson, Jocelyn Harris, Liz Slooten, Mark Jackson, Nathan Surendran, Pat Scott, Philip Temple, Rob Lawson (Treasurer), Lisa Ellis, Dugald MacTavish (Secretary).


(a) Minutes of the previous Meeting
(b) Correspondence
(c) Chairperson’s report on the business of the Society
(d) Treasurer’s report on the Society’s finances and the Statement of Accounts
(e) Any Annual Plan (none)
(f) Election of Committee Members which will consist of between 4 and 14 members.
(g) Election of Officers (Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Spokesperson and any other that the meeting decides)
(h) Fixing the annual subscription/donations (if any) for the ensuing year
(i) Confirming patron(s)
(j) Motions
(k) General business and programme for 2018/19

Wise Response 2018 ANNUAL REPORT



Wise Response Inc Submission to the Zero Carbon Bill, July 2018

Wise Response has released its submission to the Zero Carbon Bill.

It is available to download as a PDF (1MB) here: Wise Response Society Submission on the Zero Carbon Bill 19 July 2018 Final

We welcome comments on the submission. Please email these to secretary@wiseresponse.org.nz

Submissions to the Zero Carbon Act may be viewed here: Ministry for the Environment.


The Otago Daily Times have covered Climate Change and Wise Response’s position in their weekend magazine.




Dunedin Science Festival – Climate Change Forum

Climate change: Why, when and how do we respond?

Very brief introductions by experts from Otago University and Victoria University, including James Renwick, will be followed by discussion and questions from the audience.

We will discuss environmental, human health and social impacts of climate change, renewable energy, the pros and cons of offsetting, how much time, money and other resources should be spent on mitigation vs adaptation?

How prepared is Dunedin and Otago for Climate Change?


  • James Renwick: Climate change – see video here
  • Prof Bob Lloyd: Energy
  • Alex MacMillan: Health
  • Susan Walker: Biota
  • Lisa Ellis: Social – see video here
  • Associate Professor Janet Stephenson: Summary/Conclusion – see video here

Event will be held in the St David Lecture Theatre Complex, St David Street, University of Otago


Wise Response Submission to the Social Services and Community Select Committee on the Child Poverty Reduction Bill. 2 May, 2018.

Wise Response Submission to the Social Services and Community Select Committee on the Child Poverty Reduction Bill. 2 May, 2018



Wise Response is a Dunedin-based but New Zealand-wide Society www.wiseresponse.org.nz , launched in 2013, with the purpose of persuading the New Zealand Parliament, Government and New Zealand society in general, to confront and respond effectively to any confirmed threats arising from the question: “As demand for growth exceeds earth’s physical limits causing unprecedented risks, what knowledge and changes do we need to secure New Zealand’s future well-being?”

As Chairperson I conducted a nation-wide tour that year with 11 public meetings from Auckland to Invercargill to explain the Society’s purpose and strategy, and gain support. The Society has no formal membership beyond its committee of 15 persons and its Patron, Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC.

We received over 5,000 signatures for our petition to Parliament in April 2014, that recommended they undertake a Risk Assessment of New Zealand, in five subjects as follows:

  1. Financial security: the risk of a sudden, deepening, or prolonged global financial crisis.
  2. Energy and climate security: the risk of continuing our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.
  3. Business continuity the risk exposure of all New Zealand business, including farming, to a lower carbon economy.
  4. Ecological/Environmental security: the risks associated with failing to genuinely protect both land-based and marine ecosystems and their natural processes.
  5. Genuine well-being: the risk of persisting with a subsidised, debt-based economy, preoccupied with maximising consumption and GDP and increasing inequality.

The Appeal sought a commitment to a quantitative, cross-party risk assessment of how and exactly where New Zealand is exposed – environmentally, socially and economically – as a rational, integrated basis for planning a more secure future. The submission was referred to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, with a hearing in July 1, 2015. The majority response was negative; claiming Government was adequately addressing the issues of concern, but the three minority parties (Labour, NZ First, Greens) offered strong endorsement.

With two meetings in Wellington, the Society facilitated development of a Position Statement and Action Plan for ENGOs on climate change, under the name Climate Consensus Coalition Aotearoa (CCCA). This proposed a goal and a process by which to effectively meet the spirit and intent of the Paris Accord of Dec. 2015. So far, the total of individuals and the membership of organisations which have formally endorsed it, numbers approximately 330,000 from about 100 organisations.

In August, 2017 we made presentations of the CCCA Position Statement and Action Plan to MPs at Parliament, on behalf of its creators and supporters. There were two presentations – one in the morning to GLOBE-NZ members (chaired by Dr Kennedy Graham) and the second to an invited audience of all MPs in the Beehive Theatrette, hosted by GLOBE-NZ.

Our Society has also made formal submissions on several other relevant issues, including the Emissions Trading Scheme, the Resource Legislation Amendment

Bill, the Productivity Commission, the Otago Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement. We also participated in Earth Day and the launch of Our Climate Declaration in Dunedin. On behalf of the Society I presented a resolution to the Royal Society Fellows AGM in October 2014, which resulted in the Society producing and publishing two substantial commissioned reports in 2016, on the Implications and the Mitigation of Climate Change in New Zealand.

More recently, Jan. 2018, the Society organised a public meeting in Dunedin on “Climate Change issues: from Bonn COP23 and beyond”, Central and Local Government responses, addressed by the Hon James Shaw, Minister of Climate Change, Mr Dave Cull, President of Local Government NZ and Hon Clare Curran, with some 400 attendees.


The Wise Response Society supports the Government’s efforts to reduce poverty in New Zealand, as quickly and effectively as possible. We believe there is no moral justification for people in New Zealand having to live in poverty. All New Zealanders should have access to a basic standard of living that should include adequate food, housing, education, welfare and health care, and where appropriate, meaningful employment. The overwhelming majority of international (e.g., Universal Declaration of Human Rights), moral and religious codes state that society has an obligation to provide the social and economic institutions so that people do not have to live in poverty.

In recent decades New Zealand has adopted neoliberal economic policies based on the priority of markets to determine the allocation of goods and services, and a downsizing of the state to play a regulating and compensatory role. This has led to the widespread growth in poverty and in environmental degradation, including potentially catastrophic climate disruption. There are many reasons for the failure of this philosophy and its policies, at both theoretical and practical levels, which we can elaborate on as necessary, but central to our submission is the moral imperative that we have an obligation to sustain and care for all the people who live in New Zealand, particularly our children, and protect them from the consequences of poverty.

We applaud the stated aims of the Bill which are to reduce child poverty and improve the overall well-being of children. Its stated purpose is to: encourage governments and society to focus on reducing child poverty; to hold governments to account against published targets; and to require transparent reporting about levels of child poverty.

To achieve its purpose the Bill would specify child poverty measures and ensure agencies work together to improve the well-being of children. It would also require: specific child poverty targets to be set, reports about child poverty to be produced and published independently of Ministers. The Government of the day would adopt, publish, and review a Government strategy for improving the well-being of all children, with a particular focus on child poverty and the needs of children at greater risk.

We agree with Prime Minister Ardern in introducing this Bill, that “for a country with relative abundance, New Zealand has the opportunity, and the moral obligation, to ensure children are free from the burden of poverty.          

This Bill is the framework for measuring and targeting child poverty. It sets in law four primary and six supplementary measures of poverty and material hardship. It requires the government of the day to then set targets to reduce child poverty. It requires governments to develop a comprehensive child well-being strategy that keeps child poverty top of mind, and keeps the focus on improving the living standards of children.”

Our Society is particularly concerned with the persistence of, and the increase in, the numbers of children under the very low-income, 40% of the after-housing costs median moving line (140,000 children). There is thus a strong case for making this one of the primary measures for the allocation of resources sufficient to explain how families might fall below this line. This particular measure signifies the most serious end of child poverty and so policies are urgently needed to ensure that no child falls below this line.

Finally, our Society applauds the various proposals contained in this Bill and we agree that tackling and measuring child poverty is complicated and demanding, but our children are relying on civil society to act and so we strongly support this Bill.

Our Society has also endorsed and added our support for the Children’s Sector Joint Submission on this Bill and we also endorse the detailed submission presented by the Child Poverty Action Group.


Sir Alan Mark FRSNZ, Chair, Wise Response Society Inc.,

Wise Response Presentation to Engineers for Social Responsibility

High Expectations for the Climate Commission;
Will Government’s action push us fast enough?
A seminar was presented, outlining the issues behind the push for the establishment of a Climate Change Commission to the Engineers for Social Responsibility Inc.
  Speakers included:
 – Alan Mark:  Introduction: NZ’s Climate Change Programme
 – Dugald MacTavish: Meeting the GHG Target: the Stabilisation Wedge
 – Bob Lloyd:  The Transport Sector
 – Janet Stephenson:  The Industrial Sector,  the Energy Sector
 – Hugh Campbell:  The Land Use Sector
 – Nathan Surendran:  The Waste Sector
 – Lisa Ellis: Ethical and Social Aspects.
A PDF of the presentations is available here (2MB): WR_ESR_Compiled_presntations_2018.