Cli­mate talk­fest doomed

But in New Zealand, a cross-party con­sen­sus is close on re­duc­ing emis­sions

The New Zealand Herald - - The Business - Matthew Hooton,

The UN’s an­nual con­fer­ences of its Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (FCCC) have never let me down.

In over a decade writ­ing po­lit­i­cal columns, I have pre­dicted their fail­ure ev­ery year and never once been wrong.

This time 28,000 peo­ple are jet­ting in to Ka­tow­ice, in Poland, pur­port­edly to progress the so-called Paris Rule­book through which com­mit­ments un­der the 2015 Paris Agree­ment can be mea­sured.

The Paris Agree­ment, in turn, emerged from the 2009 Copen­hagen Ac­cord, hastily put to­gether by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Chi­nese Premier Wen Ji­abao after the UN failed to even pre­pare a ne­go­ti­at­ing text that year.

This decade of fly­ing around was needed when it be­came clear the 1997 Ky­oto Pro­to­col had failed and would not be ex­tended.

De­spite some self-lauda­tory state­ments, Ka­tow­ice will sim­i­larly fail. There is no prospect of the six big­gest emit­ters — China, the US, the EU, In­dia, Rus­sia and Ja­pan, to­gether re­spon­si­ble for two-thirds of emis­sions — agree­ing a mean­ing­ful “rule­book”.

The sev­enth, Brazil, is usu­ally a leader among de­vel­op­ing economies and was sched­uled to host next year’s jam­boree. Last week it can­celled, with its in­com­ing For­eign Min­is­ter be­liev­ing cli­mate change is a Marx­ist plot.

The fail­ure of the bloated FCCC process was pre­dictable right from the start. Suc­cess­ful global ini­tia­tives on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, from sav­ing the whales to re­pair­ing the ozone hole, have been driven by smaller groups of coun­tries led by those pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for caus­ing the prob­lem and with the ca­pa­bil­ity to fix it. The same is true on se­cu­rity, nu­clear weapons and trade.

New Zealand, as on most global is­sues, is en­tirely ir­rel­e­vant on cli­mate change with a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions.

At the mar­gins, New Zealand might help show how to move from 80 per cent re­new­able elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion to 100 per cent. Re­duc­ing do­mes­tic emis­sions may also be val­ued as an act of self-ex­pres­sion, re­gard­less of its ef­fect on the cli­mate.

More pow­er­fully, New Zealand can take a world lead­er­ship role in re­duc­ing the 22 per cent of global emis­sions that come from meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide. On al­most all ef­forts to re­duce emis­sions New Zealand is a tech­nol­ogy-taker, but on agri­cul­tural science it has worldlead­ing in­sti­tu­tions that could make a global con­tri­bu­tion com­pa­ra­ble with any­thing from the great pow­ers.

Talks to achieve con­sen­sus be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and Op­po­si­tion on cli­mate change pol­icy con­tinue be­hind closed doors.

Jacinda Ardern and Si­mon Bridges at­tend but the real work is done by Cli­mate Change Min­is­ter James Shaw and Na­tional’s Todd Muller.

The key is­sues are the pow­ers and man­date of the pro­posed Cli­mate Change Com­mis­sion (CCC) plus the emis­sions-re­duc­tion tar­gets to be writ­ten into law.

Will the CCC be a quasi-leg­isla­tive body, able to reg­u­late with­out ref­er­ence to the Gov­ern­ment or Par­lia­ment? Will it at least have some in­de­pen­dent tools of its own, like the Re­serve Bank? Or will it just write re­ports, like the Par­lia­men­tary Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment?

In terms of man­date, will the CCC be pri­mar­ily con­cerned with what con­tri­bu­tion New Zealand can make to re­duc­ing global emis­sions through agri­cul­tural science and other tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions?

Or will it be mainly fo­cused on re­duc­ing New Zealand’s al­most ir­rel­e­vant do­mes­tic emis­sions?

For the lat­ter, will the tar­gets be as­pi­ra­tional and sym­bolic but ob­vi­ously unattain­able, like John Key’s goal of re­duc­ing emis­sions by over a quar­ter within 12 years or Ardern’s hy­per­bole of zero net emis­sions by 2050?

Or will they be kept within the realms of pos­si­bil­ity so they can in fact cre­ate a re­al­is­tic path­way for other coun­tries with much more sig­nif­i­cant emis­sions to fol­low?

When Shaw and Muller reach agree­ment, they must then sell it to their col­leagues and wider stake­holder groups.

Shaw has kept his en­vi­ron­men­tal net­works in the loop. Muller has held dozens of meet­ings around the coun­try with Na­tional Party mem­bers, farm­ers, busi­ness own­ers and the gen­eral pub­lic to en­sure that what­ever he agrees is both am­bi­tious and able to be em­braced by Na­tional’s con­stituency.

Be­fore fi­nal agree­ment, NZ First will need to be brought on board.

Win­ston Pe­ters may see po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage in cam­paign­ing against any Labour-Green-Na­tional deal, but that would surely first de­mand his res­ig­na­tion as For­eign Min­is­ter.

Per­ma­nent cross-party agree­ment on cli­mate change pol­icy would pro­vide a plat­form for New Zealand sci­en­tists to make Man­hat­tan or Apollo Project-type con­tri­bu­tions to the global meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide is­sues, while pro­vid­ing do­mes­tic cer­tainty to busi­nesses and house­holds, and de­liv­er­ing the ex­pres­sive value that the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment craves.

It would be a more sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to New Zealand’s, and even the world’s, ef­forts to re­duce emis­sions than what­ever puffery emerges out of Ka­tow­ice next week.

New Zealand can take a world lead­er­ship role in re­duc­ing the 22 per cent of global emis­sions that come from meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide.

Photo / AP

Guests ar­riv­ing this week at the venue for the cli­mate sum­mit in Ka­tow­ice, Poland.

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