A snake swallows the elephant in the room and then flogs a dead horse – climate change politics in NZ Election 2011

Possible the longest ever title on a Hot Topic post: Simon Johnson continues our series on the NZ election by examining the entrails…

So whats happening with climate change in the election?

Elephant swallowed by the snake
I was originally thinking about writing a wonkish post comparing climate change policies between parties. You know the sort of thing. Which parties have policies that reflect the seriousness of the impacts the science predicts? Who has got the science wrong? Which politicians are all talk and no action? What are the minute details of the each party’s NZETS policies. Such as delays to sector entry dates, partial price obligations and varying free unit allocation regimes in the . MEGO, anyone? (My Eyes Glaze Over….)

Then I thought, Nah! I am looking through the wrong end of the telescope. You know what really strikes me about climate change in the election? It’s the absence. It is as if climate change is nearly completely absent from the campaign. When climate change does pop up, it’s portrayed in simplistic soundbites.

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Three years of “very serious” climate policy failure

A damning review of the climate policy of the current government by three leading academics finds that it has made “little substantive progress” on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that work on adapting to climate change impacts has been “even more deficient”, and that current policies are likely to be “economically wasteful”. End-of-term review of the New Zealand Government’s response to climate change: a public health perspective by Nick Wilson, Ralph Chapman, and Philippa Howden-Chapman, published in last week’s NZ Medical Journal 1), looked at five main policy areas — NZ’s contribution to international action, giving carbon price signals to the market, supporting domestic R&D (for example, into renewable energy), supportive regulation and policy development, and supportive infrastructure investment. In each area, the National-led government’s actions were found wanting. Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

In summary, in this last electoral term there appears to have been little substantive progress by the current government on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (via work internationally or domestically), despite government targets (2020 and 2050) requiring material action. Government responses towards adapting to climate change impacts seem to be even more deficient (hardly more than some guidance documents). This lack of attention may be considered to be very serious given the potential size of the climate change threat — to public health and for the whole of society. It can also be considered economically wasteful in that the New Zealand economy is placed at increased risk of having to make a more abrupt and disorderly transition in the future. Also if other nations react to this lack of response by imposing carbon tariffs on New Zealand exports, this could also have serious economic consequences given the economy’s dependence on trade.

Lead author associate professor Nick Wilson of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago commented:

“Action on climate change needs to be considered as an urgently required form of catastrophe insurance, but we are clearly not seeing this with minimal government action in recent years.”

Full paper available here. See also: Scoop (press release), No Right Turn, TV3News.

  1. NZMJ 4 November 2011, Vol 124 No 1345, http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/124-1345/4949/ (behind a paywall []

Oxfam NZ Election Debate: Climate change

Environment minister Nick Smith, Labour’s David Parker and the Green Party’s Kennedy Graham debate climate policy in these edited highlights from the first of Oxfam NZ’s election debates, held last week in Auckland. Debate ranged from whether New Zealand can become carbon-free to the likelihood of a cross-party agreement on long-term issues that last more than an election cycle, and from the effect of investing in roads to the question of bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

More on the debate from Oxfam NZ’s Jason Garman below the fold…

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The price of a policy

rodenymorph.gifIn the run up to last year’s election I devoted a lot of coverage to the ACT party’s descent into climate denial, and in particular to the outrageous statements of its leader Rodney Hide. It wasn’t clear to me at the time why Hide was ditching the party’s carefully constructed “Smart Green” positioning on environmental policy and spouting standard climate crank nonsense, but intriguing hints are now emerging thanks to excellent detective work at Canadian blog Deep Climate. Hide’s repositioning coincided with a major donation to ACT by Alan Gibbs, a wealthy NZ businessman best known here for his Aquada (a sportscar that thinks it’s a boat) and for his generous patronage of modern art. Gibbs, however, also plays a prominent role in climate crank organisations. He is on the “policy advisory board” of the International Climate Science Coalition (with such luminaries as Monckton, Bryan Leyland and Owen McShane), while his daughter Emma is listed as a director of the ICSC. In its election spending return to the Electoral Commission, ACT reveals that on April 9th 2008 Gibbs paid $100,000 into the party’s coffers. Within weeks, the party’s new climate denial line was being pushed to the press.

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Woodman, spare that tree (foresters attitudes to the ETS)

pine.gif As one would expect from a rurally based sector, foresters are a conservative lot. I don’t say that disrespectfully, because societies – for the sake of stability – need a balanced mixture of change-makers and change-resisters. But it did mean that, when in 1989 I started work on Climate Change and forestry, I met with considerable opposition: “what bullshit is this? The climate has ALWAYS changed. Nature is self-balancing.” And so on, you’ve heard it all before.
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