Researchers claim little done to mitigate climate change

There had been little progress by the National Government to reduce greenhouse emissions or meet climate change targets, University of Otago and Victoria University researchers say.

The researchers reviewed government policy and action on climate change during the past three years and the results were published in this month's New Zealand Medical Journal.

Their claims are rejected by Climate Change Minister Nick Smith, who said his Government had made more progress on practical measures to reduce New Zealand's emissions than any in two decades.

Lead researcher, Associate Prof Nick Wilson, of the University of Otago, Wellington, said climate change was a serious problem that was important to health.

"What we've seen in this analysis of the last three years is wasted opportunities to make critical progress to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions." Actions to both mitigate climate change and to start to adapt to a more disrupted future climate were becoming critical, he said.

"Instead, what has happened are public relations, watered-down policy and media releases with 'aspirational' goals, which are unlikely to result in a major reduction in New Zealand's climate change emissions."

The researchers were critical of the weakening of the emissions trading scheme (ETS), the "weak" long-term goal of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, inadequate research funding for energy and energy efficiency and the health impacts of climate change and cuts to budgets for walking and cycling.

They acknowledged the Government's moves to insulate more homes, fund research into agricultural emission and investment in Auckland and Wellington's public transport.

The lack of action could be considered "economically wasteful" in that New Zealand economy could be placed at increased risk of having to make a more abrupt and disorderly transition in the future, he said.

"The reason for the lack of progress ... may reflect concern around the cost of action and also a lack of appreciation of the co-benefits to health."

The previous government also made relatively poor progress, albeit with more action on public transport and stronger version of ETS, he said.

Mr Smith said Government policy in New Zealand was doing its "fair share" to reduce global emissions and it had to be realistic.

"I appreciate for some climate change advocates this won't be enough."

The Government had to weigh up cuts with the "very real price impact an emissions trading scheme would have on consumers" when businesses and households were already under pressure, he said" Embarking on very expensive and radical cuts will hit business and families hard but have little impact on global climate change."

He listed a range of initiatives the Government had put in place, including putting a price on carbon emissions which had successfully invigorated new forestry planting and investing in new renewable energy power stations, funding insulation of 120,000 homes in three years compared with the previous government's 40,000 in nine years, he said.



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