Where do we go but nowhere?

New Zealand’s general election is over. The National Party has won itself another three years in government. With a probable overall majority and the support of three fringe MPs, prime minister John Key and his cabinet will be able to do more or less what they like. Given the government’s performance on climate matters over the last six years — turning the Emissions Trading Scheme into little more than a corporate welfare handout while senior cabinet ministers flirt with outright climate denial — and with signals that they intend to modify the Resource Management Act to make it easier to drill, mine and pollute, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the next three years are going to see New Zealand’s climate policies slip even further out of touch with what’s really necessary.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of why opposition parties were unable to persuade voters to unseat Key & Co: that’s being widely canvassed. I do want to consider what might be done to prevent the next three years being as bad as the last six from a climate policy perspective.

One thing is very clear: the climate issue is not going away. While carbon emissions hit new records, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has been trying to galvanise world leaders to take the issue seriously. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens have taken part in people’s climate marches around the world. And the climate news remains, as ever, gloomy. Ice melts, floods surge and sea levels continue to rise. “Business as usual” continues, but is being challenged on many levels.

Gareth Morgan, the motorbike adventurer, philanthropist and prolific author, is no stranger to the climate debate. He understands the issue in the way only someone who has written a book on the subject can ( 😉 ). In a recent blog post, Morgan looked at what it might take to get climate action in the current New Zealand political climate. His conclusion? That we need a new “bluegreen” political party.

But for me, the most frustrating aspect of the election result is the entrenched inability of the Green Party to grasp that the environmental message is something that appeals to middle-of-the-road New Zealanders, not just Lefties.

Sadly the Green Party’s policies for environmental sustainability have always come with a nasty fishhook – the out-dated edict that social justice can only be achieved by rehashed socialism. This has rendered the Green Party a real melon to mainstream New Zealand – a watermelon to be precise, far too red on the inside for middle New Zealand to stomach.

For me, the frustrating thing is that the other Gareth’s1 political analysis completely misreads what’s going on at the same time as his analysis of National government’s performance on climate over the last six years is absolutely spot on….

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  1. No, not that other Gareth. This one. []

Hot Air: the sorry tale of climate policy in New Zealand

This guest post is by Alister Barry, producer and co-director of the new documentary Hot Air, which will be premiered in Wellington next week. Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country over the next month.

Hot Air is a story of compromise, broken promises and corporate pressure, of misinformation and pseudo-scientific propaganda. It’s also a story of good intentions. The 1989 Labour government under Geoffrey Palmer began to map out the first emissions policy. In the 1990s Simon Upton, the National government’s minister responsible for climate change policy tried to put a carbon tax in place as did his successor Labour’s Pete Hodgson. After 2005 David Parker struggled to pass an emissions trading scheme.

I began work on Hot Air in 2009 thinking it might take a couple of years. I recall one of my partners saying, “You better get it done quickly, because within a few years the film will be out of date. Climate change will have been confronted and dealt with.” No such luck.

I soon found that while there have been some books written about the history of the politics of climate change in the UK, the US and elsewhere, there was no comprehensive account telling the New Zealand story. I spent a lot of time in the National Library doing the basic slog of getting the history down on paper. Then I had to condense it into a documentary script before beginning actually making the film.

One benefit of the long gestation period was the unexpected number of key figures that agreed to be interviewed for the film. Experts from both the environmental and economic fields, newspaper editors, businessmen, and a wide range of political figures including National’s Simon Upton, and Labour’s Pete Hodgson & David Parker, all one-time Ministers of Environment, contributed. Many of the major players (particularly Labour’s ruffled former Minister of Environment, Pete Hodgson) clearly welcomed the opportunity to tell their stories, as well as vent some frustrations!

Editing has taken a couple of years finding and fitting together archive footage with the original interview material and condensing that into an informative, and we hope entertaining film. Co-director and editor Abi King-Jones has done a masterful job creating a film that is a pleasure to watch.

On one level the film attempts to provide an understanding of the political landscape on which those of us who want to see some effective action on climate change will have to fight, on another level it is a case study of the extent to which power in our society has shifted to the corporate elite and away from the rest of us.

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TDB Today: Put a proper price on carbon

The Green Party’s shift to a carbon tax as their preferred measure to to bring down carbon emissions opens up some interesting possibilities, as I discuss in my Daily Blog post this week: Put a proper price on carbon or we’ll pay a proper price.

As long as governments have a completely free hand, and are backed by vested interests with deep pockets, they’ll screw up carbon policy. They’ll do it at every opportunity. So let’s take some of the levers out of their hands, and give them to someone with a legislated requirement to act in the best interest of all New Zealanders.

We do it for economic policy through the governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. Why not for emissions reductions?

NZ Greens launch new climate policy: replace ETS with carbon tax and dividend

The NZ Emissions Trading Scheme has failed and should be replaced by a carbon tax, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman told the party’s annual conference yesterday [NZ Herald, Stuff]. Outlining the Green’s new Climate Protection Plan (pdf) Norman told delegates that the government’s mismanagement had “hollowed out and weakened [the ETS] to the point of redundancy, accelerated deforestation and driven up emissions.” If in government after September’s general election, the Greens would replace the ETS by a suite of policies built around a levy on greenhouse gas emissions, with revenues recycled to business and consumers through cuts in income taxes.

The key points of the new policy are (from the policy document):

  1. Set New Zealand on the path to be carbon neutral by 2050.
  2. Establish a Climate Commission to provide expert and independent advice to the government on: carbon prices, carbon budgets, and complementary measures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
  3. Phase out the failed Emissions Trading Scheme and set an initial price on carbon:
    $25 per tonne on CO2 equivalent emissions for all sectors except agriculture and forestry. Dairy emissions will pay $12.50 per tonne. Forestry will be credited at $12.50 per tonne.
  4. Recycle all revenues raised from a carbon charge back to families and businesses through a $2,000 income tax-free band and a one percent company tax cut. A Climate Tax Cut. Households will be better off.
  5. Introduce a suite of complementary measures to support the rapid transition to a carbon neutral economy.

The tax and dividend scheme has been costed by independent economists BERL (report here). An average household will be over $300 better off per annum.

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Climate crisis? What Crisis? NZ right ignore IPCC call for action

New Zealand political reaction to the IPCC’s WG2 report has divided along expected lines: the Green Party and Labour used the findings to call for more action, the National-led government “welcomed” the report but said it is already doing enough, while the fringe right wing ACT party issued a press release making the abolition of the emissions trading scheme a condition of its support for any future National government. If the Scoop web site is to be believed, none of the other political parties with seats in parliament or hopes of election could be bothered to issue a press release in response to a report that makes it plain that climate change is here now, and set to get very much worse in future.

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