Viewport width =
July 20, 2009 | by  | in Features |
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Battleground Bonn: why National is stuck on climate change

Salient feature writer Nina Fowler takes a look at climate change policy in New Zealand and how the National Government is shaping up on the international stage.

The world is facing arguably the greatest crisis in human history. No, not the recession, not the boy racer pandemic… climate change. Remember climate change?

Slow kid in the schoolyard

NASA scientist Jim Hansen believes humanity has ten years to either bring global carbon emissions under control or face the possibility of apocalypse. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are currently approaching the third round of climate change negotiations at Bonn, aimed at replacing the Kyoto Protocol and establishing national emissions reduction targets by 2020. National targets must be set and international negotiations completed before governments can put domestic policies in place and avert aforementioned apocalypse.

Unfortunately, little ‘green’ New Zealand is shaping up as the slow kid in the schoolyard. At the first round of negotiations in late March and early April, all developed countries except for Japan, Iceland, Russia, Switzerland, Belarus, Ukraine and New Zealand set an emissions reduction target for 2020. At the second round, Japan stepped forward to set an admittedly weak target of 8% of 1990 levels by 2020. After a moment of silence, the NZ delegation was asked to explain why they hadn’t yet set a target.

Long-standing environmental activist and current Greenpeace political advisor Geoff Keey was in Bonn to hear the response of Climate Change Ambassador Adrian Macey.
“He said NZ would bring a target to the next meeting but they were still waiting on some forestry data, and they were going to run a public consultation process and this was the reason for the delay.

“At this point, because [the NZ target] was so overdue and the way it was announced, the person sitting next to me turned to me and said ‘is NZ trying to take the piss out of the negotiations?’”

Blame it on the recession

Back home, climate change seems to have slipped from both the front page and the National agenda. Since winning the 2008 election, the National Government appears to have taken more steps backwards than forwards in terms of climate change policy.

On 16 December 2008, Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee scrapped Labour’s ban on traditional (and inefficient) incandescent lightbulbs.

On 16 November 2008, National halted implementation of the newly passed Emisssions Trading Scheme pending a full review of climate change policy.

On 22 December 2008, National made good on pre-election promises to repeal the ten-year ban on new thermal power stations. Genesis Energy is now planning a gas-fired power station northwest of Auckland.

In February 2009, National announced plans to ‘streamline’ the Resource Management Act. This will fast track sustainable energy projects but also makes it easier for all other developments to get resource consent.

Public transport services funding has been cut by 23% and infrastructure funding by 89%. Funding for the state highway network, however, will receive an extra billion over the next three years.

In fact, the one solidly positive environmental policy that National has announced—the $323m national home insulation scheme—was negotiated as part of a memorandum of understanding with the Greens.

Keey thinks National’s inaction or backward action on climate change is an attempt to set them apart from Labour.

“There’s a lot of positioning around what the government is doing with regard to climate change. That phase out of incandescent lightbulbs made tremendous sense but they pulled it, mostly just to be seen to be different to the previous government.”

Keey believes National’s refusal at Bonn to set an emissions target by 2020 is driven by the same psychology.

“The new government didn’t want to be seen to be implementing the previous government’s climate change strategy. To be honest, there isn’t a huge amount of difference at the international level between the current and previous governments on climate change policy. It’s at the domestic level where there’s a lot of difference. What they want is to have a break between governments so it seems like a fresh start.”

Open mic nights with the Hon. Nick Smith

Last week, the first of the promised public consultation meetings was chaired by Environment Minister Nick Smith in Wellington. As the Government has not set even a preliminary emissions target, all the public meetings will be able to gauge is whether the public want a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ target.

Keey attended the Wellington meeting. He says most people at the meeting supported a 40% reduction in emissions from 1990 level by 2020.

“There were 350-400 people at the Wellington meeting and pretty much 80% wanted that target.”

Phil Barker, co-leader of Victoria University environmental group Gecko, confirmed Keey’s observations.

“[Nick Smith] is hearing strongly in those meetings that people want a 40% reduction in emissions. His response was, and I quote, “You can go for 40% if you only care about the environment like the Green Party’. That triggered groans across the audience because that’s not even the framework for the debate.”

“Smith was saying, ‘I can hear what target you’re asking for, it’s 40%, it’s clear, but you need to tell us where that’s going to come from, where we’re gonna make the reductions’. Gareth [Hughes, Green Party candidate] was able to respond by saying ‘you’ve got Treasury, you’ve got the Department of Internal Affairs, you’re the government’. The metaphor is like having the CIA at your feet then asking where the details are.”

Admittedly, National is in an extremely difficult position. Crying ‘recession’ may not be an adequate excuse for inaction or backwards action on climate change, but rising unemployment and national debt hardly help the situation.

Geoff Keey thinks the public consultations process may be an attempt to bridge the gap between international expectations and certain domestic lobby groups.

“At the Wellington meeting, people were asked to stand up if they supported an emissions target of 10% or stronger, then to sit if they didn’t support 20% or more, and so on up to 40%. Two of the business representatives there, one from the Major Electricity Users Group and one from the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, weren’t even prepared to stand for the 10% target. Whereas internationally, New Zealand are being pushed to set at a target of at least 25%. There’s a large gap there, so the government need a whopping amount of public support to even get to 25% and survive the backlash they’re going to get from business.”

Battleground Bonn

National is expected to set an emissions reduction target before the August meetings in Bonn. Failing to set a target could have serious consequences. According to Keey, the international community is starting to link climate change and trade negotiations together.

“New Zealand is getting a bit of a hard word put on it, particularly in Europe. Other leaders are making it clear that when New Zealand goes knocking on doors for trade access then, quid pro quo, what you do in one area influences how you get treated elsewhere.

“New Zealand has basically got to bang down doors to sell what we produce, to markets where consumers have plenty of other options and where governments are a bit reluctant at times to let our products in. We can’t afford to tell the rest of the world to piss off [at the Bonn negotiations]. It’s that simple. If we do that, then we’re likely to create an economic impact that’ll make the current recession look like nothing.”

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

About the Author ()

Nina Fowler (BA), former Salient feature writer, is excited about Salient '10.

Comments (6)

Trackback URL / Comments RSS Feed

  1. Hoolian says:

    What an exceptionally poor piece of journalism. How about a bit of balance, and get the Govt to comment on your story, or at least respond to your rampart accusations? All you report on is Keey and his third-person review of the 2020 meetings. Your story is teeming with factual inaccuracies and is very unbalanced.

  2. Hank Scorpio says:

    hoolian more like poolian

  3. mikeDD says:

    ‘teeming with factual inaccuracies’

    such as…

  4. Mike the Courier says:

    Too fuggin right, cobber!

    I was havin’ a farken slash on Dixon Street on Friday nite when this pinko farken green party joker comes up to me and says “Oy! Stop yer pissin’ yer a farken NATIONAL disgrace!”
    and I thought “Streuth,” I thought, I thought, “Streuth, how’d that shelia know I voted for farm boy John Key?”

    onya arse boy

  5. che says:

    “On 22 December 2008, National made good on pre-election promises to repeal the ten-year ban on new thermal power stations. Genesis Energy is now planning a gas-fired power station northwest of Auckland.”

    This implies on led to the other. Genesis Energy were planning a gas-fired station at Rodney well before the thermal ban moratorium was repealed. They claimed it was legal even under the previous government’s ban.

  6. Nina says:

    It’s obvious that this is an opinion piece. Keey was particularly well placed, as a non-political activist observer, to report on the 2020 meetings – because I agree with many of his points, I leaned heavily on his comments.

    “This implies on led to the other. Genesis Energy were planning a gas-fired station at Rodney well before the thermal ban moratorium was repealed. They claimed it was legal even under the previous government’s ban.”

    I was aware of this, but my point – that National are not making climate change a priority – stands. If you spot any other inaccuracies, post ’em up!

    And it’s not rampant National bashing. I’ve acknowledged several reasons why National are finding it tough to move quickly on this one: recession, difficult lobby groups, the need to be seen as a strong and different government on the international stage…

    “Keey believes National’s refusal at Bonn to set an emissions target by 2020 is driven by the same psychology.

    “The new government didn’t want to be seen to be implementing the previous government’s climate change strategy. To be honest, there isn’t a huge amount of difference at the international level between the current and previous governments on climate change policy. It’s at the domestic level where there’s a lot of difference. What they want is to have a break between governments so it seems like a fresh start.”

    “Admittedly, National is in an extremely difficult position. Crying ‘recession’ may not be an adequate excuse for inaction or backwards action on climate change, but rising unemployment and national debt hardly help the situation.

    Geoff Keey thinks the public consultations process may be an attempt to bridge the gap between international expectations and certain domestic lobby groups.”

Recent posts

  1. An (im)possible dream: Living Wage for Vic Books
  2. Salient and VUW tussle over Official Information Act requests
  3. One Ocean
  4. Orphanage voluntourism a harmful exercise
  5. Interview with Grayson Gilmour
  6. Political Round Up
  7. A Town Like Alice — Nevil Shute
  8. Presidential Address
  9. Do You Ever Feel Like a Plastic Bag?
  10. Sport
1

Editor's Pick

In Which a Boy Leaves

: - SPONSORED - I’ve always been a fairly lucky kid. I essentially lucked out at birth, being born white, male, heterosexual, to a well off family. My life was never going to be particularly hard. And so my tale begins, with another stroke of sheer luck. After my girlfriend sugge