The Auckland target consultation meeting last night was full to the brim. By my rough calculations, about 450 people attended, including media, politicians, greenies and business people. Latecomers were forced to sit on the floor or stand around the back of the room. By another rough calculation, about 80 per cent of attendees supported the 40 per cent by 2020 target. We know this because those in support were asked to stand. It was a beautiful moment and I actually saw a nervous blush creep up Climate Change Minister Nick Smith’s neck. Many people simulataneously waved banners promoting the target.

Uplifting moments aside, much of the meeting was actually quite depressing. The chairman of proceedings was Auckland Regional Council head Mike Lee. He did a pretty mediocre job, failing to reign in ranters and seemingly bored by the issue ("let's wrap this up, the tea's getting cold" being the nadir).

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith
Climate Change Minister Nick Smith

But possibly the most depressing thing was that Dr Smith made it clear to all those in attendance that the Government had pretty much given up before it had even started. He used successive governments' failures to meet targets in the past as a reason not to set ambitious ones this time round. Fancy using failure as a stick! Imagine if the All Blacks said "oh look we haven't done so well the last few games, let's not aim high with this one". But this ain’t no footie game, it's our future at stake. Dr Smith made it patently clear that the Government’s imperative is saving face, not the planet….doing the bare minimum… LOOKING to be doing what's fair. This conversation has to change to doing what's necessary and what's effective, rather than doing just enough so that no one catches us out. Every time Smith opened his mouth, it was to talk about the costs of action. He consistently failed to account for the even greater costs of inaction.

Sign On Ambassador and climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger and Greenpeace Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid present a united front
Sign On Ambassador and climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger and Greenpeace Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid present a united front

To return to the rugby analogy, seems to me that what is happening on the international stage is this: developed countries are cowering in the changing room, with most players too scared to put so much as a toe on the field. NZ is more determined than any to hide beside its locker. Infact I get the feeling we've locked ourselves in the toilet cublicle and are pleading a torn Achilles.

It would help the Government’s case enormously if it remembered – as some participants did remind them – that NZ has in the past achieved beyond our ambition simply by deciding we would… Hillary and Everest came up more than once last night. A few business reps talked of the opportunities that exist in setting ambitious targets and the job creation that will follow and that this could be  a win win for us and our enormously valuable clean, green brand if we get our act together in time.

Thanks to all those Aucklanders who attended the meeting; several presentations hit the nail on the head, were well thought out and resulted in cheers (not to mention near-tears). And the turnout was amazing. Now it’s just the Government’s attitude that needs to change.