Climate change: NZ is still talking big and acting small
Janet Wilson is a freelance journalist until recently working in PR, including a stint with the National Party. She contributes a column weekly. OPINION: Waiting for this weeks Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to drop was like being the lazy, recalcitrant kid at the back of the class waiting for exam results; you know its going to be bad you just dont realise how catastrophic it is until you read it. This was the case with the IPCCs third and final report, the sixth round of assessing global climate damage, which offered ways to reduce emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The warnings were dire : the IPCC said there was high confidence that, unless countries increase their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the world will be 2.4 degrees Celsius to 3.5C warmer by the end of the century, double the 1.5C limit set in 1992 (which New Zealand agreed to) as part of the Paris Agreement . Whats more, the worlds wealthiest and developed nations had failed to take meaningful action on emissions. If you think for a minute that New Zealand, with its clean green image projected overseas to attract tourists, isnt one of those countries, think again. Per head of population, were one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters . READ MORE: * The world has its best chance yet to slash emissions if it seizes the opportunity * Shifting gears to a low-carbon future * We must give the Government a strong mandate for climate action For years, weve talked big and acted very small when it comes to climate change. And our global friends know this. Sixteen months ago, we were effectively shut out by a UN and global climate leaders summit , over the fact that our emissions had the second-highest rise in Annex 1 countries, while other countries had fallen. A month before, British high commissioner Laura Clarke told a climate change conference that there was a gap in this country between ambition and reality when it came to New Zealands rhetoric and action on climate change. You have Scandinavian ambitions in terms of quality of life and public services, but a US attitude to tax, she said. And while climate change may well be this generations nuclear-free moment , as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern famously uttered in 2017, its clear that this Governments approach to it has until now been business-as-usual. The 2019 Zero Carbon Act , setting a target of zero carbon emissions and reducing methane emissions between 24-47 per cent by 2050, was a start in fighting climate change, as was the heralded announcement before last years COP26 climate conference of a 50 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 , up from its original 30 per cent target. But these moves are yet to produce results, with Statistics New Zealands 2022 February environmental indicators update finding that our 2019 emissions showed no sustained reductions compared to 2005 levels. This week the countrys scientific community, some of whom had contributed to the IPCC report, reiterated its findings that its now or never . UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the IPCC report revealed a litany of broken promises by governments and corporations, a file of shame . Isnt this rhetoric part of the problem? Theres always been a Chicken Little sky-is-falling-down quality to the discourse around climate science. The IPCCs second report, released last August, described the situation as code red for humanity . The problem is that, like Chicken Little, we get inured to it. Add to that, Kiwis cultural tendency to shrug our shoulders and say, Shell be right, and a picture emerges as to why there hasnt been the political will to implement change for the past 30 years. The fact that the agricultural sector the largest source of emissions in New Zealand wont be admitted to the Emissions Trading Scheme until 2025 epitomises that lack of public will which drives the lack of political will. In 2019, when the Government decided to price agricultural emissions, agricultural leaders instead proposed they work together in a group called He Waka Eke Noa . It was this group that managed to get an effective 95 per cent discount, paying only 5 per cent tax on agricultural emissions. A discussion document revealed that this would cost $430 million a year but lead to a paltry reduction in total agriculture emissions of less than 1 per cent below 2017 levels. Targets may signal our intent, but if we cant achieve the ones we set 30 years ago, its a meaningless exercise, made even more meaningless by the fact that the Government plans to buy international carbon offsets to meet as much as two-thirds of our emissions reduction target. However, with extreme weather events a reality, such as the recent floods in Tairawhiti and fires in Northlands Kaimaumau this summer, hope still springs eternal. Next month Climate Change Minister James Shaw will finally release New Zealands Emissions Reduction Plan, which will set out how each industry and sector will reduce emissions. That will be backed up by Budget 2022, of which $4.5 billion of its $6b funding will be devoted to the Climate Emergency Response Fund , the proceeds of which will go from the ETS to spend on initiatives to combat climate change. It may be too little. It may even be too late. But its a start.