Pitopito kōrero


Blue and Green Technology Conference focuses on combatting climate crisis

12 December 2022
Some 240 entrepreneurs, researchers, policy makers, investors and social innovators gathered 7-8 December in Tāmaki Makaurau Ƶfor Aotearoa New Zealand’s cleantech event of the year.

The inaugural , developed by the United States Embassy & Consulate New Zealand and UniServices, the research application and commercialisation company of Waipapa Taumara Rau, University of Auckland, saw a veritable who’s who of New Zealand and American government and business share their ideas and expertise.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Climate Change James Shaw, Minister for Research, Science and Innovation Ayesha Verrall, and Minister of Transport Michael Wood spoke via video, while U.S. Ambassador Tom Udall and Rod Carr, chair of He Pou a Rangi | Climate Change Commission took the stage in person.

U.S. Ambassador Tom Udall and UniServices CEO Andy Shenk

Many inspiring innovators spoke, including Sean Simpson, founder and chief scientific officer of LanzaTech; Will Barker, co-founder and CEO of Mint Innovation; Matt Petersen, President and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI); Audrey Zibelman, a member of President Biden’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council; Anthony DeOrsey, research manager of Cleantech Group; Alice Havill, business fellow with Breakthrough Energy; and Ian Short, co-founder of The Connective.

Bringing together different players was a major goal of the conference, and it worked – there was plenty of kōrero (conversation) between new connections and a consensus grew that the only way to solve the climate crisis is to collaborate through “co-opetition.”

Trade and finance for change

One major theme of the discussions was that international agreements, including trade agreements, can be major forces for climate-positive change.

Historically, trade agreements have “tended to pull in the opposite direction” from international climate change agreements – but that’s starting to change, said Minister Shaw.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a Biden administration initiative involving 14 countries that collectively represent 40 percent of global GDP, names both trade and ‘clean energy, decarbonization and infrastructure’ among its four key pillars.

“Trade rules can and should support climate action,” said Mark Sinclair, New Zealand chief negotiator for the IPEF.

Ambassador Udall agreed that trade, particularly climate-friendly supply chains, can be a “game changer.” However, more capital is necessary to invest in innovation, nurture the next generation of clean technologies and scale them, he said.

The U.S. administration is committed to the goal set in 2009 of mobilising US$100 billion a year for climate action in developing countries, but working with the private sector could mobilise trillions, said Udall.

Professor Christine Woods speaking

Real decarbonisation

Another major theme of the conference was the need to take real action on emission removal.

“Offsets aren’t removals,” said Carr of the Climate Change Commission. “Offsets have become a lie we tell ourselves and a fraud on our children.”

Part of the answer could involve carbon sequestration. Several speakers focused on the potential of technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide. However, more needs to be done to cut emissions fast, other speakers emphasised.

The world uses 100 million barrels of oil a day, so to displace that amount, cleantech needs to scale fast, said Simpson of LanzaTech.

LanzaTech uses microorganisms to convert carbon from industrial waste streams into biofuels, and it does so at scale, not only displacing fossil fuels but also bringing carbon-based energy into a circular process. The company is also working on using similar principles to make other products that are carbon-negative, fixing carbon that originates in industrial waste streams.

Other speakers touted more alternatives to fossil fuels including green ammonia and hydrogen. The message was that these technologies aren’t either-or but and-and. Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Chris Allison of the U.S. Embassy said not only is there no single solution, there isn’t even a single category of climate action that’s more important than another.

“Offsets aren’t removal. Offsets have become a lie we tell ourselves and a fraud on our children.”

Rod Carr, Chair, Pou a Rangi | Climate Change Commission

Building a cleantech ecosystem

To build a world where myriad companies and organisations are tackling the climate crisis, more needs to be done to nurture cleantech innovation, multiple speakers said.

DeOrsey, who authored the '' report commissioned by Callaghan Innovation, said New Zealand is behind most small advanced economies in key ways. New Zealand has fewer cleantech companies trying to raise capital – and those that try struggle.

“New Zealand needs to innovate like a Muay Thai fighter” – through combinations of surprise moves rather than knockout punches, said DeOrsey. In more concrete terms, that means concentrating on niche areas and developing clusters in those areas.

Closing performance

New Zealanders also need to think big, to “shout loudly” about companies that are doing well and embrace international investors from places such as Silicon Valley, said Sir Stephen Tindall, founder of The Warehouse Group.

Page Crahan, general manager of Tapestry, X’s moonshot for the electric grid, said we need to tap into the “beginner’s mindset” we had as children to bring in breakthrough technology and radical solutions to tackle the huge problems we face.

Climate and energy justice

A major theme of the conference was that decarbonising must go hand in hand with equity.

Energy needs to remain affordable and reliable, without poorer people ending up with polluting older technologies, said Zibelman.

Part of making cleantech available to everyone is ensuring it can be rapidly deployed and used everywhere without incompatible systems such as different chargers, said Zibelman.

“The physics are pretty much the same everywhere, so we should be looking for sameness wherever we can.”

Cleantech needs to be inclusive of all genders, said Professor , Theresa Gattung Chair for Women in Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland.

Woods gave the startling statistic that only two percent of venture capital goes to female founders. Simply getting young women into STEM isn’t enough – more needs to be done to address systemic sexism and harassment, she said.

Not only must Indigenous people, knowledge and lands be treated with respect, they must have the opportunity to lead in cleantech, said several speakers.

Newly promoted Associate Professor of Waipapa Taumata Rau said the Māori worldview emphasises duties to both past and future generations. This worldview can reframe the way we see business and innovation.

“Being a good ancestor is a mindset consistent with a worldview that says you’re part of nature, not apart from nature,” said Hikuroa.

Havill of Breakthrough Energy said the greatest value of New Zealand cleantech might be in its ability to bring in mātauranga Māori and a different kaupapa – way of operating – based on holistic values.

“Being a good ancestor is a mindset consistent with a worldview that says you’re part of nature, not apart from nature.”

Associate Professor Dan Hikuroa

Tui Kaumoana and Tori McNoe of UniServices talked about creating structures to assess Indigenous intellectual property and build businesses that take a te ao Māori perspective. Companies and researchers have to consider their responsibilites to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which might mean partnering with Māori from the outset and considering how company or licensing structures meet commitments to Māori, they said.

A Māori view of success includes people and land as well as profit, multiple speakers said. Hēmi Rolleston, who is general manager te ao Māori and science services at Scion, gave the example of the Minginui Nursery, which is both reforesting the country with native plants and providing jobs in a remote area where there were formerly almost none.

“They’re doing okay on their balance sheet but they’re doing much better off their balance sheet,” said Rolleston. “How do you measure rangatahi who can see their future?”

McNoe also spoke about the rangatahi (youth) who make up the bulk of the Māori population and will therefore drive the future and its economy. She used a whakataukī (proverb) to sum up:

“Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua. We walk to the future with our eyes fixed on the past.”


The Blue & Green Technology Conference was supported by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, Callaghan Innovation, Ara Ake, Tātaki ƵUnlimited, and the U.S. Commercial Service.