Written By: - Date published: 7:17 am, June 1st, 2015 - 37 comments
Categories: activism, climate change, democratic participation, global warming, sustainability - Tags: dunedin, emissions targets, lost causes, paris talks, we the people
The government has held a series of consultation meetings with we the public on “setting New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target”.
I attended the Dunedin meeting on Thursday the 21 of May in the Glenroy auditorium. There was only word-of-mouth advertising, and a last minute venue change (very sensible given the interest in the preparatory event organised by Wise Response). Even so, an excellent turnout of about 300 people attended the meeting (see ODT report).
(Photo from Oil Free Otago)
It was an extraordinary evening. So many people spoke with concern, with intelligence, with anger, with compassion, with emotion. Some spoke with hope, some without. We the audience supported each other and those who chose to speak with frequent applause and thanks. There was a real feeling of determination and common purpose.
For the record, I made what notes I could.
=== Begins ===
The meeting started with a welcome and an introduction by the officials, including a short video. They explained the rules for the discussion, five minutes per speaker. A member of the audience immediately challenged, suggesting that three minutes was enough. This was put to the meeting, and unanimously supported. Remarkably, I think every single speaker stuck to this rule. Contributions were concise and relevant.
Each paragraph below is a summary of the contribution of one individual speaker. There are occasional notes in [square brackets]. My apologies for any errors and omissions.
=== Speakers from the audience said ===
The 2° warming target is gone already, we can’t limit temperature increases to that. Both the government and this meeting should acknowledge that reality.
NZ committed to a 50% reduction (from 1990 base levels) by 2050 in Copenhagen. Why the need for consultation, why aren’t we acting? [An official replied that that commitment was made by government negotiators and had no “legislative force”, leading to vocal incredulity from the audience].
Why are we still doing oil exploration? If we are trying to reduce emissions, fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.
Science should determine the process and our targets, rather than public consultation. Health factors must be taken into account.
This is not an economic question, it is a moral and ethical question. Future generations will judge us. The costs of not acting are that billions will die. [Interjections from the audience, why is the cost of action discussed in the consultation document, but not the costs of inaction? The consultation document is rubbish.]
The consultation document says that we must be “pragmatic”. What are we going to do when our land is underwater, and our oceans are acidic? The economy is not the only bottom line. There is no economy without the environment.
What is the relationship between climate change and the TPP? Will the TPP limit our ability to act?
We are a Pacific nation, and the Pacific is highly vulnerable. We are accountable to our neighbours.
New Zealand should be leading by example, like we did on the nuclear free issue.
[One of NZ’s youth representatives to climate change talks:] We need a 40% reduction target by 2030 [here, as at many points in the evening, many in the audience held up 40% reduction posters distributed by Oil Free Otago]. No more carbon – we’re an innovative country, we can find a way. How is it that we are still subsidising polluters and fossil fuel? Why was Dunedin originally left off the list for consultation meetings?
The consultation document talks about “doing our fair share”. What happened to the old New Zealand when we were a leader, an innovator, not a follower?
The government is spending $26 million consulting on the flag. How much are they spending on this? [Officials commented that they could not say specifically, but it was much less.]
The economic system is corrupt. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. We need to get away from debt-based money, we need sovereign money. We could lead with a “democratic sustainable economic system”.
[This speaker was very young – 10?] We spend money to protect native species, why not on oceans and the threat of acidification? Most of our area is ocean.
Our Pacific neighbours are not mentioned in the document. It’s not good enough. Young volunteers are at work in the Pacific, why is our government not acting?
[Julie Anne Genter, Green MP:] We accept that this is not the officials’ [here at the meeting] fault, it is government that is to blame. Climate is not mentioned in the budget. We are paying $160 million in subsidies to polluters via the ETS, why? We need to decouple the economy from greenhouse gas emissions. Support the 40% target.
[Professor Bob Lloyd, Otago Physics Department:] 40% target is too low by half. If we want to stay below 2° warming we need to reduce emissions by 7% per annum starting in 2021 (more if we are to allow for increasing emissions in developing countries). Current pledges are not even close. There is a huge mismatch between what is needed, and the pledges. We need proper costing of the consequences of inaction! Carbon capture is inefficient and hard. [Some of these points arose as people started asking questions directly of Prof Lloyd from the audience.]
[Alan Mark, Chair, Wise Response Society:] There are wider issues than those in the consultation document. Health. Biodiversity. In a meeting earlier in the week in Dunedin more than 200 people passed a remit calling for action. Will there be a public release of the document that the government takes to Paris? [The officials commented that the target will be made public.]
[First speaker again:] We need a 7 to 10% reduction per year but economists say that risks an economic slowdown or crash. Government only listens to arguments about the economy. If the government got serious about emissions reduction, would the civil service be up to it? Can we make a state change? The onus is on all of us here at this meeting, the middle class, to give up our multiple houses and our KiwiSaver, to make sacrifices. It is a challenge to us. [The enthusiastic applause which follows each speaker was somewhat muted on this occasion – but it’s a truth we must face.]
[A student:] How can we reduce agricultural emissions and allow growth?
[A student:] Does New Zealand think of itself as an environmental leader?
[A medical student:] climate change will involve health issues. We need to move from a discussion about the future to the present tense, action now.
Why are carbon charges not in the consultation document? We need to apply market forces. No rewards for polluters. We need to shift the burden away from the innovative green economy onto the old dinosaur industries. We should be ashamed to be followers, it’s not the ANZAC spirit.
Why is there no support for sustainability education in schools? Teachers are told “don’t go there”. It should be part of the New Zealand curriculum, every school. [Huge applause.]
2° of warming will increase health problems in New Zealand. The government should lead, as it did with the neocon revolution. Direct action is needed.
Don’t rely on carbon credits. We need creative ways to reduce carbon emissions now. Plant trees. Biodiversity is important. We need to reduce emissions, not buy offshore credits.
Who did the government consult in preparing this document? It’s not good enough. We need leadership from the Ministry to inform government. Why are we aiming for a mediocre 90% renewable energy generation? New Zealand can achieve 100%. Stop cosying up to the fossil fuel industry. Don’t be complacent, it is shameful, 100% renewable generation is achievable now.
The figures on renewable energy generation ignore petrol. It is not total energy.
The consultation document is all about the costs of action, but needs to consider costs of inaction. Limiting temperature to a 2° increase is technically possible, and economically possible, with 0.5% GDP cost (much less than “defence”). The economic analysis has been done, including a model of the economy with a price on carbon. We do it by starting now! The longer we wait the harder it gets. Our innovation can cope, we need to get on with it.
Tiwai smelter should be converted from aluminium production to silicon production – solar panels.
The predictions of environmental models are scary. We have had so many warnings and deadlines. Action is always five years away. The models keep getting worse. We need a zero or negative emissions. We have the technology for zero, not yet for capture/storage. We need to stop hiding behind the difficulties and see the opportunities. Be bold. 0% by 2040. A recent article in the Guardian describes $5.3 trillion in subsidies to fossil fuels. That’s madness. Apply subsidies to achieving zero carbon.
Act now. This affects the world. Every single person. We will have to give up the nice car. Not a select group, all of us. Our heart and soul is in it, is our government? Action now!
[Marion Hobbs, ex Minister for the Environment:] Your Minister is for both trade and climate. We need a minister who is at home in New Zealand to coordinate. Environment is not rated highly enough by any government. We need leadership on energy, transport, home efficiency, urban design, agriculture. Thanks [to the officials] for your work, but we need evidence of good work across departments. [Officials commented there is a “natural resources sector” which is doing work across departments, it could do more.]
[Aaron Hawkins, Councillor, Dunedin City Council:] I am a writer, I see the world in an emotional context. I fear for future generations. I acknowledge the anger and anxiety of the young who have spoken at this meeting. The inertia of all government has created this problem. I’m scared to have kids. It is a terrifying future. [Aaron was breaking up, he moved the audience deeply.]
[A representative of Generation Zero:] I thank and support the previous speaker. 2030 is not long-term. We have the tools, fix our future!
Many people have been working on this issue for decades, much is being done. Many have made choices to live simply. We have to make changes, the middle-class, across the board. The market economy ends (or we do). I am gutted for future generations. There has been too much gluttony. We need to recharge environmental capital / the natural world. It is an immense transition, massive change.
This is the biggest problem ever, worldwide. Act now. Live up to New Zealand’s image and act now!
This is a political process. We are smart people with passion and drive. We need to address every step, every mission, every way. It’s not a question of if we should, we must, it’s a question of how we do it.
[Jinty McTavish, Councillor, Dunedin City Council:] Six years ago many of the people in this room were at another “consultation” meeting with Nick Smith [yes, I was there]. We asked for 40% reduction by 2020 [the country asked for it too!]. Nothing happened. Today we have paid the price. We need more ambitious targets [strong audience applause]. 40% reduction is the minimum. Anything less is totally unacceptable. Second point, co-benefits. Healthy homes, cycling, there are benefits as well as costs in action. Final point, going through regional planning processes there are very specific targets and dollars amounts. We must accept no less on climate targets. Be specific.
[A mother:] This government won’t take realistic action. So what do we people do. General strike, will you join me? Kick out this government and its cronies who rule the world.
[A grandmother: ] Speaking for the mokopuna – did you [the officials] mean it – did you mean the fine words of your welcome [which was delivered in Te Reo [this unworthy scribe was unable to translate]]? [Officials comment that they meant the words.]
Stop subsidising the fossil fuel industry, the New Zealand petroleum organisation. Do you have any comment? [Officials, no. Questions directed to the officials:] are there plans to reduce coal or oil use? [Officials, not aware of any.] Do you have an opinion on coal drilling? [Officials, not in the context of this process, no.] We in New Zealand are lucky and insulated, the rest of the planet not so much. Represent us well in Paris.
There is a lot of disillusionment with government. We need to get our submissions in. The government will make no effort. Compare with what can be accomplished in a time of war. Take action! We need to push for wider support for action.
This is one of a series of consultation documents, it is the weakest. I’m ashamed to be a New Zealander. Questions for the audience: Who thinks we are doing enough? [0 hands] Who thinks we should be doing more? [near unanimous]. You (the officials) are the fall guys, yes, but you have a duty to relay to government what the mood is. Future generations will judge us harshly, there is a lack of leadership. Take a strong message to Wellington.
Action needs to be pan-political (as Wise Response recommended). We all need to get behind it. We can’t keep changing with different governments, it must be consistent. It will be hard work. We need a united global population.
[A teacher:] I am here with four prefects from my school. They were all at the ANZAC dawn service. Lest we forget. There is no self, only complex systems. There are no contries or boundaries, we are part of the Earth.
[A prefect:] I don’t want my generation to have to go through this process. All schools should be enviro schools. People need to know more for the future. “We ask not for lighter burdens but broader shoulders”.
Maori communities are disadvantaged and vulnerable. What consultation has there been with iwi, hapu, whanau? [Officials comment that there are 16 meetings round the country.]
[A primary teacher:] You officials are in a hard spot. Please advise the Ministers. The Ministry of the Environment doesn’t seem to know about the environment! Take our messages loud and clear. Government needs to grow some balls. This is a matter of morals and ethics, not GDP. [Officials comment that we should read the MoE briefing to incoming ministers.]
There is a universal connection. “Merchants of doubt”, read it, watch it. There is a denier industry. John Key said on BBC Hard Talk that he can always find another scientist. We need to make people aware of disinformation. Take back our anger and frustration to Wellington. Put a ponytail on the document.
[The very young speaker again:] The consultation document says we may be “less well off” if we act. How can we be less well off if we have been saved from disaster?
Well done to the young who have spoken at this meeting. It is appreciated.
This document is about post-2020. That will be another government. That government will ignore this process. The current government must take action, we can’t wait five years. Start now. It is the only option for society.
[Officials suggest winding up the meeting, audience disagrees.]
We’re a big country, most of our area is ocean. We have a voice and should stand for something. The ocean is becoming acidified. The future for our children is scary. The government needs to look forward, and work backward from what is needed. Whatever costs we have to do it.
[NZ Youth representative again:] There is a principle of intergenerational equity at stake which the government should support, not reject.
This meeting was not well advertised, not everyone is here. It is not just us here in this room who are concerned.
Climate change is an inconvenient truth. Why are we not adopting new technologies? Solar? The costs of coal and fossil fuels are externalised. Make it a level playing field for new technology.
There are plenty of films on a post-apocalyptic world. What would a post-climate change world look like? Thirty years ago New Zealand led the world becoming nuclear free. We should lead on climate change. We must leave a liveable world for our descendants.
Why are there no ministers here? Why are officials fronting the government’s position against overwhelming public opinion? How can the public participate or answer when the consultation document does not cover the costs of inaction? There is no point in setting a target without a plan.
Renewable infrastructure creates jobs (more than the oil industry). If any country can do it, we can. Don’t be lazy and ignorant. Government must work for the people.
If you want to make a difference, make a submission! A written submission. We want international leadership, we need local leadership. Tell the government that is not good enough. Current economic models use a 10% discount rate, we need to change models and analysis. Why are we going backwards to diesel trains in Auckland? We need leadership today. We will compromise our lifestyle for our kids.
There is a quote, previous generations didn’t know, future generations it will be too late, it is down to us.
=== Officials wrap up ===
Make a written submission by 3 June. Thanks for your heart and soul, anger and passion. We will take the seriousness of these issues to Wellington. Here are five summary points we are taking from the meeting:
(1) There are significant costs to inaction on climate change which should have been better reflected in the consultation document.
(2) There are benefits to action for example to health and innovation.
(3) We need more leadership from our government in the world, especially in the Pacific region. Take on the big countries as we did on the nuclear issue.
(4) There needs to be cross party leadership and consensus. Build on community consensus.
(5) New Zealand’s emissions reduction target should be at least 40% by 2030, and probably 7% per annum. This should apply internationally.
Compare with a similar account of one of the Wellington meetings.