Kennedy Graham

Climate change and New Zealand – Mr Groser leads us to the promised land…

by Kennedy Graham

Two months ago, international scientists reported that the Polar ice-cap had melted far faster than the IPCC anticipated, about 80% since 1980.  It might have its first ice-free day about 2015 (half a century ahead of expectations) and be completely ice-free around 2030-35. This was described as ‘terrifying news’ by the leading scientist, since it portends another step closer to the unpredictable ‘tipping-points’ that could seriously destabilise Earth’s climate.

Meanwhile, here down-under, the bill amending the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme has landed back on the floor of the House, albeit with a dull thud.  The Select Committee, having been given a truncated period to hear submissions in the name of democracy, reported back, by (Government) majority as if the 803 submissions had not been lodged.

So back in the House, the Bill goes into Committee of the Whole in the chamber and it is open for MPs to propose amendments (SOPs) to the Amendment Bill. This is indeed done by two MPs – Labour’s Moana Mackey and Green’s Kennedy Graham.  The Minister, Hon. Tim Groser, sits next to the Chairman.

My Supplementary Order Paper 147 would strengthen the ETS, sending genuine price signals to the national economy:

-       Accept the UN targets for emission reductions for New Zealand (range: 25%-40% off 1990 in 2020 and 80%-90% in 2050), rather the Govt.’s 10-15% and 50% respectively;

-       Introduce five-yearly quantitative budgets from 2016-50 to meet those targets;

-       Introduce measures to strengthen the ETS to achieve those targets and budgets;

-       Establish an independent Climate Change Commission and an Appeals Tribunal for relief.

I speak (here and here) to my SOP.  Labour supports it.  When the vote comes, Minister Groser casts a financial veto on the grounds that it affects fiscal issues, and also was submitted too late.  Accordingly it is not voted on.  This is done through the Chairman.  The Minister speaks not at all.

I submit a second SOP from the floor.  It would change the name of the Amendment Bill to the Climate Change Response (Emissions Encouragement) Amendment Bill.  I explain that this reflects an inescapable logic:

-       The Review Panel’s Report (Figure 2.1, p. 22) shows emissions increasing between 2010 and ’50 on the strength of the ETS as it currently operates.

-       If an Amendment Bill is then introduced that demonstrably weakens its provisions by deferring any increase in the price-cap, continuing free allocations, continuing the one-for-two surrender obligation, refusing to restrict importation of cheap foreign credits, and deferring agriculture indefinitely, then it cannot be otherwise than that emissions will increase.

The Chairman decides not to put this SOP to vote also, on the grounds that it is frivolous.  A Labour MP calls for the Speaker to be called to the House to review the decision.  This is done.  The Speaker confirms the decision.  A vote is not taken.

There are two elements to the argumentation of any legislation passing through the House.  There is the important underlying dimension to the content of the Bill, and there is the tactical dimension on the floor.  Our substantive points are made, despite the tactical setbacks.

But that is transitory.  What, in fact, was the most telling and significant feature of the entire proceeding was the Minister himself.  Slumped further down as time passed, he was called upon on two separate occasions to answer a question.  Which was this:

“The UN indicates that global emissions must reduce from 48 Gt. to 44 Gt. from 2010 to 2020.  Comparable emission reductions for New Zealand are from 51 Mt.(net) to about 40 Mt.  Can the Minister show to the House how he sees New Zealand achieving this, with the amendments to the ETS he is proposing?  What is the critical path he is developing for New Zealand on emission reductions that will achieve these targets – or even his own weaker target of 15% (= 49 Mt.)?

I asked this of Minister Groser twice – once before dinner, once after.  Then the Bill was finally voted on.  Not once did the Minister speak.  Through the entire debate, from 4.00 pm to 8.30 pm, not once did the Minister speak.  When the vote was taken, he slowly arose and left.

What type of character prompts a Minister to show such disrespect to the House?

Is one so Olympian, of such all-encompassing arrogance, that it is too unbecoming to respond to the minions in the NZ House of Representatives, those mere servants of democracy who seek to hold ministerial action to account?