The UK has announced plans to increase departure tax from its airports for flights outside Europe to pay for offsetting their carbon emissions. This is part of the worldwide response to climate change – countries are making emitters pay and even aviation, which is excluded from Kyoto, is now being targeted (quite rightly too, it is one of the fastest growing emission sources).
Of course, that’s bad news for New Zealand tourism. Over quarter of a million people visit New Zealand from the UK each year. Adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of their ticket will decrease their numbers and leave them with less to spend here.
So, what should we do about it? Our one bargaining chip is a clean, green image. If we could show that we have a strong emissions reduction programme, we could argue that tourism to New Zealand is overall very low on carbon – people might burn a lot of fuel getting here but little once they are here. It’s kind of like our argument against food miles – sure, it means burning some fuel to transport our lamb around the world to Britain but we emit less greenhouse gas producing it than UK farmers and, overall, we’re more environmentally friendly. Of course to make that argument, National/ACT would have to show they are committed to tackling greenhouse gas emissions. Since they are going to have a select committee to investigate whether everyone else is wrong and climate change is (in Key’s words) “a hoax”, that will be a difficult argument to make.
So, our one shot at some kind of exemption from this tax has already been sabotaged by Key’s incompetent handling of climate change; his failure to understand it is now a foreign relations and trade issue, not just a way to shore up support from ACT, the farmers, and business. But then he’s gone and made it worse. When you are a little country and you want a big country to not do something bad to you, you have to remind them what a good little country you are, what good friends you are (like Clark did last year when our special visa status was under threat). What you don’t do is mouth off that you worry it will have a “contagion effect“, as if British policy is a virus that might infect other countries, as if countries responding to climate change is the new communist domino effect. And you don’t have your spokesperson call it “protectionism“, one of the dirtiest words in international relations.
Those inept comments have sunk any slim hope we might have had of getting an exemption from the departure tax.
Test number 2 for Key, fail.