Kennedy Graham

Targeting the next generation: National’s version of a brighter future

by Kennedy Graham

Back in 2011, John Key’s Government headed into the election campaign with National’s plan to build a stronger economy and a brighter future for Kiwi families. The Plan included protecting communities, supporting the primary sector, creating jobs, and protecting the environment.

Last Friday, the Government announced its latest version of a brighter future for Kiwi families.  It is an unconditional pledge that New Zealand will do its fair share to ensure that global warming will cross the ‘dangerous’ threshold, as defined by the international community and enter the temperature zone associated with catastrophic climate change.

In response to the UN’s prescription of 2007 that developed countries must shave 25% to 40% off 1990 emissions by 2020, New Zealand has formally committed, in August 2013, to 5%.

Bravo!  The National Government, visionary and courageous as ever, is effectively targeting the next generation.

I asked a question, Tuesday, the first day back.  Minister Groser had dropped the announcement on a Friday – the ‘Friday dump’, then stepped onto a plane for trade talks overseas.  Not the first time trade and climate policy have become mutually stranded.  But no matter, Associate Minister Bridges, hatted out also as Energy Minister, took the question.  Not for the first time. Something of a Gallipoli syndrome emerging….

In 2009, Mr Groser’s predecessor, Nick Smith, had announced a conditional target of 10 – 20%.  Anything less ambitious, said Dr Smith, would “undermine New Zealand’s clean, green environmental reputation”.

Did today’s Minister agree with Dr Smith’s observation of 2009?  Yes, said today’s Associate Minister, the conditional target still stands: a 15% mid-point was, and remains, conditional on there being a comprehensive global agreement.

Setting aside the fact that a 15% cut in GHG emissions falls way short of what is required by each developed country to stay within the 2°C threshold, let us note in passing the illogicality of the Government’s position.

What the Government was saying in 2009 was: “we shall cut by 15% (mid-point) provided there is a comprehensive global agreement in place”.  But there is no way the Government can tell, until at least 2015 and probably sometime after, that a global agreement is even conceivably likely to be in place by 2020.   As of 2013, we certainly do not know, but it looks like a longshot – the UN negotiations are going at their usual glacial and semi-dysfunctional pace.

So, the Government has no way of knowing, around 2013, and probably into 2014, that a global agreement will be in place by 2020 – the target year.  Yet to get anywhere near a 15% cut by 2020, it would have to begin curbing emissions growth by 2009 at the latest.  In fact, emissions have soared between 2009 and 2012.

Now, we have the Government stating an unconditional target of 5%.  This compares with unconditional targets by Norway of 30%, Switzerland of 30% and the EU as a whole of 20%.

Oh yes, and New Zealand is the last developed country to enter an unconditional pledge.

Over the weekend, some of New Zealand’s leading climate scientists and policy analysts took the unusual step of issuing a media release in response to the NZ stated target.  This is what they say:

-       The Government’s target is markedly inadequate and disappointing;

-       It does not provide the leadership on climate change that New Zealand needs;

-       Globally, there is a major risk of dangerous warming — of around 3 – 4°C — if emissions are not rapidly reduced, starting this decade;

-       To have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous warming requires that developed countries cut emissions by around 20% to 40% by 2020, rather than 5%;

-       The Government rightly argues that New Zealand must do ‘our fair share’ to meet the  global challenge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but its actions are inconsistent with this objective;

-       By repeatedly weakening the emissions trading scheme, rejecting a second legally-binding target under the Kyoto Protocol, and now announcing a negligible emissions-reduction target for 2020, the Government is undermining global efforts to address climate change and is further putting at risk New Zealand’s clean, green reputation;

-       We are embarrassed to now have a New Zealand target that is well short of the estimated combined commitment for developed countries of around 10-15% by 2020;

-       Climate change represents a critical and urgent challenge for the world community. We cannot leave it to the last moment on this one. Like an athlete in training for the long haul, we need to build our fitness as a low-carbon economy. We need policies that keep the pressure on, and we need to find innovative ways forward. We cannot afford to throw in the towel on this challenging issue; nor can we ignore our global responsibilities

I put this to Associate Minister Bridges. What was his insightful response, on behalf of the NZ Government?

The experts “fundamentally got a number of technical matters just plain wrong. He [Dr Boston] should go back and do his homework before he starts lecturing the government”.

It is now clear enough.  Only time will clear up the matter of New Zealand’s lamentable climate policy.  This Government’s hubris is not about to dissipate.  It has a fortress mentality where political criticism and expert  analysis will not be tolerated.  If you disagree, you are wrong, not on the merits but by definition.

Only a change of government is going to improve New Zealand’s climate policy.