The politics of climate change

The question, following the Climate Change Commission’s eagerly awaited draft advice released on Sunday, is if the commission has sufficiently removed politics from the task of addressing climate change for our country to make the progress required.

Its task, under the Zero Carbon Act, was to assess where we are in terms of our progress towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions and recommend what needs to be done from here.

But there was very little mystery. Our climate change goals are well established, linked into an international effort going back to Kyoto and updated following the 2015 Paris conference, and our carbon emissions well documented.

Sure, the commission’s board was stacked with climate change expertise, but that does not alter the science, and it has relied on the same back-room researchers the Government could have used to advise it directly.

So, the commission looked at the country’s emissions profile and the goals we have set ourselves — most importantly the goal of net zero-carbon by 2050 — considered what was feasible, and made a series of judgements.

Those judgements, released in the draft report, are that we need to do significantly more to hit the 2050 target, that we can indeed do so and that the economic cost of doing so will be minimal.

Something very close to that could easily have been developed as policy by one or other of the parties represented in Parliament at any time in the past 20 years or more.

Except that it would almost certainly have then run into the sort of short-term political considerations in which Wellington specialises.

Which brings us to the present.

Our emissions are well up this century and we are beginning to look like a laggard when it comes to addressing them.

By 2026, we need to be emitting 17% less carbon a year, the commission says. From 2031, the reduction needs to be 33%.

We need to catch the bus, plant natives, go electric. Further delay will make it harder.

Yes, it will inevitably impact the way in which we go about our business but, overall, the impact on GDP by 2050 is in the margin of error. A few well-taken opportunities between now and then and there is no reason why we should not come out ahead as a nation; cleaner, greener, healthier and more sustainable.

However, there are sectors of the economy that will be more significantly impacted than others, which opens the door to political opportunism.

The initial response to the commission’s draft report provides some comfort.

National’s spokesman on climate change has said policies based on the commission’s advice should be well founded and provide genuine emission reductions. It is hard to see anyone disagreeing with that.

Potential objections have also been anticipated in the commission’s advice that sectors most affected should be helped to meet the challenge — that is fair and right — and that the Government should seek cross-party support.

The commission may yet prove the circuit breaker the issue has been waiting for.

It can be argued more should be done, based on the science. Our emissions reduction trajectory gives not much more than a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.5degC. It is not much above a minimum requirement.

If that is any kind of virtue, it might be its ability to curtail objection.

There is the potential for at least one more twist in the tale.

The commissioners have left it up to the politicians to decide what our upgraded "nationally determined contribution" to reductions by 2030 should be, under the Paris Agreement. They say it should be "much more" than the 30% reduction on 2005 emissions we are committed to.

It is a loose end. We can only hope it will not trip progress.

The draft advice is open for public submissions until March 14.

Comments

NZ like most other countries has failed to act quick enough and by the time they do it will be too little and too late!
The greatest ship ever created in the universe has just hit a rapidly melting iceberg. And it is going down. Fast! However our Captain and First Officers refuse to believe that such a powerful, wonderful creation can ever sink. So they have decided to hold a Health and Safety meeting, while handing out tea and crumpets to reassure everyone.
My advice, grab your lifejackets now and get your children to the lifeboats.

I understand Musk is selling tickets to Mars. Maybe you could buy a ticket Pat.
Or maybe you could take a factfulness approach to life, which is always followed by death, rather than a fearful one.
Here are fews facts, Pat.
Latest population growth predictions has us topping out at 9.5 billion, down 2.5 billion from past predicted highs.
China is predicted to loss 48% of the current population by 2100 and no it's not Covid related.
India will follow about 40 years later. Even Bangladesh now has a birth rate below replacement.
Spain and Italy now have 3x the forested area they had at the turn of the last century.
Africa has planted it's great green wall from east to west at the widest part of the continent to keep the sands of the north from spreading. China is getting its deserts under control as well.
All my life I have seen and listened to the media and 'experts' tell of doom and gloom.
First it was nuclear war, then oil wars, water wars, a population bomb, food shortages, an ice age coming, peak oil, religious wars, climate change and now pandemics but I'm still here.
If you can't afford Mars, I'd suggest saving money by cancelling your internet subscription.

Failing to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of problems facing humanity is not just naïve, it's dangerous.
While you and I may have survived (so far) nuclear war, then oil wars, water wars, a population bomb, food shortages, religious wars, climate change and now pandemics, many millions have not. Shame on you.

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