Debaters largely in accord on fossil fuels

Discussing the future of fossil fuels at the Minerals Forum in Dunedin yesterday are (from left) adjudicator Brian Fallow, from The New Zealand Herald, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones and National's energy and resources spokesman, Jonathan Young
Discussing the future of fossil fuels at the Minerals Forum in Dunedin yesterday are (from left) adjudicator Brian Fallow, from The New Zealand Herald, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones and National's energy and resources spokesman, Jonathan Young. Photo: Linda Robertson
Transitioning away from fossil fuels was the theme of the final debate at this week's annual Minerals Forum hosted in Dunedin, but in a measured way, so as not to harm the economy.

Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones and National's spokesman on energy and resources Jonathan Young were largely singing from the same sheet, and as promised it was a ''fireside chat'', to an already converted following of more than 120 conference delegates.

While adjudicator Brian Fallow played a deft devil's advocate, the debate was much the poorer from the late withdrawal of Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague.

Mr Jones, describing himself as a ''pro-resource politician'' was scathing of ''deep problems'' with lands overseen by the Department of Conservation (Doc), and where future decision-making on consenting was headed.

''The Doc estate is riddled with weeds and vermin ... there's no agreed version of what is Doc estate,'' he said of the stewardship element of Doc's holdings.

While acknowledging the challenges of climate change, Mr Jones said that adjustment would be a ''hard change over the next 20 to 30 years''.

''I won't be cowed down to the carbon guilt trip,'' he said, in reference to activists' calls for immediate change.

''Our legacy industries will never be guilt-tripped out of existence.''

He and Mr Young eagerly talked up the emergence of new technologies which would provide for lowering emissions.

Mr Young said ''We're in transition, but it'll take longer than tomorrow, or next year''.

The ''social licence'' and ''challenge'' for the mining sector was to use technology to make coal acceptable within the next 10 years, ''or you will be in trouble''.

He said the public focus was on producers, emitting carbon, as opposed to society as a ''user'', which had to look at its own footprint.

''If the economy falls over it will cause havoc ... a low-emissions future is a very expensive pathway,'' Mr Young said.

Mr Young said National supported the first reading of the Zero Carbon Bill but it needed more scrutiny in the select committee process.

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