What would a rational New Zealand climate-change policy look like?

by Matthew Hooton / 06 December, 2018
Marine terrace, raised beach, Abandoned cliff line beyond, Uplift, coastal erosion, Aerial, North east of New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Abandoned cliff line in Taranaki. Photo/Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - climate change

The quest for a rational climate-change policy.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says human civilisation as we know it will soon end unless radical global action happens over the next 12 years.

Today’s most extreme weather events will be commonplace. Coastal regions will be flooded. Equatorial regions will become uninhabitable. Food production will plunge. Perhaps more than a billion refugees will be on the move. This is the IPCC’s potential reality within almost everyone’s lifetime. It puts October’s Koru Club crisis into perspective.

The global response has been to ignore the report. Of the leaders of the four countries responsible for more than half the world’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, the US’s Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are climate-change deniers, while China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi have said nothing. There has been little more from the next tier of polluters, those emitting 1 to 3 per cent of the global total, including Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico, Iran, South Korea, Australia and Saudi Arabia. Even the Europeans are now more preoccupied with stopping right-wing extremism than saving the planet.

Rationally, this means New Zealand should do nothing to reduce emissions either, unless there are other benefits, such as immediately investing in Singapore-standard public transport rather than stumbling along with a tram here and a rail loop there.

Beyond that, our main focus should be preparing for what now seems to be an inevitable global catastrophe, at least on the scale of World War II. We should remove settlements and infrastructure from low-lying areas such as the Hauraki and Canterbury plains, while building dykes and water-pumping systems for the Hutt Valley, Christchurch and parts of Auckland and Dunedin. We need to consider how to remain self-sufficient in food, energy and other necessities. Most contrary to liberal sensibilities, a massive military build-up is needed to stop the most apocalyptic fears of the most xenophobic New Zealand First voter becoming reality. New Zealand could easily accommodate 100 million people, but the diaspora from equatorial regions will be much greater than that. Unless policymakers talk about these issues, doubt the authenticity of their climate claims.

The IPCC has made a joke of Jacinda Ardern’s “nuclear-free moment” of becoming a net-zero emitter by 2050. Even if we reached zero well before that, global emissions would fall by just 0.17 per cent, with no impact on the climate challenge we will face. It makes no sense to take any steps down that path if they reduce in the slightest our ability to cope with effects of the crisis. Doing nothing, though, offends the conceit of punching above our weight.

The flaw in the UN’s strategy is to see combating climate change as about each country worrying about reducing domestic emissions rather than what it can contribute to solving a global problem.

World leaders are currently in Katowice, Poland, at the 24th Conference of the Parties negotiating the world’s response to climate change. Photo/Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

World leaders are currently in Katowice, Poland, at the 24th Conference of the Parties negotiating the world’s response to climate change. Photo/Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

When looked at through a nation-state lens, it really does make no sense for anyone other than the top dozen or so emitters to do anything. But New Zealand is able to make a globally important contribution in one area and that is agricultural emissions.

The only positive outcome from the UN’s 2009 Copenhagen fiasco was the launch of New Zealand’s Global Research Alliance (GRA) to reduce methane and nitrous-oxide emissions, which account for 22 per cent of the world’s GHG total. More than 50 countries are now involved. If the GRA develops science to cut agricultural emissions by two-thirds it would be the equivalent of the US becoming a zero emitter. If it eliminated them, it would be like China going carbon zero. This would benefit the world at least 100 times more than New Zealand becoming net-zero domestically.

Were Ardern serious about climate change, her government would be issuing requests for proposals to protect coastal regions and fast-track a complete Auckland public transport network. She would be ordering her military top brass to build up the navy and air force faster than Michael Joseph Savage in 1939. Chris Hipkins would be told to increase funding for Massey University’s agricultural science department 100-fold.

Excuse the pun, but anything short of this, like setting up another commission in Wellington, is just more hot air.

This article was first published in the November - December 2018 issue of Metro.

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