Kennedy Graham

Rhetoric and reality – New Zealand at Rio

by Kennedy Graham

Environment Minister, Amy Adams, presented New Zealand’s statement Wednesday afternoon. In some ways it was a good statement. As required, it sought to portray the Government in the most positive light possible. As required, my job is to constructively critique it.

The statement bore little resemblance to the draft I had suggested yesterday, but that also is unsurprising.

My draft sought not to portray New Zealand in a negative light. Contemporary 21st century politics cannot be reduced to a simplistic binary form. What it aimed to do was demonstrate, in an act of intellectual honesty, what we promised in 1992, and what we failed to deliver.

The present Minister made no reference to our 1992 undertakings.

What she did was highlight certain claims:

- We have a very green land;

- We are committed to the principle of sustainable development;

- We seek to combine economic development with environmental responsibility;

- We have 8% of our coastal (territorial) waters under marine reserve;

- We were one of the first to introduce a comprehensive emissions trading scheme;

- We led in introducing the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Alliance;

- We propose a medium-term phase-out in the global fossil-fuel subsidies.

What she did not do was acknowledge certain facts:

- Our waterways are polluted, with the Manawatu qualifying as one of the world’s worst (‘Beyond Rio: NZ Environmental Record since the Original Earth Summit; WWF, May 2012, p. 16 ff);

- The Government has removed ‘sustainable development’ as a purpose of local authorities in the new bill before Parliament;

- This Government maintains a dichotomous distinction between economic opportunity and environmental responsibility, and places the former ahead of the latter;

- Our marine reserves cover 0.3% of the territorial waters and EEZ combined;

- Our ETS is supine to the point of total ineffectiveness in reducing quantitative emissions, its ‘comprehensive’ nature is undercut by the deferral of major sectors (transport, agriculture); and our emissions have increased since Rio ’92 by 16%, and the proposed lignite extraction will increase that to an obscene extent;.

- The potential to cut agricultural emissions on existing technology is 16% (UNEP: Bridging the Emissions Gap; Nov. 2011);

- We maintain far-reaching hidden fossil-fuel subsidies in New Zealand, through reduced royalties, tax credits, official visits abroad to attract exploration here, and – above all – the celebrated ETS which results in a transfer of wealth from the household to the corporate sector.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Thu, June 21st, 2012   

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