In 2008 John Key and National campaigned on the basis they would generally be just like Labour but also give a tax cut. One of their policies was to slightly soften the already modest greenhouse gas emission targets that Labour had committed to. For Labour there was a generalised policy to become carbon neutral and more specific policies that by 2025 90% of electricity production would be from renewable sources and that by 2040 transport emissions would be cut by half. National’s policy for the 2008 election was that it would support the Kyoto Protocol’s goals and that the 1990 levels of greenhouse gas production would reduce by 50% by 2050. Colin James thought that National also agreed with Labour’s “all sectors in, all gases in, no exemptions” policy. There was a real sense of “me too” when it came to National’s climate change policies.
Its Blue Green Policy release suggested it meant business.
National promised to “pursue sound, practical environment policies to achieve emission reduction. [It] want[ed] to reduce emissions in ways that result in the least cost to society and the economy.” It also said that “economic growth and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand”, and that “good science is essential to quality environmental decision-making”.
About the risk posed by climate change the policy said the following:
How big is this risk? Many years of scientific work, summarised by the National academies of Science of all the main countries, including the United States, and by the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, confirms the risk is serious, although uncertainty remains about the rate and timing of global climate change and its regional effects. These uncertainties are not an excuse for doing nothing.”
There was however a sense of dog whistle about its campaigning. National chose to also campaign on the retention of energy inefficient lightbulbs, such was its commitment to expediency and populism over principle and climate change. It seemed to be speaking out of two sides of its mouth at one time. One side suggested that it was committed to doing something about climate change, the other side suggested that it wanted to stroke the anti scientific belligerent part of the electorate.
Once elected National quickly moved to undermine the country’s climate change strategy. It sabotaged the newly established biofuel regime, and moved to reduce the efficiency of the Emissions Trading Scheme and change by change weakened the scheme. The most significant decision was to postpone indefinitely the starting date for the Agriculture sector’s admission to the ETS until “there are economically viable and practical technologies available to reduce emissions” and “our trading partners make more progress on tackling their emissions in general”. This is unfortunate not only because half of the country’s green house gasses are produced by the agriculture sector but because there is a very simple and effective means by which farmers could soak up as opposed to reduce emissions and that is to reforest marginal land. With agriculture not being in the ETS there is no incentive for them to do so. There would be the added benefit that erosion would be reduced and local water catchments would improve. As for waiting for our trading partners to make more progress on tackling their emissions in general it is possible that hell would freeze over before this condition could be satisfied.
So how is New Zealand cutting greenhouse gas production under National? Very poorly I am afraid. Our output of CO2 has increased by 19.8% since 1990 and this is the sixth worst performance amongst developed countries.
Professor Euan Mason has reviewed New Zealand’s performance and believes that there is much that can be done to improve it. In particular he criticises the exclusion of the agricultural sector from the ETS scheme.
The piecemeal approach to our emissions trading scheme, in particular the total exclusion of our agricultural sector, has further reduced its effectiveness and its credibility. New Zealand’s GHG emission profile … is closer to that of a developing nation than a first world one. On average developed nations have far lower percentages of agricultural emissions and waste (17% versus New Zealand’s 50%), and far higher emissions from energy (81% versus New Zealand’s 43%) according to the World Resources Institute (2012). By excluding agriculture from our ETS, we give a free ride to the very sector that emits more GHGs than any other single sector in the country.
Professor Mason also criticises allowing polluters to purchase cheap overseas sourced credits to satisfy ETS obligations. If more indigenously sourced credits were required to be purchased then there would be an incentive for local forests to be planted. Interestingly he calculates that if a third of the planet’s area that has been deforested was reforested then our atmosphere could return to a CO2 concentration of 280 ppm. New Zealand could become completely GHG neutral for between 60 and 100 years by reforesting 9% of our land area.
Recently the Government released, on the day after Parliament rose for the year, New Zealand’s sixth national communication under the UN Framework on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol. The report has obviously been polished by some of the best spinsters that money can buy. But despite their spin the underlying news is all bad. Net emissions of GHGs are forecast to nearly treble up to 2030 and as can be seen from the graph below (borrowed from Hot Topic) the Government’s policies make very little difference. As Gareth Renowden states:
Groser praised government policies, but failed to draw attention to the fact that his own report shows NZ emissions failing to meet the government’s targeted cuts, or that current policy settings will do little to reduce them — let alone achieve reductions by comparison with 1990 levels.
Here is the graph:
National should be ashamed. The country’s emissions are meant to be below the 1990 levels, not so far above them.
Finally a word for all those RWNJs who cheered when the Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck in sea ice in the Antartica. The Akademik Shokalskiy was sent to the Antartica to investigate global warming and its effects on the local area. Some RWNJs have stated conclusively that the fact it was caught in unseasonal sea ice is conclusive evidence that global warming is a hoax. This morning in the Herald Rodney Hide has added his ill informed 2c worth.
Sorry guys but this is a massive science fail. The IPCC has assessed that there has been a gradual but significant decline in the total amount of ice in Antartica and localised effects can be the result of increased precipitation which global warming predicts for some areas. And meanwhile the significant weather events, also predicted by the scientists, happen with more and more regularity. And the World Meteorological Organisation predicts that 2013 will be the seventh hottest year on record.
There are three aspects that really disturb me about our response to climate change. Firstly this ought to be an issue which is beyond politics. The scientific consensus is clear, our world is in for a really rough time as temperatures increase, sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more frequent. The difference in mainstream scientific opinion only relates to assessments of how screwed humanity is. The second aspect is that the belligerence of the right is doing humanity a disservice. Their comments show clearly that they do not understand the big picture or the science. Grabbing at localised transitory events as proof that a long term trend is not happening is bizarre. Thirdly politicians of all kinds ought to be brave enough to acknowledge that this is humanity’s biggest problem. National sounded like it understood the extent of the problem but then backed off and we now have an ETS that is worse than useless. It is not achieving anything and its impotency calls into disrepute any mandated attempt to do something about climate change.
It really is time for a change. Our future depends on it.