What if our Olympians acted like our Government and Businesses on Climate Change?

Geoff SimmonsEnvironment

Overnight kayaker Lisa Carrington won gold, while runner Nikki Hamblin won our hearts by waiting for the American runner Abbey D’Agostino to get to her feet and carry on running. This was moments after the American had clipped her feet, tripping them both up. Clearly Kiwis love winners, but we also have a place in our heart for good sports.

But what if our Olympians acted like our Government and some of our businesses on climate change? As a nation when it comes to reducing emissions we are neither winners nor good sports. The Morgan Foundation released a report Monday evening setting out the Dirty Dozen businesses that made the most use of the fraudulent foreign credits we highlighted in our original report Climate Cheats. After our first report the Government gave a hospital pass to business, saying they hadn’t bought any of the fraudulent credits, the businesses had. We wrote the follow up report to ask the question – when Government ducks the mud, who does it stick to?

We wouldn’t put up with this behaviour from our athletes. Yet instead of calling out this morally questionable behaviour by Government and businesses and demanding they do better, several commentators seem content to make excuses for them. Do we really want to lag at the back of the field on this issue, and insist on using questionable tactics to cover up our lacklustre performance? Lets look at some of the pathetic excuses that have been made for our Government and businesses, and how they might be applied by our Olympians.

Everyone did it

Some commentators including MOTU Research have responded to our claims by pointing out that ‘everyone did it’ – many other countries made use of these fraudulent foreign units. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the scale of the problem. Sure, other countries used fraudulent units out of Russia and the Ukraine. But other countries all had restrictions on the amount of foreign units that could be used, and when they discovered the problem they cracked down on it. By contrast, New Zealand had no restrictions over the use of fraudulent foreign units, so it should be no surprise that we were by far the biggest users.


The Olympic equivalent would be our athletes adopting a systematic doping programme like the Russians have, and then responding by pointing out that athletes from other nations use drugs.

It was within the rules 

The Government and commentators have all responded that the purchase of these fraudulent foreign units was within the rules. And it is true – technically New Zealand hasn’t broken any international laws. That is because there aren’t many international laws; generally countries rely on each other operating in good faith. When it became clear the loopholes in the system were starting to be exploited at large scale the European Union moved to clamp down, while New Zealand leapt in boots and all.

Nikki Hamblin didn’t have to wait for Abbey D’Agostino, but we love that she did. It would have been within the rules for Nikki to have got up and left Abbey in the dust. It would have been in the rules for Nikki to get upset and angry at the fact that Abbey’s carelessness caused the fall in the first place. If Nikki was representing New Zealand’s climate change policy, she would have leapt to her feet, flicked Abbey the bird for having tripped her up, and left it to the European runners to do the right thing by stopping and helping Abbey.

We only did it because this is so hard for us

Apparently we made massive use of these fraudulent foreign units because we have it tougher than other nations do. The fact is that New Zealand has made no progress in reducing emissions. Sure we have high agricultural emissions but our other emissions have also been rising. So far, to meet our international commitments we have relied entirely on temporary forest sinks and dodgy credits. Now it appears the Government wants to carry over the legacy of these fraudulent units post 2020, cutting about 1/3 off how much NZ would have to reduce emissions to meet the 2030 target. We are also trying to renegotiate how forestry accounting works which might water it down further.

The New Zealand Men’s Sevens team had a dismal Olympics, which seemed to be partly due to bad luck and partly due to poor preparation. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has already called for a review. If they acted like New Zealand on climate change then after a losing performance they would argue to change the rules to level up the playing field. Maybe the New Zealand team should start with a 7 point head start? Or maybe we should have golden oldie scrums on our feed?

Enough with the excuses

New Zealand’s Government and businesses need to stop wasting time and money on delay tactics.

The science is clear – we have to transition to a low carbon economy by the second half of this century. That won’t be cheap or easy, but it would be cheaper and easier if we started now. Given that the current generation of baby boomers helped cause the problem, it would be nice if they helped bear the cost of transitioning to a low carbon economy rather than leaving it all to the next generation to sort out.

We don’t accept excuses from our Olympians, why do we accept it from our Government and businesses?

What if our Olympians acted like our Government and Businesses on Climate Change? was last modified: August 17th, 2016 by Geoff Simmons
About the Author

Geoff Simmons

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Geoff Simmons is an economist working for the Morgan Foundation. Geoff has an Honours degree from Auckland University and over ten years experience working for NZ Treasury and as a manager in the UK civil service. Geoff has co-authored three books alongside Gareth.