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July 11, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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The Climate Change Conundrum

Climate change is a much-publicized, controversial issue and is of great importance to the world at the moment. Salient writer William Guzzo talked to climate change expert Jonathan Boston, to find out what the haps is with climate change. Boston is a Professor of Public Policy at Victoria University, and has been involved with the climate change debate for around five years.

How much of an issue do you think climate change is?

In my view, I think climate change is one of the biggest environmental issues we face. There’s the impact on biodiversity as the climate changes. Secondly, there will be large impacts on agriculture. It’s part of a bigger issue though: how to live within our biophysical constraints. There are other big issues too though, for example the management of our water, as well as equally big non-environmental issues, such as the alleviation of poverty, the end of human conflict etc.

What do you think is New Zealand’s role in addressing climate change?

New Zealand is part of the global community so we have to ‘do our fair share’ to stop this global problem. Secondly, we do have a very unique emissions profile, especially in the agriculture sector, with methane and the like. Thus, as a developed country, we have a responsibility to find new ways of mitigating climate change, especially with efforts in R&D. We also are very reliant on oil, which is a concern, but we are heavily invested in renewable technology. So we could potentially lead the way in renewable technologies based around cars, for example hybrid vehicles, and prove to the world its feasibility.

What do you say to those who claim climate change policy isn’t necessary in New Zealand, due to the extremely low (<1%) contribution we have to climate change?

Our contribution may be low, but we live in a country with a population of about four million, which means that per capita our emissions are actually very high, especially considering our investment in renewable energy.

How much does economics factor into the equation? Can climate change mitigation and economic well-being coexist in New Zealand?

First of all, New Zealand, as a small country, relies greatly on International Institutions for maintaining our wellbeing. As a consequence, we have to be a good global citizen, otherwise this may not happen. Secondly, we trade heavily on our ‘100% Pure’ branding. If we undermine this, then we will suffer the economic consequences. There is also the fact that eventually at some point we will have to deal with climate change and those who can effectively apply low Carbon technologies early on can benefit immensely in the medium to longer term. However, if we move too fast, it may damage the export industry. So we have to get the timing right. Lastly, our agricultural industry is based on climate, which is an obvious incentive to help mitigate the issue.

What are your views on the current climate change policy in New Zealand? Is the Emissions Trading Scheme working?

Well its not a complete waste of time—at least we are doing something. Also, with any policy instrument, it’s complex to implement, for example, measurement. It’s unavoidable. However, the ETS is having a minimal impact. This is as the price on carbon is far too low, due to its lack of a fixed level of carbon, which is the original purpose of the ETS. Furthermore, it only covers half of New Zealand currently. It’s poorly designed and we probably need to have many different complementary measures, instead of just one.

What about on a Global level; is the Kyoto Protocol working?

The next commitment period is in 2012, and it is likely to be in a sort of ‘hibernation’ period from there. It’s looking likely that only really the European Union will commit. I think eventually though, America, as well as others, will join the agreement with a real determination but how long we will have to wait before this happens could be the difference in the magnitudes of effects we will have to face in the future.

Should we look to other alternatives?

Hopefully the lack of international cooperation won’t stop individual countries and businesses investing into ways of mitigating climate change. But it will definitely slow change and lower effectiveness.

Jonathan, do you think it’s too late?

We simply have to have hope. The day we lose hope is the day that we are doomed. I have immense faith in the human race, and have to trust that we can come together and avoid complete disaster.*

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  1. gauri kapoor says:

    I want some questions that I can ask to the judiciary on climatic changes that can force them to wear their thinking – caps!!

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