Since launching on the 22nd June Climate Voter has been asking a ‘Question of the Week’ to see what action political parties will take on various climate related issues. This is to let voters decide which policies they want to support going into the election. As we near 25,000 Climate Voters, here’s my take on the answers from the first four questions.
Part of the reason climate change is such a tricky issue is the difficulty of separating the science and the politics. The science is clear and certain: humans are altering the planet’s climate in scary and unprecedented ways. (If your grumpy uncle tries to tell you it’s volcanoes/sunspots/ locusts/lizard people, set him right using some basic facts like the Guardian’s FAQ).
It may be hard to face, but the climate is in crisis, and without drastic action we’re in big trouble.
The problem is, the political solutions which are proposed to deal with the crisis aren’t science, they’re politics - human attempts to problem solve. Some are good ideas, others less so.
The most important thing for Climate Voter is that all parties are taking the need to reduce climate pollution seriously. So, in Week One, parties were asked whether they agreed that climate change was one of the most significant issues we faced, requiring urgent action by all governments.
The ACT party argued that any climate action would sabotage the economy with leader Jamie Whyte arguing that “we should do absolutely nothing” (incidentally, the World Bank, the IMF and other economic institutions say the opposite). Since then they’ haven’t answered further questions.
Labour agreed, saying “Climate change must be tackled urgently and effectively”; the Greens “definitely” agreed; United Future agreed, saying “the benefits of responsible & practical action now will be realised in the long term health and prosperity of NZ”; Marama Fox for the Maori Party noted that government action must not replace or subjugate iwi Rangatiratanga; and Laila Harre for the Internet Party agreed “cos of evidence.” There was no reply from National, but the official line from the Ministry of the Environment is that man-made ‘Climate change is already affecting our climate.’ In the absence of a response it may be worth noting that Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has just recently described climate change as “a non-issue at the moment.”
Meanwhile Mana gave “big ups” for “letting people see which parties stand up for Papatuanuku” but hasn’t been any more specific since then.
It’s pretty obvious that given the global scientific consensus, parties know they must at least appear to be taking the problem seriously. But words don’t always match actions. In the last few weeks we’ve probed further to discover what exactly they would do in the key areas needed to tackle the problem.
Here's question of the week #2
The first of these areas featured in question two: transport (40% of NZ’s emissions from energy use). Responses from Labour, (1 / 2) the Greens, and the Māori (1 / 2 / 3) and Internet Parties favoured more dollars on public transport, walking, cycling, neglected regional roading and rail/ship freight, and less on giant motorways. No reply from National.
Our third question asked how parties propose to help NZ take up clean energy opportunities. As world leading investment houses and progressive companies start shifting cash into clean energy, what plans do they have to ensure NZ can capture some of the clean energy spoils?
Well, there was a mixed bag of answers here, but all of those that could muster a tweet said they would do things in a more innovative, progressive way. For the Internet Party, it was all about the digital economy and boosting R&D spend, whereas the Greens plan to build a cleaner smarter economy by establishing a Green Investment Bank.
The Māori Party reckon subsidised solar panels for homes are an answer, and United Future want increased R&D and funding for small businesses through EECA (The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, whose budget has recently been cut). These are all proposals that we’re seeing rolled out globally by countries that are backing their home-grown, clean energy talent and looking to build more secure economies.
Worryingly, neither Labour nor National had any answers to this crucial question. So often the debate is locked into ‘environment vs the economy’ thinking, ignoring that our economy is dependent on a healthy climate and environment. The economy is a subset of our environment and is wholly dependent on it! Any party that wants to lead a nation should have a clear plan for reducing pollution and doing things in a cleaner smarter way: it’s poor economic management without one. So if you hear this kind of ‘either or’ thinking, question it!
The fourth Climate Voter question asked parties whether they support phasing out, reducing, or further expanding deep sea oil drilling, fracking, and coal mining. The UN Climate Chief has warned that 75% of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to prevent warming over the dangerous two degree threshold. The need to kick our fossil fuel addiction is not contentious - Energy Minister Simon Bridges refers to “our transition to a low carbon future” - but how to do it, and how fast we need to do it, are.
Labour promises to “transition our economy away from a heavy reliance on fossil fuels to a low-carbon, clean-tech future” but doesn’t give a plan or timeline. The Greens favour “No deep sea oil drilling, a moratorium on fracking & no new coal mining!,” aiming to have Aotearoa carbon neutral by 2050, and the Internet Party favours a similar moratorium until a nation-wide discussion can consider the risks. United Future seems concerned about spills and pollution rather than climate perils when they say “we support extraction but want to see better regs with strong enforcement & appropriate penalties.”
Given Labour’s shared enthusiasm for ongoing extraction, voters concerned about the climate may be left wondering how these parties intend to address this challenge. It seems like the key here, as a Climate Voter, is to not just swallow the talk about ‘transition,’ but ask a few more questions about when and how as well. Without a plan, it’s all just rhetoric.
It’s disappointing that neither the incumbent National Party nor NZ First have shared their schemes to reduce carbon emissions, given that all major parties recognise that there’s a problem. Ignoring it doesn’t mean it will go away.
Climate change is not a partisan issue: political solutions to it are, and that’s why we’re letting each party share plans and leaving it up to voters to decide. Keep swelling the number of climate voters, and those without effective plans will have to shape up.
There are eight more questions to go in our leadup to the election (#5 is up now), so stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to the grand finale Climate Debate in September, and the election that will set the scene for climate policy over the next three years. Share the questions, pester an MP or party, and the next time you hear someone railing about stupid climate policies - citizen or politician - try asking them, ‘well, what would you do?’
This blog is part of the #election2014 series. The series discusses New Zealand politics and the policies and, sometimes, lack of them, of our political parties. We hope that it provokes a bit of debate.
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