Question Time in Parliament yesterday was dominated by climate change, with debate on targets, smart farming and Keisha Castle-Hughes. A couple of events really stood out.
Climate Change Minister Nick Smith gave a shocker of an answer to a question from Jeanette Fitszimons about the call from Pacific Island
countries for developed countries to cut emissions by 45% by 2020. After all, it’s the survival of Pacific Island countries that’s at stake with climate change.
This is what happened:
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Will New Zealand’s climate change target take into account the call
from Pacific Island leaders for a 45 percent cut by 2020?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Climate Change Issues) : Yes. The Government recognises that climate change poses a particular threat to our Pacific Island neighbours. It is one of many factors that we will take into account in considering our 2020 commitment. I also note, though, that it is a lot easier for those countries to call for very large reductions when they are not proposing any binding commitments for reductions themselves."
It’s worth reflecting on the last part of Nick Smith’s response. It’s a shocker for two reasons. Firstly, Pacific Island countries are very poor. They don’t have the capacity that New Zealand has to reduce emissions and frankly, they have hardly any emissions to reduce. Yet previously, when I was at Bonn at the climate change negotiations I was heartened to see that small Pacific Island countries are taking action to reduce their emissions such as seeking to reduce their dependence on imported diesel.
But perhaps the thing that makes this remark particularly bad is that the survival of Pacific Island countries are at stake because of
climate change. Some will become uninhabitable while others will find life a lot harder. Imagine if it was New Zealand that faced the threat of being uninhabitable. Is this how we would want other countries to act.
Nick – if you’re reading this blog, I was very disappointed to hear your comment in Parliament. I know you can be much better than this.
On the other hand, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English dug the Government out of an embarrassing hole it had dug for itself. As you’ll probably know, John Key took a verbal swing at Keisha Castle-Hughes while in Australia and Keisha responded gracefully on TVNZ’s Close
As a result of all this, Labour’s Charles Chauvel asked a question of Bill English (because John Key was away at the Pacific Island Forum) and the question and answer went like this:
Charles Chauvel (Labour): Does the Prime Minister agree with Keisha Castle-Hughes that telling her to “stick to acting” is really odd, given that he had previously encouraged her to make a submission to the Minister for Climate Change Issues on New Zealand’s pollution reduction target?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): The Prime Minister wholeheartedly supports Ms Castle-Hughes’ right to have a view about New Zealand’s climate change policy and her right to publicise that view.
Bill English did blot his copybook a little when he went on to say "However, an advertising campaign is not a replacement for
serious analysis of the impact of a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. Any serious analysis would tell us that such a
reduction would have a very negative impact on our economy and on people’s livelihoods."
Sorry Bill, but as Finance Minister and former Treasury official, you should know that the economic modelling recently released by the
Government didn’t say this at all. In fact, it concluded that even with wildly unrealistic and negative assumptions, the economy would
grow substantially with a 40% target.
What’s more the Government’s modelling assumed the country could do very little to reduce emissions, that its climate policies would be a
complete failure (with no adoption of new technology or step changes in behaviour) and ignored the risks to the New Zealand economy of not
In actual fact a 40% responsibility target for New Zealand is affordable, achievable and essential is we are to do our fair share.