Individuals are short-term thinkers and we are a greedy lot, which is why governments must take the long-term view. We need progressive leadership and not reactionism. We have lived off the pigs’ back (read, the environment) for the past 100 years, which is unsustainable, and we are going to pay for this fact one way or another.
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Emission Control

New Zealand is due to table its 2020 emission reduction target in Bonn on August 10. This is a prelude to the world climate change negotiations that will occur in Copenhagen in December.

The Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith announced last week that a 40% reduction in emissions is not affordable. 40% is the minimum reduction called for by many, including Econation. A couple of days after Nick Smith’s comments Prime Minister John Key stated that the target is likely to be about 15%, his rationale was this would be in line with Australia’s reduction.

On the same day as this statement by John Key it was reported that the amount of New Zealand’s fossil-fuel emissions have soared by 72 per cent since 1990, the biggest jump in the developed world. This is an embarrassment in itself but it doesn’t even include the emissions from deforestation (turning forests into dairy farms) and the huge increase in methane and nitrous oxide emissions that the dairy sector has created in the same period.

We can’t afford a 40% reduction but it seems we can afford to spend hundreds of millions on building news roads so that we can increase our emissions. How does Mr Smith think making overseas oil companies and car manufacturers richer and the environment poorer make ordinary New Zealaners better off? Will all those overseas shareholders coming to a 70-80%Pure New Zealand as tourists make up for the losses? I don’t think so. Also, how exactly does converting forests into dairy farms help our economy in the long term? One of the biggest culprits of this land use change is the Government-owned Landcorp.

In a move that highlighted the Government’s endless flip-flopping and hypocrisy John Key announced last week that the Government is seeking to expand the 100%Pure brand.

“100% Pure forms a big part of our brand marketing for New Zealand Inc,” Key said in an interview with The Independent. Key went on to say “We have to make sure that we, through our actions or our goods and services, don’t undermine the brand.”

This bold statement comes hard on the heels of slashed funding for the Ministry for the Environment (and therefore many of the initiatives it funds) as well as cutting funds for the significant Enviroschools programme. In fact since they came into power eight months ago the Government’s actions have done plenty to undermine New Zealand’s 100%Pure credentials.

The claim that we can’t afford a 40% reduction is short-sighted, conservative thinking. Individuals are short-term thinkers and we are a greedy lot, which is why governments must take the long-term view. We need progressive leadership and not reactionism. We have lived off the pigs’ back (read, the environment) for the past 100 years, which is unsustainable, and we are going to pay for this fact one way or another.

It doesn’t have to be expensive to reduce our emissions but it will be much, much more expensive if we don’t. Any cost is therefore an investment in the future. The fact is that we may not be able to afford NOT to have a higher target. Apart from reducing the sustainability of our environment (and our national brand based on it) a low target may reduce the openness of markets to our export goods. Many countries, in Europe in particular, are likely to place tarrifs on imported goods that are less ‘carbon-friendly’ than their own.

We can easily afford a 40% reduction if we are smart. Just one of many ways would be to initiate a massive afforestaion programme on low-quality land, the resultant biomass could be converted to transport and heating fuels. This would create a carbon sink as well as providing self-sufficiency in renewable, climate-friendly heating and transport fuels. The Government’s argument is that in a time of recession we have to tighten our belts but during the Great Depression the Government of the day did the opposite. In the early 1930s the Government invested in subsidised work relief programmes which gave considerable stimulus to a massive afforestation programme thus creating many jobs and other benefits, then and for the future.