A school strike for climate protest in Wellington, Aotearoa.

The recent IPCC climate change report was an absolute bombshell unlike any other previously delivered by climate scientists. 

It found that even if the world manages to limit global temperature increases, many impacts of climate change are already inevitable and irreversible.  It also found our timeline to take action to avoid the worst impacts is much shorter than we thought.

If a silver lining can be identified anywhere in the extraordinary report, it was the message that pathways still exist that could limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees, but only if all countries act immediately and together to radically reduce emissions. 

Clearly, Aotearoa has some tough decisions to make about methane and agriculture, but that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook.  The almost visceral reaction from some New Zealanders to the government’s clean car feebate shows how uncomfortable many of us remain with the prospect of change.

What will define Aotearoa’s response to this crisis, and what will be our part in the solution?

One bold move we should all be on board with as a country is the large-scale production of green hydrogen, not only as a clean fuel to make deep cuts in our own emissions, but in the economies of other countries. 

We’re a country defined by looking outwards, by our commitment to global institutions and our reliance on global trade relationships. And we've been dealt one of the best hands possible as the world’s major economies prioritise green hydrogen as a source of clean energy for the future.

We have the natural resources, transmission assets, deep water ports, industrial sites and skills base to be an early mover and leader.  It’s a competitive advantage that puts us years ahead of other countries, and is one that will bring benefits on a global scale, not only for us here in Aotearoa.

Meridian CEO Neal Barclay

The McKinsey Report states that hydrogen has the potential to mitigate between 23-53% of the country's gross long-lived greenhouse gas emissions, and it can achieve this in the sectors that burn through much of the oil and coal we currently import from overseas. 

The modelling shows that by 2030, half of new heavy trucks in the South Island could be running on hydrogen, as well as all of our diesel trains and many of our buses on the mainland.  We could replace the fossil fuels we currently burn to make fertilisers, and expand its use to other chemicals over time.

I know that exporting green hydrogen has its critics.  But the more I think about the messages in the IPCC report and the need for collaboration on a global scale, the more I believe that decarbonising economies overseas is as much of a moral responsibility for us as keeping our own house in order. 

The fact is we could produce hydrogen competitively for export while at the same time, accelerate domestic applications, particularly in heavy transport.  This would make a massive contribution to reducing emissions in places like Korea and Japan, and demonstrate that Aotearoa is taking a strong and global approach to climate change. 

Hydrogen is not going to be the silver bullet that delivers us from the stark scenarios being painted by climate scientists.  But we’re now in a situation where every opportunity to act must be treated with urgency.  Aotearoa has been handed one of these opportunities in the form of green hydrogen. It could well be our defining response to the greatest challenge of our lifetimes.

Neal Barclay is the Chief Executive of Meridian Energy.