Kennedy Graham

Climate change post-Durban: Still “punching above our weight”…?

by Kennedy Graham

Yesterday was just one of those days.

I experienced, yet again, one of those apocryphal exchanges with Dr Nick Smith on climate change.

Those who perceive global climate change as a competitive sport will be heartened to hear Minister Smith assure Parliament that New Zealand is punching above its weight in the negotiations. This is through the footwork and skill of Mr Groser.

The reason for the question was my concern that New Zealand had missed the deadline in sending its submission to the UN about increasing levels of ambition in greenhouse gas emission reductions.  At the Durban conference last December, parties had invited themselves to do so by 28 February.

The response was that only a few had met the deadline and New Zealand’s response would be sent before long.  This is OK – the real issue was not a few days here or there.

The real issue was the underlying gravity of the global emissions ‘ambition gap’ that has emerged since Copenhagen in 2009.  The question – the question of all time – is whether the NZ Government, even Ministers Groser / Smith themselves, accurately comprehend the enormity of the challenge before us all.

So, the critical third question I asked was – had he drawn to Cabinet’s attention the size of the required global cuts by 2020 for the planet to have half a chance of staying within a 2°C temperature rise?  No, the Minister essentially said, but he and his colleague read all sorts of reports, so not to worry.

The fact is that, as the UN reports, annual global emissions, currently hovering at about 50 Gigatonnes (50 billion tonnes) and projected to rise under BAU to 56 Gt. by 2020, must in fact fall to 44 Gt. in that year.

That’s a 12% drop in total emissions of the global community.  The UN has pointed out that the rich ‘developed’ countries of the North should cut by 30% (range: 20% – 40%).

New Zealand is one of these.  What has it committed to?  A 15% cut (range: 10% – 20%) provided other countries do the same.*

So, in short, we are committing to half what is required of us to ‘do our fair share’ in global emission reductions to save the planet from dangerous climate change.  But averting dangerous climate change is a binding legal obligation we signed up to in the Framework Convention in 1992.

And do we have any special obligation to our Pacific island neighbours, given that sea-level rise will force their total relocation some stage in the future?

Well, yes, thinks the Minister, but let’s not forget one thing: we are remarkably unimportant.  And despite that, Minister Groser is achieving extraordinary things out there and we truly are punching above our weight.

Besides, Minister Smith has never yet seen any credible plan to achieve that scale of reduction without extraordinary pain.  His colleagues nod widely.  I seek to table the Green Party’s 2009 plan, Getting There, which explored how this could be achieved.  The Speaker moves to prevent the document being tabled, lest it waste the time of the House.

Yet another enlightening exchange on the most critical challenge confronting God’s own.

Our current gross emissions are some 75 million tonnes (net = 60 m.t.).  This is projected to rise, under BAU to 88 m.t. in 2020 (net = 63 m.t.).  If we are to reduce by 30%, as the UN prescribes and the EU has committed to, we would cut from 75 m t. to 52 m.t.

If we achieved that, we would not be a leader, nor would we be a follower.  We would simply be doing what the UN prescribes in the interests of saving the planet – or, more accurately, protecting humanity from a very angry planet.

Instead, we are halfway short of the prescription – punching, you understand, above our weight.

Let’s see what the NZ submission says to the UN – when it enters the ring.

*Annex I cuts of 30 percent and NZ of 15 percent are off 1990 baseline. Whereas global cut of 12 percent is off 2010.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Fri, March 9th, 2012   

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