Here is a Greenpeace opinion-editorial running in the NZ Herald today:
National Party Environment Spokesman Nick Smith debates hia party's climate change policies at a political debate onboard the Rainbow Warrior in April.
Big business in New Zealand must be rubbing its hands: its plea to MPs has succeeded: “Don’t take any action on climate change, or if you do, subsidise us enough so we don’t feel it.”
It’s hard to think of a message more out of step with the values of ordinary New Zealanders.
Climate change is the world’s greatest collective challenge. The recent cyclone in Burma demonstrates all too starkly the damage and suffering caused by extreme weather events. Expect more of these events in coming years, and expect them to be more extreme if we don’t take action to deal to their root cause.
Despite this ticking clock, we’ve seen an orchestrated attempt by big business to scuttle proposed climate policies. Many aren’t happy to see their polluting plans challenged, including state-owned polluters like Genesis Energy and Solid Energy and the farming lobby.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the current emissions trading debate has been watching free-market proponents abandon their principles in favour of protectionism and corporate welfare, rather than carrying their fair share of the costs.
As a result, Labour and National have come under intense pressure to delay, weaken or even scrap proposed climate legislation. Embarrassingly both have buckled under the pressure. With each demand from business and every political backtrack, New Zealand loses credibility. As one key political commentator puts it: “when it comes to climate change, New Zealand is no longer a serious player”.
New Zealanders are genuinely concerned about climate change and want action. A recent poll by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development shows most of us– including business decision-makers - think climate change is urgent and needs tackling now. Most think – logically and reasonably - that polluters should pay for their emissions. Very few back the Government’s capitulation to big business pressure.
They realise that every tax dollar spent on free credits to polluters is money that can’t be spent on public transport, hospitals and schools. Worse, polluters will have less incentive to change their ways so they’ll pollute more, thereby increasing New Zealand’s Kyoto bill. And who picks up that bill? Taxpayers.
While many in the business sector are getting on with tackling climate change, the public face of New Zealand business has been hijacked in recent weeks by big polluters. Their message is disguised with voodoo economics and scaremongering, but is clearly: “don’t expect us to help New Zealand tackle climate change”.
Foot-dragging from business is nothing we haven’t seen before.. Big polluting businesses have always been averse to anything that’s going to cost them money in the short term, even if the long term benefits are immeasurable and in the long term interests of all New Zealanders. Their chronic inability to grasp opportunities is a short-sighted recipe for New Zealand’s economic decline..
In 2005 the Government proposed a carbon tax. Business leaders promptly tossed their toys out of the cot and the tax was canned. Three years later, they’re doing it again over the ETS, and, in some cases, even calling for a reconsideration of the tax they originally opposed.
Take the agricultural sector. Farmers are particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods and cyclones and if there’s one thing we can expect in New Zealand from climate change it’s more droughts, floods and cyclones. Furthermore, consumers in key markets for our farm produce are worried about climate; they want to know their suppliers are taking climate change seriously so retailers are working hard to find out for them.
You’d think Federated Farmers would be driving tractors up the steps of Parliament demanding action on climate change. Sadly, the last time we saw a tractor negotiating the steps, National MP Shane Ardern was at the wheel protesting Government efforts to address the problem. The result? Instead of paying for its emissions, New Zealand agriculture is getting a whopping tax-payer subsidy. It’s like a huge neon sign to consumers in EU markets saying “we’re not the environmental leaders you think we are”.
Finally, Rio Tinto threatened to pack up and leave New Zealand if the emission trading scheme proceeds. Again, nothing new. The company – which has received cut-price power for decades - has a habit of threatening to do a runner every time it feels its charmed existence in New Zealand is at risk. This is a company that prides itself on its environmental integrity, conducting a survey in 2003 in which almost 75 per cent of stakeholders identified “taking responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions as the critical climate change issue”. One of its core values is “caring about the world in which we live”. Yet it’s willing to up sticks and leave New Zealand, firing thousands of loyal employees in the process, and shifting to somewhere where it readily admits its activities will be far more damaging to the climate – all to safeguard its profit margin.
New Zealand has a lot of values it could bring to bear in tackling climate change: resilience, fairness, doing the right thing, being progressive and caring for the environment. Unfortunately, the face presented by big New Zealand business is myopic, defensive, uncaring and desperate for corporate welfare. They are telling the world New Zealand is not serious about tackling climate change. The rest of New Zealand knows we can do better.