Kennedy Graham

No time for climate change – we’ve got more important matters down here…

by Kennedy Graham

It may beggar belief, but perhaps it was inevitable.

The NZ Government does not have the time to tackle climate change.  It’s focused on milk damage-control.  And it can only do one thing at a time.

Last week, the PM’s chief scientific adviser released a report on climate change – its impact on human activity and implications for the future.

There are some pretty telling observations in the Gluckman report.  Its purpose, said Sir Peter, was to provide New Zealand with an update on the current scientific understandings of climate change. It is important, he said, that we all have an understanding of the most likely scenarios ahead as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in our oceans and the atmosphere. Many decisions will be required at both national and local levels.

The report, said Sir Peter, intentionally did not address policy questions.  The key decision of when and how to respond to climate change fell beyond the scope of the report. But the main message in the report was: “climate change is happening now. A 0.8°C rise in global temperatures has [already] occurred”.

Concerned whether the NZ Government was aware of the fact, I put it to the Minister yesterday at Question Time.  Yes, said Mr Groser, he was aware.

Faintly perplexed, I asked how that could be reconciled with the statement by the Finance Minister in March that climate change “may well be real”.  No need, replied Mr Groser, for any reconciliation.

The Minister was in no mood to trifle.

Perhaps he could reconcile for the nation, then, Prof Gluckman’s observation with a statement by the Minister for Science & Innovation [sic].  The Gluckman report had said, after all, “there is strong scientific agreement that [climate change] is predominantly as a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.”  But the Minister for Science had said, also in March, that “it’s open to debate, really, actually, by a whole range of experts”.  What gives (or who)?

Yeah, nah.  The Government acknowledges, said the Minister for Climate Change, that there is “some room for genuine scientific argument around the metrics, around the pace of time, around global warming potentials, and a host of related science issues”.  But let’s focus on the underlying point: this Government is treating this as real.

Bravo, Minister!  A blow for scientific integrity and political resolve.  In fact, the National Government had signed a formal acknowledgement to that effect, in 1992.

Fortified by this display of fearlessness, I persevered.  Was the Minister worried about the impact of New Zealand’s inaction on climate change on our clean green image – given we have the worst emissions record among developed countries and are the last to enter a formal target for 2020?

Nah. The Minister is much more concerned about our image through ‘rather more natural events’ such as the Fonterra botulism crisis.  “I am not the slightest bit concerned about our position on climate change” in relation to New Zealand’s image.

That is what he said.

Perhaps it was inevitable that, at some stage, the paucity of New Zealand’s 100%-pure image would be exposed.  Inevitable, that the responsibility to combat climate change, which the Government’s science adviser and Climate Minister say is now, collides with the responsibility to handle trade crises, which the Trade Minister says is more important.

One and the same person; one and the same government.  Really, actually.

Published in Economy, Work, & Welfare | Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Thu, August 8th, 2013   

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