Lip service: it’s all climate action ever gets from Key & Co

As expected, the New Zealand government’s response to the IPCC’s Working Group 3 report on mitigating climate change pays lip service to the science, while maintaining that NZ is doing all that can be expected. Climate change minister Tim Groser’s press release said that the IPCC report’s call for intentional cooperation meant that NZ is “on the right track in pressing for a binding international agreement on emissions beyond 2020” but failed to note the urgency explicit in the report.

Groser also repeated the government’s standard response when challenged on government inaction on climate policy:

“New Zealand is doing its fair share on climate change, taking into account our unique national circumstances, both to restrict our own emissions and support the global efforts needed to make the cuts that will limit warming.”

Groser’s response to the WG2 and WG3 reports so angered Pure Advantage founder Phillip Mills that he announced he would make a $125,000 donation to the Labour and Green parties. Mills, who has been working behind the scenes for the last five years, lobbying cabinet ministers and National MPs to build a business case for climate action and clean, green business growth, told the NZ Herald:

I’ve been trying impartially to deal with National. I’ve met with John Key around this a number of times … and really I held the hope that I and groups that I’ve been involved with would be able to get National to see sense.

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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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Our “fair share” of future disaster

The New Zealand Government has taken refuge from the challenge of climate change by recasting it as a matter of political positioning. This is nowhere more clearly seen than in the frequently reiterated claim that we are doing our “fair share” in the international effort to reduce emissions. It’s a brash claim in any case, when our unconditional 5 percent reduction target on 1990 levels by 2020 is compared with the 30 percent unconditional target of Norway and Switzerland or the 20 percent target of the EU as a whole. But the Government prefers comparison with our “trading partners” Australia, America and Canada, and also largely excludes the emissions associated with farming on the grounds that the world needs the food we produce.

But brash or not what is convenient about the “fair share” argument is that it transfers attention from the alarming reality of climate change to the much more familiar and comfortable world of political negotiation. It enables Ministers to busy themselves with trying to get the best deal they can for the country vis-à-vis other countries, to protect the national interest, to preserve competitive advantage. Buried in such useful activity they can pretty well forget the massive and threatening question mark that climate change puts over the continued use of fossil fuels.

On the domestic front it fits well with adversarial politics, as was all too apparent in question time in the House a couple of weeks ago when Green MP Kennedy Graham questioned the Climate Change Minister about the 5 percent reduction target.

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100% useless: NZ government announces pathetic 5% emissions target

Climate change minister Tim Groser has finally got around to announcing that New Zealand’s emissions reduction target for 2020 will be a 5 percent reduction on 1990 levels — a significant step back from NZ’s previous conditional commitment to make cuts in the 10 to 20 percent range. Since the Key government refused to join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol last year, this target is being adopted under the wider UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and therefore has no penalties (or incentives) attached. Groser’s announcement claims:

The target is affordable and demonstrates that New Zealand is doing its fair share to address global climate change. In deciding this target, the Government has carefully balanced the cost to New Zealand households and businesses against taking ambitious action to tackle climate change.

This is an unconditional target to take responsibility for our emissions, and gives certainty to domestic stakeholders.

Groser also claims that the new target “compares favourably with our traditional partners’ actions” — but fails to note that it’s way out of line with UK and EU commitments to cuts of 30% and 20% over the same period.

The announcement will come as little surprise in the context of recent government actions — in particular Groser’s reckless mismanagement of the emissions trading scheme, which is now leading to huge and expensive dislocation in the forestry sector.

Further context for Groser’s approach to climate policy came in a reply to a series of questions from Green Party climate spokesman Kennedy Graham at Question Time on August 8th. Asked to reconcile sanctioning a new West Coast coal mine with climate action, Groser made himself completely clear:

We will not sacrifice everything to the altar of climate change.

Failing to take climate change seriously — by failing to cut emissions and doing nothing to encourage prudent adaptation — will sacrifice the entire country to the effects of climate change. By refusing to bite the bullet, Groser and his cabinet colleagues put easy money now ahead of our future wellbeing. Or, perhaps, any future worth having.

Coming soon: NZ Climate Change Conference 2013

This year’s NZ climate change conference is fast approaching, and I’ll be heading up to Palmerston North at the beginning of next month to cover proceedings for Hot Topic. The conference runs over June 4th and 5th at the Convention Centre, and covers just about every aspect of work on climate and related issues in NZ, organised under four main themes:

  • The Physical Science
  • Impacts, Vulnerability & Adaptation
  • Mitigation
  • Integration & Cross-cutting Issues

Keynote speakers are Professor Jon Barnett from the University of Melbourne, Andy Reisinger, Dave Frame and Professor Robert Anderson. I’ll be blogging/tweeting from the conference, and plan to post some short audio interviews with key participants. I’ll have to sing for my supper too — my abstract for a short talk entitled When two worlds collide: Communicating climate science on the internet1 was accepted by the organisers.

In other conference news, Wellington readers might like to pitch up to Parliament on Friday, June 7th, where Green MP Kennedy Graham is organising a one day meeting “with the aim of fostering cross-party and public dialogue on climate change”. Speakers will include the UNFCCC’s Christina Figueres (by video) Dave Frame, Andy Reisinger, Adrian Macey, Judy Lawrence, HT’s own Cindy Baxter, Peter Weir, Suzy Kerr, Simon Terry, Jonathon Boston and more. Should be an interesting and worthwhile day: register (for free) here.

  1. Scheduled for 3-15pm on the 5th []