Yesterday, the recently anointed Climate Change Minister Tim Groser (until recently he was only the minister responsible for international climate negotiations – now he has both roles) gave his first speech announcing yet another consultation on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). And what a disappointing start.

The Minister has set out the Government’s intentions to weaken – or should we say gut – an already lacklustre and limp ETS. When National got the keys to the Beehive, they inherited the ETS from Labour. Rather than seizing the initiative and giving some teeth to the only progressive policy tool that New Zealand had to tackle climate change with, they have set about removing the molars and allowing the decay to set in.

By extending the timeline for agriculture to join, they are actively encouraging the ‘business as usual,’ free-lunch attitude that is prevalent throughout the sector, whilst undermining the efforts of those farmers who are working hard to clean up and transform dairying.

In delaying the phase-out of ‘transition measures,’ the Government is placing a further, billion dollar burden on the taxpayer to subsidise our biggest polluters. And by holding the cap on the market price of emissions – against the advice of an expert panel – the Government is thumbing its nose at the opportunities that New Zealand businesses could reap from efficiency gains, and the drive for innovation. Without any incentives, and in the absence of any government leadership on the issue of climate change, the market is left asking if National has a vision for this country.

The tragedy of all this is that the Government likes to portray itself as a safe pair of hands with the economy, in tune with business, and keen to do their bit. But the ETS proposal makes a mockery of that. Those countries around the world that are seeing the strongest growth and showing the greatest resilience to the financial downturn are those that have a coherent and integrated approach to cleaning up their economies. Our Government is ignoring that, instead suffocating the only economic instrument we have to change and smarten business behaviour. It is therefore gambling with our future prosperity.

As New Zealand’s man-at-large on the international scene, Tim Groser should know very well what the implications of doing this are. He knows that countries around the world will view New Zealand’s intention to arrest the ETS as a clear signal that it has become very little more than a PR exercise, rather than a tool for driving action on climate change.

 

All the global rhetoric, the tub-thumping and those endless press releases about the Government’s commitment to New Zealand being a good global citizen and being part of the solution to the climate crisis now sound very hollow.

The Minister also knows that those companies looking to do clean, green business will look elsewhere as the veneer of our global reputation starts to flake. And he knows that those innovators and pioneers in clean energy technologies will head overseas, whilst those investors who need to be confident that the Government will build the right framework to back our clean energy experts will put their money into someone else’s economy.

At a recent Blue Greens forum, John Key said that he thought that climate change was no longer trendy. It was a statement that was as naïve as it was silly, but that attitude is having a seriously corrosive effect within the corridors of power. By further weakening the only significant tool this country has to help us move to a cleaner, smarter way of doing business, he is fast making sure that New Zealand itself goes out of fashion.