Kennedy Graham

Not to be hypercritical, but… – analysing Minister Groser’s statement to UN-COP19

by Kennedy Graham

Climate Minister Tim Groser gave New Zealand’s statement on Wednesday night, here in Warsaw.

Not wishing to be heap unfair criticism but loyal opposition prompts a few thoughts.

Mr Groser’s ‘large realities’:

1.       “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

This was raised on a theoretical basis by Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, in 1896.  The first international scientific panel raising serious concern was 1985.  The 1st IPCC assessment report was 1990. The 5th report, of 2013, reiterates the main conclusions of 1990, with a confidence level raised from 90% to 95%.

It is gracious of the Minister to announce to a breathless global public that he is, today, satisfied on this point.  But rather than embarrass himself here, he would spend energy to better effect critiquing his cabinet colleagues back home, such as Gerry Brownlee who last week said he considers anthropogenic climate change ‘an interesting prospect’.

2.       “Only a global response can deal with this challenge”.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, signed by the National Govt , explicitly acknowledged that climate change is a global problem requiring a global response.  The Convention states that change in Earth’s climate is a ‘common concern of humankind’.  It notes that the largest share of global emissions originated in developed countries (‘historical responsibility’). It asserts that the ‘global nature of climate change’ calls for the widest possible cooperation of all countries in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities. It imposes a commitment on developed countries to adopt national policies on mitigation by returning by 2000 to earlier (1990) emission levels.  There was a need for developed countries to immediate action in a flexible manner as a first step towards comprehensive strategies at the global and national levels.

New Zealand, of course, has not done this, but it is good of Mr Groser to remind the UN conference, 21 years after the Convention, that this is what the Convention says.

“Kyoto was just that, a first response”.And Kyoto is also the second response, in the 2nd commitment period of 2013-20. By wilfully rejecting Kyoto 2, and adopting a 5% target for 2020 under the Convention, Mr Groser seeks to have the public overlook the present critical decade and concentrate on post-2020.  A form of bait-and-switch.

3.       “Policy prescriptions for climate change action that airbrush these realities out of the equation [poverty alleviation; developed country debt & unemployment] will not take us forward.”

Not one delegation is airbrushing these macro-economic challenges out of the climate equation.  What they are doing, and the Minister of Trade may be unable to perceive this, is that the global economic transformation underway rests on a decarbonisation strategy that factors in employment and fiscal goals as part of an ecological framework.  It is a new economic paradigm, and most delegates are not only aware of it but are way ahead of the NZ Government in promoting it.

4.       “[I]t is entirely legitimate for us to develop proposals across a suite of issues in this negotiation particularly with respect to adaptation, but at least in our view, there cannot be a serious debate about the pre-eminent importance of mitigation.”

Agree.

New Zealand doing its ‘fair share’:

“In the meantime, New Zealand is taking action.

-          We are very confident that when the final data is available, we will have met our commitment under the Kyoto Protocol for the first Commitment Period 2008-12.

-          For the period to 2012 to 2020, we have an unconditional, economy-wide 2020 responsibility target of 5 per cent below our 1990 emissions. We have taken this target under the Framework Convention, but will apply Kyoto Protocol rules to ensure our actions are transparent and have integrity. In addition to our unilateral unconditional offer, we are keeping our conditional offer to do more – between minus 10 to minus 20 per cent reduction below 1990 emissions – on the table.”

The fact that NZ will meet its modest Kyoto-1 target is due to forestry sequestration as a result of plantings in the mid-90s that had no causal relationship to climate policy and whose deforestation post-2018 will cause massive emission problems for future governments.  The weakening of the current ETS by the present Government will exacerbate this problem to an unconscionable degree.

-          The NZ targets of 5% and 15% stand in contrast to what the IPCC make clear in its 4th report for the 2°C threshold – between 25% and 40%.

-          New Zealand’s net emissions have increased about 80% since 1990.

-          New Zealand’s net emissions are projected to increase from ̴ 30 million tonnes in 1990 to  ̴ 98 m.t. in 2028.

New Zealand has not done its ‘fair share’ in the global response and, without a fundamental change in climate policy, is unlikely to over the next two decades.

Agriculture:

“Our actions are not limited just to taking responsibility for our own emissions. …. we formalised the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. Its objective is to find ways to grow more food for a growing world population, without growing greenhouse gases which already comprise around 14 per cent of global emissions.”

This is a good initiative.  Just do not incessantly trot it out as vindication for New Zealand on agriculture.  It is possible to reduce agricultural emissions by some 11-17% in New Zealand, on current technology, as the recent FAO report shows.  No word on this at the UN from Mr Groser, who removed agriculture from our ETS legislation last December.

Fossil fuel subsidy reform

“New Zealand formed the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsides Reform to support the G-20 intention to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. With something in the range of US$400-$700 billion spent globally each year, removing these subsidies could lead to as much as a 13% reduction in global CO2 emissions – while at the same time delivering social and economic co-benefits”.

The day before his speech, Mr Groser headed a panel, with some fanfare, about ‘his’ initiative.  But he ran afoul of an innocent global public who were taking him at his word.  A Norwegian researcher asked him whether he thought that New Zealand, like Norway, was subsidising production.

Mr Groser succumbed, the way he does in the House, to superior, irritated, insight.  Don’t bother me with trivial facts, he essentially said: just take the long-term, broad view.  But, another, US, expert called him on this.  New Zealand, for example, spends about $46 m. annually in subsidies for fossil fuels. Read this blog for a record of the exchange.   I was there, too, in respectful attendance.

The Pacific

“Our place in the Pacific is important to us.  More than half of New Zealand’s $90 m. fast-start finance was spent in our neighbourhood on resilience-building and renewable energy projects. A notable success was support for Tokelau to reach over 90% renewable energy.  The Pacific Energy Summit we co-hosted with the EU this year mobilised more than half a billion dollars for other sustainable energy projects in the Pacific.”

New Zealand is, indeed, concentrating in the Pacific, as it should. So it is a passing shame that AOSIS states are aghast at our measly targets and mitigation policy – described by one Pacific leader a few months ago as a ‘joke’.

Mr Groser spoke last night. Today, I am listening in the same plenary, and as it happens Tuvalu has just been up and is followed by Marshall Islands.  What are they saying?

Tuvalu: The UN Secretary-General’s opening was a stark reminder – we have a lot to do. We cannot afford shallow & false promises.  We cannot afford rhetoric.  Set aside your narrow interests and think of the world so that Tuvalu ha a future.  For Tuvalu, loss and damage is critical. It is a question of compensation.  It deeply saddens me that our South Pacific neighbours have been so unhelpful in these discussions.  It is almost back to denial. We may be forced to take the issue to the international courts, for loss and damage under the Convention.  It is suggested that we should move elsewhere. We do not want to move.  We find the suggestion offensive.  The world must save Tuvalu in order to save the world.

Marshalls: I came to the UN fighting for independence about the time climate change came on the agenda.  Now, we are fighting for our survival.  We are gravely concerned that we are in for a painful future.  Distant threats quickly becoming a new reality. The doors down the UN corridor here are closed to us.  This year Majuro hosted the biggest Pacific Island Forum in history.  The topic was climate leadership. Forum heads of government committed to be climate leaders.  That included Australia and New Zealand.  Since then, the world has exceeded 400 ppm.  We are tipping into a full-blown climate emergency. Tired excuses are no longer acceptable.  The clock is ticking, the temperature is rising, the oceans are swelling, the body count is growing.  Action is required.  It is now or never.