by Kennedy Graham
Rio has come and gone, and so have the New Zealanders. I am off tomorrow, to New York on a different assignment for a few days. Then off again, to home where I have laid my head twice in two months.
What did New Zealand achieve at Rio?
I have blogged on Minister Adams’ speech, and shall not repeat that. Just a few quick additional notes.
New Zealand genuinely aspires to play its part at UN conferences. Our diplomats are capable and well-meaning. We realise how small we are, so we do not wish to strut around the stage courting a fall. We consciously focus on a few issues and seek to add value. Nothing wrong with that.
At Rio, this was essentially oceans and fossil fuel subsidies. The NZG signed up to an Oceans Partnership, and called for a medium-term phase-out in fossil fuel subsidies.
All good. The oceans need to be cleaned up and fast, not least the Pacific. But the oceans document is simply a political accord with stated intentions. It does not give a mandate for negotiations for a legally-binding treaty to commence.
And the subsidy call is excellent. The international community needs to phase out, fast, its production and consumption subsidies, which are in the range of $500 billion per year. But this is a call to others to do something. Our government denies that there are any fossil-fuel subsidies in New Zealand – see Nick Smith’s answer to my oral question earlier. But it is a matter of definition. As I pointed out in my Adams’ blog, we have our own soft form of hidden subsidies – you bet we do.
For the rest, New Zealand spun its spin. We portrayed ourselves as clean and green, and active in sustainable development.
This is a passing irony for a government that, on assuming office in late-‘08, effectively banned reference to the word ‘sustainability’ – until its ideological fervour waned as it picked up on the international community’s focus of the past two decades.
Apart from the above two modest or self-serving gestures, perhaps there was only spin left to do. In its pre-conference submission, the Government looked forward to a ‘focused, action-oriented outcome’. My immediately-preceding blog showed how unfocused and inactive the emerging declaration is likely to be. Why is that?
I shall explore the general reasons why, in my final blog, at the end of the conference. But for New Zealand’s part in this, we need only read further into its submission:
“New Zealand considers pursuit of a green economy to be a pragmatic approach, not a new paradigm.”
Here in one, is why the international community is struggling so massively, and why New Zealand is in the midst of the earnest group of lemmings that are our representative governments, head down, assembled for the final day, at Rio.