Kennedy Graham

Doing our fair share? Watch the Brits: assessing our Climate Change responsibilities

by Kennedy Graham

Well-known columnist Colin James recently observed that there are rumblings from on high in UN climate change circles that New Zealand risks losing its status as an earnest player and honest broker because the current ETS is “loose and without a cap”, and because the Government’s 2020 emissions reduction target “has so many conditions that it doesn’t amount to a row of beans.”


The Green Party had formed this general view some time back, criticising Labour’s ‘08 ETS (while helping to vote it in) for being too weak, and opposing National’s ‘09 amendments for weakening it to the point of being totally supine.

The latest policy announcements by National flatten the current ETS to a scheme that will make it unlikely to cut gross emissions by one tonne, and relying exclusively on forestry to meet our modest Kyoto Protocol target.

One of National’s election pledges was to ensure that any changes to the ETS would be fiscally neutral.  Its latest moves would impose a net fiscal burden of $328 million – so a Question in the House was in order.

The Associate Minister’s reply was a model of (complete) circumlocution: the additional cost was consistent with the pledge because it ought not be a ‘tax-grabbing revenue earner’ from households and the productive sector.

In fact, as the penetrating book The Carbon Challenge makes clear, the current ETS is, exactly, a transfer of wealth from the households to the corporate sector.

The Minister’s second reason for the ETS changes was to serve the interests of the ‘wider economy’ rather than a narrow Government interest.

In fact, the underlying rationale for emission trading schemes, everywhere, is to protect the global economy, of which the New Zealand-wide economy is a component part, from short-term disruptions caused by extreme climate events that are beginning to occur already. We are all in this together – Government, households, corporates; farmers; rich countries, poor countries; everyone.

The Government unwittingly separates the GFC from the Global Ecological Crisis, preoccupied with the former, essentially unaware of the latter, and to extent it acknowledges global-national problems out there, wrongly believes it can ‘balance economic opportunity with environmental responsibility’.

I invited the Government to consider emulating the British model on national climate change policy.  The UK Climate Change Act 2008 establishes an independent Commission, a self-binding emissions reduction of 80% by 2050, and five-yearly carbon budgets along the way.  It is the product of several decades of political leadership over the past two decades, from successive British governments, both Conservative and Labour.

The New Zealand Minister had not heard of it.  Whatever.  He does not want Britain’s economic mess. We have a clear, credible ETS, over here which, incidentally, we must not unduly ‘ratchet up’ in these globally-fragile economic conditions.

Oh, and by the way, lest we get it wrong.  Deferring carbon obligations in the NZ ETS is not subsidising polluters – it is ensuring the absence of a cost on them.

There now.