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Andrew Little on climate change

Written By: - Date published: 4:00 pm, August 12th, 2015 - 51 comments
Categories: Andrew Little, climate change, Environment - Tags: , ,

Always a topic for robust discussion here at The Standard – here’s part of a speech the Labour Leader gave to the Environmental Defence Society conference today.

Let’s start with climate change.

It’s happening, it will get worse before it gets better, and it demands a response in keeping with the scale of the problem we face. It is the biggest environmental and economic challenge facing the planet.

According to the latest IPCC report, without additional mitigation, we are now facing average global temperature rises of 3.7 to 4.9 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.

That’ll mean more extreme weather events, rising and warming seas, more crop failures, unknown impacts on biodiversity and more human hardship.

We face a carbon-constrained future, and we must try and reduce our emissions and accelerate our adaptation.

That’s not a matter of choice. That’s inevitable.

As President Obama put it recently, “we’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

This isn’t just a technical challenge.

It’s a test of our most fundamental values because how we choose to respond to climate change will affect every facet of our ecosystem, our economy and our daily lives.

The stakes are huge.

If we get this wrong, our environment will be degraded, our economy will suffer, the costs of transition will be much higher and we will leave our children with fewer opportunities than we inherited.

This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to.

As you would expect I would have, given I led the EPMU – the union of miners, oil workers, and aviation for more than a decade.

I know that we need a just transition, that not only meets our responsibilities to the planet, but gives people opportunities to build good lives for themselves and their families.

We have to meet this challenge.

And we have to do it in a way that protects our way of life and the opportunities we want our people to enjoy.

And as a global citizen, we cannot shirk from our mutual responsibilities to the people of other nations.

Sadly, the current government has its head in the sand, which is especially worrying right now because the sea level is rising.

National says that we’re too small to address this problem.

Instead of a leader on the world stage, they say they want us to be a fast follower.

They tell us addressing climate change is someone else’s job.

I simply don’t accept that.

That isn’t who we are.

When we sit on the sidelines all we do is give comfort to the deniers of climate change.

We’re a better country than that.

Seven years into John Key’s government, its record on the environment and climate change is clear.

New Zealand’s emissions per capita were the 5th highest out of 40 developed nations in 2012.

A recent Global Action Network survey found we had slipped to 43rd out of 58 countries when it comes to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

National gutted the Emissions Trading Scheme by removing agriculture which accounts for half of our emissions, leaving it ineffectual.

They’ve put public money into subsidising big emitters by giving them a free ride while taking money out of environmental research programmes.

They’ve watered down our emissions targets to the point where international watchdogs now list New Zealand as a laggard.

Just ask our Pacific neighbours.

Even a modest change in the sea level can flood the supply of fresh water in nations like Tuvalu or Kiribati, making their islands uninhabitable.

Their very survival requires the world, including New Zealand, to take serious action on climate change.

This government’s ‘I’m alright, Jack’ attitude to addressing climate change helps seal the fate of some of our country’s closest friends.

That’s an awful legacy to leave.

That short-termism is something that defines this government. They govern day-to-day, without an eye on the horizon.

51 comments on “Andrew Little on climate change”

  1. AmaKiwi 1

    Thank you, Andrew. Good speech.

    I want a Labour Party which is in full agreement with the Greens about the imperative to take strong action on climate change.

    There are huge job and business opportunities in preparing our country to cope with climate change. (Bill Clinton has spoken frequently on this.) Instead National wastes billions on motorways.

    National on climate change: out of date, wasteful, and dangerous.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    On topic as far as environmental defense goes: Earth is halfway to being inhospitable to life, scientist says

    Swedish scientist claims in a new theory that humanity has exceeded four of the nine limits for keeping the planet hospitable to modern life, while another professor told RT Earth may be seeing an impending human-made extinction of various species.

    Environmental science professor Johan Rockstrom, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, argues that there are nine “planetary boundaries” in a new paper published in Science – and human beings have already crossed four of them.

    Although I suspect that’s more inhospitable to humanity than inhospitable to life. The bacteria and the cockroaches will still be here.

    • weka 2.1

      Thanks, important stuff.

      Life is all about the relationships, cycles and systems. We need to be looking at not just what species will die or live, but the relationships between them all. If the bacteria and cockroaches get to live but most of the mammals, bird, reptiles and plant life dies, can we meaningfully say that life will be ok? This is the critical shift that needs to happen with modern thinking. Individual species are part of ecosystems that are interdependent. It’s very hard for one thing to be affected and not everything else. Yes, nature can adjust to many things, but there are too many tipping points happening too fast for this to be ok.

      “biodiversity has dropped to 84% in parts of the world such as Africa”

      I’d hazard a guess that in parts of the Canterbury Plains it’s much lower than that. And getting worse, with the dairying and tree clearance and land flattening we are really creating huge problems far beyond water quality (which is bad enough).

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1

        If the bacteria and cockroaches get to live but most of the mammals, bird, reptiles and plant life dies, can we meaningfully say that life will be ok?

        Yes, we can. Life on Earth started as single celled organisms ~500m years ago and evolved to the diversity that we see today. If all animals, plants and insects died the bacteria would just start process again and in a few hundred million years a new species would evolve to start asking if they’re alone in the universe.

        Please also note that life on Earth has been through a few Extinction Events before with the worst being the Permian Mass Extinction which is the only know such event where insects also suffered mass extinction. It took ~10m years for diversity to recover.

        So, yeah, life will be fine.

        • weka

          Thanks for completely ignoring what I said.

          • marty mars

            lol – Draco de factoid

          • Lanthanide

            Draco is completely right, “life” will be fine.

            You should have said “extant species” instead of “life”.

            • weka

              Draco’s argument is that life is ok because if someone murders you, your family and most of your extended family and friends, multiple generations, but leaves a couple of people alive to breed, your family will be ok. That’s insane. It treats life as a series of mechanical units.

              “You should have said “extant species” instead of “life”.”

              Thanks to you for also completely missing wht I was saying. You should take some time to figure out what I am actually talking about. My whole point is it’s not just about extant species. That there are only two options here (extant species or the general process of evolution), or that it’s only about mass destruction of life vs saving humans, is the kind of thinking that both got us into this situation and is stopping us from getting out of it. I don’t want that kind of thinking getting to define what life is, because it’s that kind of thinking that devalues life so we treat it like shit. It’s basically saying it doesn’t matter if we kill off everything except the cockroaches and the bacteria, but we need to pay attention to how humans can survive, as if humans are somehow separate from the rest of life.

              Thankfully even biological sciences understand the systems thinking I am talking about. And many human cultures on the planet have understood the interconnectedness of things and the inherent value of that. And how they fit into it.

              • Lanthanide

                You were replying to Draco’s comment, that the earth might be inhospitable to humans, but it would still be fine for plenty of other types of life.

                Effectively you’ve changed the subject by now taking a very specific near-term view, vs Draco’s very broad view of “well all the humans might die off but life will still exist”.

                Hence Draco and my replies.

                • weka

                  Draco brough in the inhosptable to humans not life aspect. I was responding to both that and the article he linked. My view isn’t about the near or short term.

                  “Effectively you’ve changed the subject by now taking a very specific near-term view, vs Draco’s very broad view of “well all the humans might die off but life will still exist”.”

                  No, that’s not what I am saying, but thanks for moving on from ignoring what I said to miscontruing it.

                  You want to define life in a certain way. I’m challenging that and I’ve made a decent opening argument about why that’s important. Please at least get to grips with what I am actually saying before you deny it.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Draco brough in the inhosptable to humans not life aspect

                    And I brought that up because the article I linked to made the statement that Earth will become inhospitable to life but that’s wrong – life will be fine. The major plants and animals probably won’t be unless we actually stop burning fossil fuels and producing other GHGs.

                    No, that’s not what I am saying, but thanks for moving on from ignoring what I said to miscontruing it.

                    If people misconstrued what you said then perhaps you didn’t say it well enough. Remember, this is a text format and we’re missing all the body language and tone that would be there in a face to face and thus missing about 75% of the communication. In text, you have to be very precise.

                    You want to define life in a certain way.

                    Actually, it seems to me that you’re the one who’s trying to redefine life. Life isn’t just the animals and plants. No matter if you like it or not bacteria is also life. They also have their life cycles and systems and will evolve to cover niche positions in those systems.

        • Incognito

          ”Life on Earth started as single celled organisms ~500m years ago and evolved to the diversity that we see today.”

          I think you might be at least 3 billion years out! I was just reading on how oxygen came to be in the atmosphere and it seems this was brought about by the earliest (known) life forms on Earth called cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.

          Happy to provide citations but Google is your friend (and it’s getting late!).

      • Bazza 2.1.2

        Can you please show me where a scientific peer reviewed shows bio diversity has decreased by 84%. The way they count bio-diversity is to pick a field, count the insects in it by hand & at a later date redo the count. The human error factor in such research would be enormous & would not take into account natural changes.

    • Pat 2.2

      yep..although its avast improvement on previous Labour statements it still greatly understates the reality

  3. weka 3

    That’s a pretty good speech from Little. Not as hard hitting as some would like, but it seems like a good building block between the mainstream and the people on the cutting edge.

  4. Bill 4

    Through the link, we have Andrew saying…

    Often, you will hear some politicians say we can have a pristine environment, or we can have a growing economy, but we can’t have both.

    Well, I reject that.

    Rejected is it? Good O. All that science – I mean, like I agree, fuck the politicians and even the economists – but all that science that simply cannot crunch the numbers on necessary CO2 emissions and come up with a result that would allow economic growth…rejected.

    Business as usual from Labour then. Great.

    It’s going to get worse before it gets better

    Erm, no. It’s going to get worse, then it’s going to get a lot of a fuck worse than that. And it won’t get ‘better’ for…well, a thousand years would be an optimistic punt.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Yeah, probably its gonna rough for a few thousand years, assuming the biosphere doesn’t get totally fucked off with us and decide to sulk for a million or two million years before coming right again.

    • Lanthanide 4.2

      Tens of thousands potentially, if the ice caps melt etc. If the gulf stream shuts down, that could even kick off an ice age.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    And we have to do it in a way that protects our way of life and the opportunities we want our people to enjoy.

    Protecting our way of life doesn’t appear to be a good idea as it’s our way of life that’s causing the problem.

    Now, protecting a good living standard is probably a good idea but we should probably define that living standard and then look if it can be done within environmental limits and if it can’t then we would need to update that standard.

    I know that we need a just transition, that not only meets our responsibilities to the planet, but gives people opportunities to build good lives for themselves and their families.

    Here’s the point that Little and many others seem to get. We could easily transition to an economic system that wasn’t dependent upon fossil fuels. That’s easy as the technology is already available so we know what we need to do. All that needs to be done is that the government acts on doing it. It could do this by the simple expedient of directing the necessary resources from our own land to do it.

    It could do this but National, Labour and even the Greens seem to be more interested in protecting the present socio-politcal-economic system than doing what needs to be done. In other words, they’re looking to protect Business As Usual and that can’t be done and bring about the necessary changes.

    Even a modest change in the sea level can flood the supply of fresh water in nations like Tuvalu or Kiribati, making their islands uninhabitable.

    Their very survival requires the world, including New Zealand, to take serious action on climate change.

    Tuvalu, Kiribati and other low lying atolls are probably already fucked. What we need to be doing there is planning their evacuation which, in many cases, will probably mean moving them to NZ.

    • Macro 5.1

      I can’t agree that Green Economic Policy is “Business as Usual” Draco. see here:
      Now I’m sure you will find areas that you disagree with – but I hardly think that the vision espoused is BAU.

    • maui 5.2

      And we have to do it in a way that protects our way of life and the opportunities we want our people to enjoy.

      Yep, from what he’s saying, somehow I can’t imagine Andrew Little digging over the community garden, skinning rabbits to eat, collecting eggs, biking to work and being part of the local economy. All of which is probably going to be needed at some point.

  6. I think I’ve got a 30 min recording (if not 2) of Andrew talking to that ‘Afewknowthetruth guy, from a couple of years back.
    That kind of makes Andrew one of the few )

    • Lanthanide 6.1

      The guy who told us the large numbers of people would be literally starving to death in Auckland this year.

  7. AmaKiwi 7

    “Protecting our way of life doesn’t appear to be a good idea as it’s our way of life that’s causing the problem.”

    Yes. But politicians have to sell change as something manageable.

    I’m giving Andrew the benefit of the doubt because no one will vote for him if he says, “You will no longer be allowed to own a car and if you can prove it is essential, you might get a government permit to fly to Australia but it will cost you $10,000 to fly to Sydney.”

    So we vaguely define “our way of life” as meaning I still have a home (but smaller), a job (but it’s different), friends, and a family.

  8. maui 8

    It’s all very good talking about it, but whose going to volunteer to give up the 50-100 energy slaves they have that does their daily work for them. I know some people already have done and live a much simpler life, but for society in general to do this I think is wishful thinking. The only way I can see us changing is with our whole system imploding and petrol costing $10 a litre, then all of a sudden you would see a big dropoff in emissions. I think this is only a matter of time as we slide down the back half of the steep peak oil curve, or find something goes even more horribly wrong in the middle east and our supplies are threatened.

    • RedLogix 8.1

      but whose going to volunteer to give up the 50-100 energy slaves they have that does their daily work for them.

      Kevin McCloud (him of the Grand Designs series) is doing spin off that’s showing on ABC at the moment, visiting families who have chosen to leave Britain and make new homes in various wild places in the world.

      Kevin’s a perceptive and eloquent guy, and what most fascinated him is not just the physical buildings these families create – but their motivations, challenges and rewards. So far I’ve only seen the first two episodes, one in Tonga, another in Belize. Both have in common an extraordinary level of sheer hard work and drive. Loosing those energy slaves has a very real impact alright.

      Yet equally they have expressed absolutely certainty that they have made the right choice and could NEVER go back home again. It’s typical McCloud and done well. And can be strongly argued as a glimpse of what post-carbon life may well look like.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you really don’t need all the goods that advertising tells you that you need. I stopped watching TV years ago and the desire for a whole lot of shit went with it and so did a lot of stress.

        • Lanthanide

          It boggles my mind how much money people spend on crap constantly.

          I’m on a very good salary, and I just look at all the flash stuff in shops and think “I can’t really justify paying that amount of money for that thing”.

          And yet those ‘things’ are sold to hundreds of thousands of people less well-off than me in this country every day.

      • maui 8.1.2

        Cool, sounds really interesting, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks.

      • marty mars 8.1.3

        sounds good – thanks red

    • Bill 8.2

      In the video link I embedded in my post from the other day, it’s argued how a 70% reduction in emissions from cars can be achieved within 8 years. (caveat – that was a UK scenario)

      There is also the fact that a small cut in power at the delivery end of our electricity grid translates into a substantial drop in necessary generation. (For NZ, that could make a shift to 100% ‘green’ supply a short term possibility)

      Then there’s the contention, reflected in available data apparently, that 1-5% of our population is responsible for around 40-60% of emissions.

      So the necessary changes in individual behaviour aren’t necessarily as widespread and radical in the short term as many envisage. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit.

      I’ve said it before, but the idea of having a job/career and saving for retirement is (s’cuse the pun) redundant. We need to vet our jobs on their social contribution and dump the ones that don’t stack up.

      That allows for a transition away from current expectations/behaviours as ‘jobs’ become replaced with ‘socially necessary and valuable work’ that isn’t simply a ‘something’ to be coveted and used as a self measure and a comparative measure against others.

      Throw in a UBI. Throw the problems at ourselves and allow the space for innovative and creative solutions freed from the rusty ball and chain of ‘profit at all costs’.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.2.1

        So the necessary changes in individual behaviour aren’t necessarily as widespread and radical in the short term as many envisage. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit.

        I bought some stuff the other day online. The store I bought sent me a survey which I filled in. It asked about they could do better so I told them to drop the next day delivery as it would save considerable amounts in CO2 emissions. I also told them to get rid of their physical stores as that would also drop CO2 emissions.

        As you say, there’s actually a lot of low hanging fruit that could easily be changed/dropped that would save a hell of a lot and physical retail centres is one of them.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.3

      The only way I can see us changing is with our whole system imploding and petrol costing $10 a litre, then all of a sudden you would see a big dropoff in emissions.

      IMO, Part of the reason why the RWNJs oppose carbon taxes is that they know that consumption will go down dropping profit. Another reason is because wages would have to go up to compensate for the added cost of transport so that people could actually afford to work (which also drops profit – get the hint?).

      It’s a large reason as to why I think that businesses should actually pay for the transport and time for people to go to and from work. You watch at just how fast that they’ll support good public transport, denser cities and free broadband on that PT. They sure as hell won’t be hiring people living in Warkworth or Hamilton to work in the Auckland CBD.

  9. AmaKiwi 9

    “The earth has enough for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” Ghandi

    Poverty has a way of separating the essential from the trivial.

    I look at the extreme weather we have had here in the past few years and think, “Increase this by a magnitude of 2 or 3 or 4 and my local community will be reeling.”

    I’m thinking of roads washed away, buildings flattened, prolonged power and water outages, etc. Sort of Christchurch after the quakes but there is no outside help because the whole country is a wreck and there’s no insurance money.”

    Mother Nature might focus our attention on the essentials of life and leave the trash halls (a.k.a. shopping malls) without any credit card consumers. That would change our environmental footprint big time.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      “The earth has enough for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” Ghandi

      Actually, in today’s world it’s entirely possible that we don’t have enough for everyone’s need.

  10. SPC 10

    Our problem

    1. with a growing population hydro capacity has needed to be supplemented – thus our relative position has fallen even though we still use more renewable energy than most other nations.

    2. we are dependent on exporting agricultural products.

    Thus our performance on the measures used are going to be poor whatever we do.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1


      1. We can build wind, solar and wave power generation to supplement hydro so we don’t need fossil fueled generation.
      2. We don’t need to be. In fact, we’d be far better off if we weren’t dependent upon trade at all.

      Thus our performance is what we choose it to be and, ATM, we’re choosing to have poor performance.

  11. Ad 12

    “I know that we need a just transition, that not only meets our responsibilities to the planet, but gives people opportunities to build good lives for themselves and their families.”

    Little is going to front up to that statement tomorrow when Solid Energy and all its hundreds of workers get their careers destroyed with the demolition of Solid Energy.

    Union families, poor towns, very little hope, and no government plan for their lives or regions. Incredibly dark days ahead – and a tightrope for Little and Labour’s proud history.

  12. Chooky 13

    Good Andrew Little is speaking out on to Climate Change issues. This issue should not just be left to the Greens..I see Megan Woods is spokesperson for Climate Change as well as Environment and other things

    imo Labour really needs to make Climate Change one of its most important and proactive issues both at home and internationally. ( jonkey nactional has really dropped the ball and let down New Zealand badly on this issue) . The spokesperson should be a high profile position and tied in with the Economic Development portfolio… (someone with a very strong economics background like David Cunliffe would be ideal cf. Kevin Rudd in Australia)

    Megan Woods could pick up Conservation to go with Environment

  13. Smilin 14

    The main problem with Nationals attitude is simply their adherence to the free market which is their excuse to do nothing about climate change
    they think flashy pissed serenity advertising will keep people believing in the bs of that rather than looking at the real truth outside the mainstream media indoctrination of our consciousness in regards to what we all should be doing as individuals on day to day basis to reduce climate change

  14. leftie 15

    “Often, you will hear some politicians say we can have a pristine environment, or we can have a growing economy, but we can’t have both.

    Well, I reject that.”

    Andrew Little is right to reject that assumption of it’s either one or the other, as it is possible to have a pristine environment AND a growing economy at the same time.

  15. How dose all that Andrew is saying fit into Kiwi Saver?
    As I’m sure Andrew knows Kiwi Saver is based on continued economic growth.
    Can he, or any labour/green politician say with their hands on their hearts that Kiwi Saver is a good thing for the environment?
    I would love to hear their explanation, of how continued destruction of the environment, for say the life time of a new kiwi Saver ie something like 47 years, is good? Or survivable.
    “Get some guts” …………….. just a backbone would be nice.
    Silence on this issue, makes every politician a liar, and 100% untrustworthy.
    The king has no clothes and 99% of you are happy with that, I hope you all have children – fools

  16. JanMeyer 17

    I couldn’t find the expression “zero by 50” anywhere. Or is he perhaps suggesting a less radical response which might be described as broadly similar to the current government’s approach (once you look behind the Obamaspeak)?

  17. Poission 18

    According to the latest IPCC report, without additional mitigation, we are now facing average global temperature rises of 3.7 to 4.9 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.

    Quoting incorrect numbers in attribution statements is not a good start for any debate.

    The IPCC (ar5) states that ECS Is 1.5-4.5C.

    The equilibrium climate sensitivity quantifies the response of the climate system to constant radiative forcing on multicentury time scales. It is defined as the change in global mean surface temperature at equilibrium that is caused by a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C (high confidence), extremely unlikely less than 1°C (high confidence), and very unlikely greater than 6°C (medium confidence)

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  • Foreign Minister makes four diplomatic appointments
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