Parliament has finally declared that the country is in a climate emergency. Here are the terms of the declaration::
That this House
- declare a climate emergency, following the finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that, to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming, global emissions would need to fall by around 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050;
- recognise the advocacy of New Zealanders in calling for action to protect the environment and reduce the impact of human activity on the climate;
- join the over 1,800 jurisdictions in 32 countries to declare a climate emergency and commit to reducing emissions to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming;
- recognise the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability, and public health, through flooding, sea-level rise, and wildfire damage;
- note that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, that the Government has made significant progress on meeting that challenge through the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, and that New Zealand has committed to taking urgent action on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation;
- acknowledge the core tenets of New Zealand’s response by establishing emissions budgets that set us on a path to net zero by 2050, setting a price on emissions through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, transitioning to a low-carbon economy and planning for climate adaption;
- implement the policies required to meet the targets in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, and to increase support for striving towards 100 percent renewable electricity generation, low carbon energy, and transport systems;
- seize the economic opportunities that a clean, green reputation provides;
- create green jobs in the low-carbon economy while managing risks for workers and communities currently reliant on carbon-intensive sectors;
- recognise the alarming trend in species decline and global biodiversity crisis, including the decline in Aotearoa’s indigenous biodiversity, and acknowledge New Zealand’s strategic framework for the protection and restoration of biodiversity Te Mana o te Taiao;
- note that the Government will take further steps towards reducing and eliminating waste;
- show leadership and demonstrate what is possible to other sectors of the New Zealand economy by reducing the Government’s own emissions and becoming a carbon-neutral Government by 2025.
Here is the video.
Most of the text is aspirational. We join 32 other nations to formally acknowledge that the world is facing a climate crisis. We recognise how deep the crisis is. We pledge as a country to do better.
However that last bullet point is a doozie. How does a Government become carbon neutral within five years?
Yvette McCullough at Radio New Zealand reports on James Shaw’s comments on the issue:
Climate Change Minister James Shaw assured that this is anything but token.
“It’s not just symbolic declaration in and of itself, there’s a whole work programme behind it and a reorganisation of the machinery of government from ministers right through agencies to deliver on our commitments,” he said.
That includes the public service – which needs to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Shaw said the public sector accounts for around 7 percent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s a reasonable chunk, it doesn’t solve the whole problem but it does solve a measurable and significant part.
“But really it’s about making sure we’ve got our own House in order. If we’re going to require this astonishing transformation of every aspect of our economy and society, it really is important that we pull finger and lead by example”, he said.
There’s a strong financial incentive for government agencies, because if they don’t reach the target, they have to pay to offset emissions, out of their own baseline funding.
But Shaw said offsetting will very much be a last resort.
“You can’t just kind of buy your way out using forestry offsets when you should be taking action to reduce your emissions in the first place,” he said.
Conceptually it is not too difficult. Ministry by ministry they have to convert car fleets to electric, shut down coal fire boilers, use only renewably generated electricity and supplement it with solar and, even though Shaw suggests otherwise, offset all air travel. Of course if air travel was minimised that would help.
Predictably National and Act have opposed the measure. Even before the vote Judith Collins was rubbishing the idea. From Radio New Zealand:
National Party leader Judith Collins told Morning Report the government has been big on talk and small on delivery.
“If it was really an emergency then it could’ve been done yesterday rather than today. We think it’s all very well to declare an emergency but there’s no proper plan in place as to how to deal with it and it’s not much more than a bit of virtue signing from the government.
“It can do harm and that harm is making people think that by declaring an emergency that something has happened when it hasn’t. It’s quite false and misleading to people.
“The misleading part is by thinking that just by declaring it, something is going to happen.”
Collins said a better move would be committing again to the promise of turning the government’s fleet of cars to electric ones. The government only managed to add 135 electric vehicles to its fleet in its first 18 months in power in the previous term. At the time, then minister of transport Phil Twyford hit back at the criticism, saying they had achieved more in a shorter period than the National government.
But Collins said: “They’ve failed on all their own measures and promises so I just don’t think declaring an emergency is going to do much other than to give the government a free pass so they don’t have to do anything.”
It is something that I have thought about for Auckland Council. It has its own goals and its own climate action framework. Surprisingly about half of Council’s greenhouse emissions (not including AT’s transport related emissions) come from its farming operations. It could achieve a great deal by shutting its farms down and planting native forests instead. Rather than have sheep on One Tree Hill we could have native forests. The only question I have about this is why not.
And meanwhile China has announced its goal to be carbon neutral by 2060 and to begin to reduce emissions before 2030. And estimates by the Climate Action Tracker Group suggest that because of the change in pledges the world is looking at 2.1 degrees temperature increase as opposed to previous estimates of 3 degrees. But this depends on all nations meeting their pledges. And the Pacific would still be decimated.
So this is progress and we have something that will be measured in the short term. But we really have to achieve this and we are running out of time. Let’s do this.