National’s Change in Heart on Kyoto – Rationale of Convenience?

Gareth MorganEnvironmentLeave a Comment

Pollution emissions Kyoto

National really should be proud of its pragmatic judgement that capping emissions is beyond us

Trade Minister Tim Groser says its nuts complying with a regime that applies to only 15% of global emissions and so on that basis he has abandoned New Zealand’s commitment to the Kyoto reduction of carbon emissions and instead declared we will try to convince the US and China to curb their greenhouse problem.

Does this sound credible or more like a rationale of convenience aimed at removing constraints on economic growth imparted by carbon emission limits? Mr Groser cites our ETS as the mechanism we deploy but we all know it’s been fatally diminished as anything meaningful; the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment noted that rather than reduce our emissions to 10-20% below 1990 levels by 2020 as Mr Groser undertook at Copenhagen, we will in fact exceed that commitment by 30-40% at that time.

Of course, Groser put some small print into that 2020 goal which will allow the Government to wriggle out of it. But instead of setting another, more concrete goal, Mr Groser’s government is leading the charge away from commitments to cap greenhouse gas emissions, opting instead to reject those using the spin that Kyoto now doesn’t matter. Of course on the grounds he’s citing – that it applies to only 15% of global emissions – Kyoto never mattered, not from the day we signed up, so the Groser revelation is nothing new, it is simply a change of mind by our government. Pity he hasn’t the constitution to front up and simply say that.

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Wouldn’t it be great if a little honesty tempered the politicians’ pontificating on the issue of climate change and they simply acknowledged that the cost of adjustment is too high a price to pay?[/quote]It is evident that National does not subscribe to the view that New Zealand can meaningfully change its economic structure, we are predominantly a primary producer and that is what underlies our status of being the 5th highest emitter of greenhouse gasses per capita in the OECD (11th in the world). We simply cannot change that and are finding the economic cost of even reversing the upward trend in our per capita greenhouse emissions too big an ask. We don’t have any other strings to our growth bow other than sponsoring emission-intensive industries so for us it’s either economic growth or capping emissions – you cannot have both. This is National’s position. It needs to be explicit on this and have the courage of its convictions to say so.

Wouldn’t it be great if a little honesty tempered the politicians’ pontificating on the issue of climate change and they simply acknowledged that the cost of adjustment is too high a price to pay? Sliding around the truth by now saying we were wrong to sign up to Kyoto, that we need to delay and delay agriculture’s entry into our ETS, that it’s more ethical somehow not to sign up to the principle of emissions capping until the big boys do – are all slimy ways to acknowledge that cold, hard fact.

National really should be proud of its pragmatic judgement that capping emissions is beyond us. At least then New Zealanders would be faced with that fact and could begin to think about our future. With a dairy industry that has raised the number of cows from 2 to 4.5million and is incentivised to keep expanding those numbers ad infinitum, there is no chance emissions will be capped. Isn’t the relevant question then whether that’s the sort of industry we wish to underwrite?

It may well be of course, but we need to focus the debate on the issue, not skip around it with the double talk of a seasoned trade negotiator who shows little to no respect for calling a spade a spade. Subjecting voters to the duplicity of well-honed diplomatic language is at best condescending and more likely, deceitful. The public deserves a discussion on this issue that has more clarity and honesty underpinning it.

The issue is simple – do we want to try and diversify our economic structure away from emissions-intensive industries or is that too big an ask of our standard of living? Just put the question Mr Groser, gather your courage.

If we’d waited for China and the US to go anti-nuclear we’d still be waiting. Ask New Zealanders nowadays whether they want to reverse that policy. You might be surprised by what people actually want.


National’s Change in Heart on Kyoto – Rationale of Convenience? was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
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Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.