Written By: - Date published: 11:47 am, June 10th, 2018 - 125 comments
Categories: climate change, economy, energy, Environment, global warming, greens, jacinda ardern, james shaw, labour, Media, megan woods, newspapers, sustainability, uncategorized - Tags: fran o'sullivan, matthew hooton
Matthew Hooton and Fran O’Sullivan have recently published articles in the Herald criticising Labour’s decision to stop off shore oil exploration. Hooton thinks it was part of a nefarious plot designed to divert attention away from other issues and O’Sullivan thinks it was “disturbingly Orwellian”. Are such criticisms valid?
Hooton writes well. Each sentence is spun the maximum possible amount and after finishing reading a typical Hooton column your first impression is how could he possibly be wrong?
But then when you check the detail …
In his article he postulates that Labour’s announcement of a halt to the block offer process was a cunning plan to divert attention, not a far sighted decision taken to get the country to a position where it is carbon neutral. He says this:
It’s now clear Jacinda Ardern’s announcement in April to end new oil and gas exploration was made in the context of the constant political crises that came her way through March.
The ban was not Labour Party policy and was ruled out during the election campaign.
Is that right that it was not actually Labour Party policy? It seems to me that the policy was pretty clear.
The headline was that Labour would “[e]nsure a just transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy with decent and secure jobs and, as a key to achieving ambitious emissions reduction targets, will establish an independent Climate Commission and carbon budgeting.”
And it said this about future discoveries of oil and gas:
Although the planet is already over halfway to a 2°C increase, the Paris commitment can be achieved through a rapid but just transition to a low-carbon economy. Crucially, fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Carbon neutrality needs to be achieved worldwide in the second half of this century, with no more greenhouse gases being emitted to the atmosphere than are removed from it.
And in terms of loss of jobs it said this:
Economic transitions can cause major economic and social disruption. They have too often been done poorly in New Zealand, with workers and communities bearing the brunt. It does not need to be that way. A transition can be made equitably to achieve positive outcomes for workers, enhance communities and create new areas of growth.
Labour will provide leadership for a just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy – one that maximises the benefits of climate action while minimising shocks and hardships for workers and their communities.
So I have to disagree that this was not Labour Party policy. In fact I would suggest it was completely and utterly consistent with it.
And what about ruling out action during the campaign? I can’t find a sign of this anywhere. Perhaps someone could point out where.
Hooton also claims the decision went against official advice in these paragraphs:
Economically, ministers were told the industry was responsible for 8481 jobs nationally, 5941 of them in Taranaki. Discovering even a small new gas field would create 199 new jobs and add $160 million to regional GDP. A large one would boost jobs by 1163 and GDP by $1.4 billion.
On the environmental side, ministers were told the policy would most likely increase global greenhouse emissions, prevent domestic emissions from falling should more gas be found, and risk dirty coal replacing cleaner gas when existing reserves run out in seven years.
Precisely because this initial advice showed the proposal to be economically and environmentally vandalous is the most plausible explanation for why ministers decided to seek no more.
Hooton’s figure of 8481 jobs includes induced jobs. Any sort of generated economic activity will cause further jobs to be created. Sustainable energy projects included. Greenpeace has stated that the equivalent investment in green energy creates four times as many jobs as the same investment in the oil industry.
Yesterday Fran O’Sullivan added to the debate and made similar claims.
She said that the decision was “disturbingly Orwellian”. How could it be that Ardern was engaging in behaviour which was destructive to the welfare of a free and open society?
She also said this:
Official papers released by her hapless Energy Minister confirm what was already blindingly obvious to anyone who has observed closeup the process of Governmental decision-making — the ban was purely political.
A decision that was kicked upstairs and made by Ardern, NZ First Leader Winston Peters and Greens Leader James Shaw. And rushed through — without being contested through appropriate Cabinet consideration — so it could be announced on April 12 just before the Prime Minister headed to Europe.
What it also confirms — as I wrote in April — is Ardern put her debut as a global climate change warrior ahead of making credible plans to transition New Zealand away from a reliance on fossil fuels towards clean energy.
With the greatest of respect the decision was the end result of the block offer consultation conducted under the Crown Minerals Act 1991. It was not an off the cuff announcement of untested policy. The decision this year was to allow one onshore area to be surveyed for the presence of petrochemicals. This is not a radical decision. Over the past two years only two block offer survey areas have been taken up by the industry. And the decision was legally the Minister of Energy’s to make. There was cabinet consideration of the issue and the Minister’s decision was noted.
My reading of the briefing papers is that everyone, MBIE included, understood that no new block offers for offshore drilling would be made until the Climate Change Commission had reported back to Government. One briefing paper included this passage:
What about the claim by both Hooton and O’Sullivan that the decision is bad for the environment?
The argument about environmental effects is one that heretofore climate change skeptics raise regularly. Repeated ad nauseam the argument will mean that nothing will change because there will always be one corner of the world unwilling to stop doing something because somewhere else is slightly worse. I think we just have to get on with it and start doing what we can locally and trust the rest of the world will do their bit. And I have a lot of faith that China, the subject of the claim about dirty coal, is already adjusting to a coal free future.
An argument in support of strong action was neatly summarised by James Shaw in this letter dated February 20, 2018 to Megan Woods:
The simple fact is that all of the coal, oil and gas that has already been discovered cannot be burnt if globally we are to meet our Paris Agreement commitments to limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees. We should not be looking for more.
The United Nations estimated last year that to meet climate targets, 80-90 percent of coal, 50 percent of gas and 35 per cent of oil cannot be burnt.
Realistically, currently known fossil fuel reserves may continue to be extracted and burnt for some time as the global transition to cleaner renewable energy sources takes place. But searching for more fossil fuels does not aid the transition, it delays it. Every exploration dollar could instead be spent on renewable energy. Every investment creates an asset from which its owners will expect a return.
I urge you to end the Block Offer process for allocating petroleum and minerals permits immediately. I understand that the most recent Block Offer was set in motion by the previous Government. I do not see any good reason why our new Government should begin another one.
Labour’s block offer announcement was not an attempted diversion from other issues nor part of an Orwellian conspiracy to wreck the Oil industry. It was totally consistent with party policy. It is what is required if we as a nation are going to become carbon neutral.
Hopefully the quality of the debate will improve. This is far too important an issue to get wrong.