Went down to Hamilton tonight for the latest instalment of Nick Smith’s climate targets roadshow – the public’s chance to have its say on what NZ’s 2020 target should be.  But I’m feeling more and more this is simply a PR exercise than a genuine consultation.

 To start with, I’ve sat through my fair share of Smith’s introduction PowerPoint where he goes through why climate action is important, its likely impacts on NZ, our emissions profile, what other countries are doing and what factors they’ll be looking at in deciding a target. He consistently points to costs to the economy from an ambitious target without looking at the costs to our economy from climate impacts, like the recent Waikato drought,  that cost dairy farmers alone $500 million. He also fails to take into account the opportunities for our economy from taking action.

When people are asked to stand for which target they support, Smith always cynically interjects from the stage “Now, are you using 1990 or later as a baseline year…just so we understand,” no doubt to bring in a little confusion and doubt, when he himself in his presentation talks about the need for NZ to simply talk in terms of 1990 emissions. He also interjects around Sign On’s (well, almost everyone who has read the science’s) target of 40% by 2020 saying “actually it is 64% because our emissions are 24% above 1990,” which is true, but again it’s a cynical ploy to make it sound extreme and unachievable. It’s not the climate’s fault that NZ’s gross emissions have increased so much from a lack of leadership from successive Governments, but the climate does feel the impact of our emissions so we need to base our target on what the science says is necessary.

Lastly, the Minister in Charge of Climate Negotiations, Tim Grosser spoke for the longest I’ve seen him speak on the issue to date. His theme was we need developing countries to come on board. He is right – it is a global problem and we need a global solution of which we’re advocating developing countries commit to 15-30% emission reductions on business as usual growth – but he is using this as a negotiating tactic saying we won’t Sign On to good targets without them coming on board in a big way. An elderly gentlemen last night raised the oft-ignored question of equity last night, and what Grosser seems to ignore is the fact we (us developed Annex 1 countries) have to move first and greatest since we’re the ones who have used the climate as a backyard tip to drive our industrialisation and are responsible for the bulk of historical emissions.

NZ providing an example and Signing On to 40% - that’s equity. If we are going to get China and India to Sign On to reductions, counties like NZ (high per person emissions, relatively rich and secure, second highest car ownership rate in the world), must be aiming high as part of our historical responsibility but also to demonstrate our willingness to lead. If we set a measly target we’re contributing to setting the Copenhagen negotiations on a path to ruin.
There was quite a vocal skeptic crew out last night with lots of odd misconceptions. One gentleman asked “Cows eat grass and grass stores carbon so they’re carbon neutral” whilst another lady yelled out “How long have cows been on the planet? And they haven’t changed the climate!” Which on the outside make seem to make some sense, but like the argument “I don’t see how we could be changing the climate when water vapour is also a greenhouse gas” they are based on the argument from ‘personal credulity’ – if I can’t understand it, surely it’s wrong. I’d rather base my arguments on the overwhelming science than a few crack-pots who think they’ve figured it all out over a coffee and a read of AirCon. In a nutshell, ruminants, like cows covert grass to methane and much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so contribute to climate change. Check out this Fonterra explanation
Being a farming town, one gentleman thought he’d worked out what all our officials and researchers have missed since 1990, that stock units have declined since 1990 (mostly the decline in our truly massive 1990 sheep population) so we should get a credit. The fact is production (which is more closely linked to emissions per ruminant than stock numbers) has increased dramatically, therefore so have our obligations.
Once again the majority of people at the consultation supported 40% by 2020 but I still get the sense the Minister isn’t listening. However when the not-good-enough target is announced we’ll keep up the campaign till the last second of the last day, because our job is to advocate for the planet, and based on the science, 40 by 2020 isn’t negotiable