As the IPPC report predicts dire consequences for New Zealand, our politicians talk only about ‘adaptation’ to Climate Change while carving up NZ for more fossil fuel exploration and maintaining an 'all of the above' approach to energy that even Simon Bridges thinks is just good rhetoric.
On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a whole bunch of extremely smart scientists - released their highly anticipated report on climate change impacts. The increased focus on issues for humans, not just the environment, and the havoc a changing climate looks set to wreak, is rightly setting off alarm bells across the globe.
"Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change," IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said, and Professor Neil Adger of Exeter University similarly doesn’t mince words: "Climate change is happening, there are big risks for everyone and no place in the world is immune from them." Here in NZ that means increased flooding, fires, sea level rise, storms, and biodiversity loss, as well as the effects of increased conflict and increases in food prices.
This is not an ‘oh well, never mind’ situation, yet the best our Climate Change Minister Tim Groser can offer is to talk about ‘Adaptation’. When he says this, what does he actually mean? What does he envisage? That we will move cities? Redirect roads? Abandon regions? As George Monbiot points out, it’s a wonder whether Groser knows what he’s talking about at all.
But perhaps most unbelieveably of all, in the very same week as this unprecedented warning about the risks of failing to take action, our associate Minister for Climate Change, Simon Bridges, is preparing to offer up vast swathes of land and ocean for Oil and Gas exploitation.
Today, Bridges will be announcing the 2014 ‘Block Offer’ of land and sea areas for further fossil fuel exploitation, at the Advantage NZ Geotechnical Petroleum Forum. He’s already told us that his ‘all of the above’ approach to energy is nothing but hollow rhetoric, but in the face of the new IPCC report, the government’s project of aggressive fossil fuel expansion is not just economically misguided but criminally irresponsible.
This is not a case of environment versus economics. The necessary shift away from fossil fuels represents a massive opportunity for renewable energy and a thriving clean economy, as shown by Greenpeace, Pure Advantage, The NZ Royal Society, and others. Investing New Zealanders’ money in a wild goose chase after dwindling fossil fuel reserves is fiscally idiotic as well as atmospheric self-harm. Failing to take the opportunities mitigation offers us now will mean immense costs later, in terms of both money and wellbeing.
Other governments around the world are responding to the challenge with renewed vigour and vision. UK Secretary of State Edward Davey says: “This evidence strengthens the case for early action in the UK and around the world to lessen the significant risks posed by climate change. We cannot afford to wait.” I find it deeply painful to read our own climate change Minister’s statement that the report is a “useful contribution” that affirms “adaption” as a response.
“Adaptation” in this context means wilful inaction in the face of an era-defining opportunity. We’re one of the highest emitters in the world on a per capita basis and with current settings that’s only going to increase. We need more than a few individual choices. We need strong and visionary leadership. One of the report's lead authors, Macquarie University Professor Lesley Hughes, is clear that the ‘wait and see’ approach is not going to cut it, reminding us that "it's not all doom and gloom if we get a wriggle on and do a lot about it." I can’t believe that the best our Ministers can do is remind us of New Zealand’s tiny size and inability to affect global emissions.
We weren’t always treated to this kind of nihilistic fatalism. Back in 2007, we heard something different. “I have faith that New Zealand can influence the world”, said this politician, “and I have faith that New Zealanders can rise to this global economic shift…. I want to reward Kiwi good-mindedness by leading a Government that acts in an economically sound, principled and visionary way to tackle the greatest environmental challenge of our time... We believe a strong New Zealand voice on climate change is vital to the “brand” our exporters rely on, and can be a key force for rallying the global troops.”
Who was this crazy lefty? The same man who yesterday flatly told the nation that “we can only do so much and that’s a pretty small amount,” and that our small size is an excuse to continue to do basically nothing. Also known as John Key, our Prime Minister. For shame.
Once upon a time, Key was “hugely hopeful about New Zealand’s ability to maximise the opportunities presented by this global challenge” (2007 again). Now his Ministers are dangling pieces of our country in front of the increasingly desperate fossil fuel industry and ignoring the opportunities that come with decisive climate action. They’re stuck in a dinosaur model of business as usual and it’s not going to cut it.
There’s a chance to change course here for a prosperous and less risky future. But those at the helm are sailing us straight into the storm. “This is the critical decade,” says the IPCC’s Professor Hughes. Are we willing to believe our leaders when they tell us we’re powerless, and obediently just ‘wait and see’ what happens?
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