The Prime Minister’s Declaration of a Climate Change Emergency was largely greeted with scepticism yesterday because it contained no detail on how the emission targets were to be achieved.
Indeed the timing was odd.
The Climate Change Commission, which is required to advise on the targets under the Zero Carbon Act, is not due to report with its first budgets till early next year.
The Commission says its first “package of advice” will be open for consultation from February 1 to March 14.
They are currently in what they call the “pre-consultation” phase.
But Commission Chair, Rodd Carr, has been privately briefing some economic groups and has been telling them the size of the challenge is massive.
One source said Carr told his group that New Zealand would need to increase electricity generation by between 40 and 80 per cent to meet the Government’s emissions targets.
But the Declaration presented to Parliament yesterday did not deal with any of these sorts of issues.
It was mostly rhetoric.
“It’s a declaration that says we must get our own house in order,” said Jacinda Ardern.
“It serves as the clearest of signals to the private sector, and I acknowledge significant action has been taken by many in the private sector.
“Many are taking action now, demonstrating leadership.
“But to others, I say there is no more runway to push back on.
“Globally, we have entered an age of action, and that includes the private sector, as well.”
Climate Justice Taranaki, who can usually be relied on to take an extreme position on climate change said though the Declaration was an important gesture, successive governments had “given us nothing but empty rhetoric when it came to implementing solutions to solve our global climate crisis.”
The group’s spokesperson, Urs Signer, said Jacinda Ardern and her ministers had three years to bring about meaningful, urgent and transformative change but so far we just hadn’t seen it.
Greenpeace said the Declaration was a “win for people power”, but challenged the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Government to follow through quickly with policy and action to cut New Zealand’s climate pollution.
And therein lies the rub.
This became clear in a speech opposing support for the Declaration from National’s new climate change spokesperson, Stuart Smith.
He has replaced the chair of the party’s Blue Greens ginger group, Scott Simpson as climate change spokesperson.
Smith is said to be much closer to the views of leader Judith Collins who is more sceptical about meeting the Paris climate change targets.
However, implicit in his speech opposing the Declaration was an acceptance of the 2050 emissions targets.
“ We are committed to the Paris Agreement and to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050,” he said.
“But declaring a climate emergency is nothing but virtue signalling.
“Symbolic gestures just don’t cut it—by declaring a climate emergency when there is consensus on what needs to be done.
“We need to drive our emissions down.
“A climate emergency won’t change our approach to this.”
Ardern announced that the Government was now committed to a carbon-neutral public service by 2025.
She said this would be achieved by two existing policies; getting rid of coal-fired boilers and ensuring all Government-owned light vehicles were electric by 2025/26.
The Government would also impose an energy efficiency building standard on all mandated agencies which occupied office space over 2,000 square metres.
National MP Chris Bishop in September produced figures to show the Government was well behind on its electric vehicle target.
Answers to written questions from Phil Twyford revealed that the Government counted 15,000 cars in the government fleet, but as of June 2020, just 108 of them were electric – less than 1 per cent of the fleet.
There was a practical proposal from new ACT list MP, Simon Court who suggested that MPs should stop flying around all over the country “wherever they like, whenever they like, because MPs are the only people in the world with an unlimited travel budget to fly anywhere they like, whenever they want, on the taxpayer.
“No business would accept its staff jumping on a plane on a whim,” he said.
“So ACT proposes to change the parliamentary calendar.
“Currently MPs sit three days a week for 30 weeks a year.
“We could sit for four days a week—imagine that—for 23 weeks a year. That would reduce the number of flights taken by MPs and carbon emissions by around 25 per cent, and it would not only reduce emissions; it would save taxpayer money.”
Court also said ACT wanted the price of ETS units tied to that of your top five trading partners.
“ACT believes New Zealand should do its part, through innovation led by business, engineers, and scientists, not through slogans and PR stunts,” he said.
The real action on climate will come only when the Climate Change Commission produces its carbon budgets, and those are likely to be so challenging there will be no need to declare an emergency; the need for one will be real.