Kennedy Graham

Seeking magical powers – and invitations to the big boys’ club: the Climate Minister rides to our rescue…

by Kennedy Graham

So we returned to the House on Thursday to extend another opportunity for the Minister to explain to the nation his thinking on climate policy.

We were still wrestling to reconcile the scientific observation in the Gluckman report that ‘climate change is now’ with the Finance Minister’s comment that climate change ‘may well be real’.  Could he explain, a little more clearly than he had the day before?

Yes, said Mr. Groser, he could.  He had checked the context.  The Finance Minister had been asked whether New Zealand’s summer drought was attributable to climate change.  It was absurd to say that a particular event was related to climate change.  To say that it was, or was not, would not be a scientifically-plausible response.  The Finance Minister had given the only respectable scientific response.

This would be reassuring if Mr. Groser had been correct in his recall.  But alas, that was not what the Finance Minister had been asked at all.  Back in March, Mr. English had been asked by Green co-leader Russel Norman whether he accepted that human-induced climate change was real – not as Mr. Groser ‘informed the House’ yesterday, whether the drought was attributable to climate change.

These differences may appear triflingly subtle, but they are critical.

In any event, time to take the bull, so to speak, by the horns.  Was the Minister proud of his record since taking government in 2009, in which NZ net emissions under his watch had increased 20%, reaching their highest levels ever?

Yes, said Mr. Groser, he was ‘extremely proud’.  The questioner was fixated on proving that New Zealand was some type of pariah.  I should step back and ask myself: if New Zealand really was a pariah, “how come in the last two years New Zealand has been invited for the first time to the big boys’ club – the Major Economies Forum?”

I had no answer to Mr. Groser’s question.  Firstly, I am not permitted to answer a Minister’s question during Question Time.  Secondly, because a fatuous aside would only elicit a fatuous response.

Time, then to refocus, once more.  When did the Minister expect NZ emissions to peak?  “When the Prime Minister has granted me the magical powers that I have been seeking for some time.”

At last, an unwitting insight.  Reducing New Zealand’s emissions under the National Government will require magic.

But is there a rational underlying policy on which Groserian magic might rest?  After all, we were concerned, above all from Wednesday’s exchange, about the Minister’s stated belief that the international carbon price had no influence on the effectiveness of New Zealand’s ETS.  That is different from our analysis.  We tend to think it does.

So I summoned all my courage and asked the critical question: did he agree that the international carbon price is directly related to the functioning of the ETS because the Government allows unlimited amounts of cheap credits, such as ERUs, to be dumped into our market?

The Minister’s answer was divorced, to a surreal level, from my question.  I needed to study the Gluckman report. Ours were but a minute fraction of global emissions. NZ action would have a negligible effect.  “The idea that somehow NZ emissions are influencing the global price, I think, should be recast in terms of the underlying scientific reality”.

Now, the NZ National Party has a long history of macro-economic management. There have been leaders over the years within successive National governments who have exhibited a sound understanding of the dynamics of global economic forces, even where we differ with them prescriptively.  For his own part Mr. Groser has been a recognized international trade negotiator.  Yet, with respect, on this most critical issue of all, his thinking was simply incoherent.

Just to clarify.  If you allow cheaper international goods (or carbon credits) to enter this country, Kiwis will not buy the local product – whether it is furniture from Malaysia or Emission Reduction Units from Ukraine.  The difference with the latter is that foresters (confronting bankruptcy from Groserian legislative wizardry) will buy cheap and deforest, thereby emitting carbon. Industry also will buy cheap, and be encouraged to emit, in their own distinctive way.

And this will harm the kids.  Big time.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Sat, August 10th, 2013   

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