Missing the Target

The Government has announced that it will take a 2020 GHG emissions reductions target of between 10 and 20%, subject to a set of conditions, to the Copenhagen climate negotiations known as “COP15” in December. This is contrast to the 40% target that many NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Climate Defence Network, have been calling for. This 40% target was strongly supported in the recent public consultations on the issue.

Is it enough?
No. If developed countries collectively set such a weak target, there is little or no hope of developing countries agreeing to take action on climate change. That would mean failure at Copenhagen. Given that the world has (if we’re lucky) about another 10 years before emissions spiral out of control, that would be disastrous.

Is it nearly enough?
No. Not even close. The science says developed countries need to make at least a 40% cut on 1990 levels by 2020 to have a 50:50 chance of staying below a 2% increase in global temperatures on pre-industrial levels. New Zealand is counted as a developed country. We should be going for a 40% cut. This isn’t, ultimately, a matter of economics. It’s a matter of survival: ours, and our children’s.

Is it better than you expected?
I thought they might go for a 20% responsibility target, but the 10-20% range, and in particular the absurdly arrogant list of “conditions” – tremble, world powers, before the might of New Zealand! – both stick in my craw.

Is the target achieveable?
There’s two ways of answering this. The target is what’s called a “responsibility target”, which means that we can pay for some – or, in theory – all of it by paying for emissions reductions to be made elsewhere in the world. For both ethical and practical reasons, however, most of the reductions should be made within New Zealand

OK, is it achievable if we make all the reductions onshore?
Yes. Quick back-of-the-envelope calculations like mine, and far more detailed studies produced by groups such as the Green Party (PDF), say that, with the necessary political will and the right incentives, reductions well in excess of 20% can be made – quite a lot of it at a profit.

So the Government has spoken. Is that the last word?
Absolutely not! Just because the New Zealand government takes a particular target to the negotiations doesn’t mean that’s the target we will end up with. No matter how much John Key might like to strut on the world stage, in the end, he’ll be faced with the choice of either agreeing to a target in line with what other developed countries are adopting, or becoming known as the leader who scuppered the agreement. A little thought about what that might do for New Zealand’s image and trading position should cure him of any temptations in that direction.

I don’t think 10-20% is enough. What should I do?
Keep the pressure on, right up to Copenhagen (and beyond). Contact the Prime Minister, other Ministers, and your nearest MP. October 24 will be massive in the continuing campaign to get New Zealand to take on a realistic target – realistic in the sense that really matters, the survival of a livable ecosystem.

Consult and Survive: The First Session

I’ve just come back from the first session of the New Zealand Government’s consultation meetings on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020.

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith was faced with an audience of between 300 and 400 people. After his twenty-minute presentation, doing its best to send a message of “we’ll sign up to a target, but don’t expect it to be substantial”, members of the audience had the chance to speak — and, one after another, they implicitly or explicitly supported New Zealand taking on a strong reduction target in Copenhagen, with most of them plumping for the target to be a 40% cut in 1990-level emissions by 2020.

The Minister’s response was interesting. He stayed in his seat after most of the speakers, and when he did take the stage, he claimed that a 40% cut was too difficult because the fact that agriculture is responsible for 50% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions meant that no emissions would be allowable in all other sectors if we adopted a 40% by 2020 target.

There was a glaring hole in this response: it assumed that no emissions reductions were possible in agriculture. This is patently untrue: in fact, many farmers can make a profit while reducing emissions by using nitrification inhibitors, as revealed by the Sustainability Council.

So why don’t they? Part of the answer is that they are under the sway of their leadership, Federated Farmers, who are so opposed to taking responsibility for farming’s share of greenhouse gas emissions that they have called for agriculture to be completely excluded from New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

Fed Farmers are only one of a number of powerful lobby groups – others include the Major Electricity Users’ Group and the Greenhouse Policy Coalition – which have spent a lot of time and money trying to prevent New Zealand taking any effective action on climate change. These groups are too clever to deny the science of climate change – instead, they argue that it would cost New Zealanders too much to take action. What they really mean, of course, is that it is their members who are responsible for the bulk of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore their members who would have to start paying.

I was forcibly reminded of this, because I happened to sit behind the the main lobbyists from two of these groups at tonight’s meeting. They didn’t get up to speak. They didn’t state their real views. But they were listening, carefully, and no doubt working out the arguments they will use behind closed doors to try, yet again, to prevent the New Zealand government getting serious about climate change.

When I left the meeting, the speeches from the floor were still continuing, speaker after speaker making passionate, well-informed calls for action. And the lobbyists were still sitting quietly, saying nothing and taking in a lot. The constrast symbolised why these meetings are so important. For most of the time, the well-funded lobbyists have the Minister’s ear. But tonight, and for the next twelve nights, it’s the public turn.

Find out when the meeting is in your town
. Get along and call for serious action on climate change. Challenge the Minister when he tries to leave agriculture out. And don’t let the lobbyists have it all their own way.

UPDATE: Joshua Vail has posted a full report of the meeting, with video links to Nick Smith’s presentation and people’s responses. It’s at http://www.joshuavial.com/wellington-consultation-for-2020-emissions-target/

UPDATE 2: 350.org.nz is posting summaries of the consultation sessions on their home page – scroll down to see them. I’m pleased to see Dunedin went so well!