If the phrase “40 by 2020” was foreign to New Zealanders last week, it’s certainly likely to mean more to them now. From TVNZ’s Q and A programme, to last night’s 6 o’clock news, to Newstalk ZB’s breakfast show, to all the major daily newspapers, the target debate has hit the big time.

See Minister Nick Smith explain on Q and A why the target is not to his liking.

The responses from a panel comprising a former National Party Cabinet Minister,a political commentator and Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimmons following Smith’s appearance were very interesting.

The issue then led Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme, with Sign On campaigner Simon Boxer discussing the imperative of 40 by 2020 with interviewer Kathryn Ryan.

Rangitoto College students send messages to John Key via a giant calico banner which they are sending to Parliament. (C) GREENPEACE / Rebekah RobinsonThe media commotion is largely thanks to a rather disingenious report that’s been released into the alleged costs of committing to a 40% by 2020 target. The report - commissioned by the Government, says that committing to that target would cost the NZ economy $15b a year. This is a wildly exaggerated cost which completely ignores the benefits of tackling climate change and equally ignores the risk to NZ’s clean green brand if we don’t do enough.

Perhaps more misleadingly, it assumes that there’s nothing we can do to reduce our emissions, which is patently untrue, given how little we’re currently doing.

It also exaggerates what the cost of carbon is likely to be, hence inflating costs.

It is the same kind of economic modelling that major polluters favour to demonstrate why we should sit on our hands over climate change. The bits that are missing from these models make their conclusions useless.  No model that ignores all the technological options for reducing emissions and even worse, ignores the benefits of taking action, is going to tell us the true cost of tackling climate change.

The Government’s backward and defeatist approach has embarrassingly reached overseas media.

(c) greenpeace / Rebekah RobinsonFor the first time, Prime Minister John Key has entered the target debate, ruling out 40 by 2020 and hinting that his Government would go for a target of no more than 15%.

Game on. This is just the beginning of Sign On’s concerted push for a science-based target. We consider the Government’s first target to be but an opening gambit. Should they come out with a puny target like 15%, frankly the only way is up.