National and the Greens get slightly closer together
By Richard Harman (author)
Climate Change Minister and Greens co-leader, James Shaw, last night warned that if climate change policy was done badly, then the country would feel the economic impact.
He was appearing in a climate change debate on TVOne’s “Q+A” with National's Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller.
Muller warned against rushing climate change policy.
But Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, displayed some impatience with Muller’s call for a slowdown.
“We've been talking about this for 30 years which is most of my life, and we actually have to crack on with it at some point,” Shaw said.
However, he agreed that there was a need to be conscious of the impact of climate change policy on the economy.
“We do know from every single study that's been done on this that the effects will be uneven and we do need to make sure that we take industries and communities, low-income households, Maori and so on along with us because if we do this badly then actually those people will feel the impact.”
National has made consideration of the economic consequences one of its five bottom lines which it committed to back in June when leader, Simon Bridges, agreed to be part of a bipartisan approach to climate change.
The principles are:
- A pragmatic, science-based approach to tackling climate change.
- Innovation and technology will be crucial to meeting any target.
- The incentives need to be right to drive long-term changes rather than imposing short-term shocks.
- New Zealand must act, but never in isolation.
- Ensure that the environment and the economy are mutually supportive.
The party is putting a big emphasis on a science-based approach to climate change because it believes that scientific solutions such as vaccines and new grasses offer the possibility of reducing cattle methane emissions substantially.
In a report released ten days ago, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton said that if New Zealand wished to ensure that methane from livestock contributed no additional warming beyond current levels, emissions would need to be reduced by at least 10-22 per cent below 2016 levels by 2050, with further reductions by 2100.
Muller appeared to suggest last night that National believes science could achieve that. Hence his call for patience and his opposition to rushing the policy.
“There is an opportunity as new technology appears on the horizon, but this is why we need to not embrace climate change with the sort of breathless enthusiasm that comes from some of the government and the wider community that this is somehow something to be embraced and quickly,” he said.
“The impact on the economy is severe and significant.
“If we get this wrong we need to be considered and to have perspective around how fast others are travelling on this journey.
“We are at zero point one seven per cent of world emissions.
“That's not an excuse to do nothing, but neither is it from the National Party's perspective a reason to be first fast and famous.
“We've got to be proportional and measured approach here.”
The alternative to science finding a solution is either to impose some sort of charge on methane and (or) to step up the offsetting of the methane emissions with substantially increased forest tree planting.
Muller indicated he opposed a charge on methane.
“The answer here is not a broad-based tax on all farmers,” he said.
“The answer here is to find a solution particularly for ruminant animal methane.”
But Shaw argued that the point of emissions charges was to incentivise productivity.
“The whole point of putting a price on emissions is not to pay the price.
“It's to drive productivity and innovation.
“There are already cases of farms all over the country that are actually reducing their emissions and increasing their productivity you know using existing technology and best practice.
“And we also know there are more things coming down the track all the time.”
Muller was also sceptical about the scale of tree planting that has been proposed.
I think some of those assumptions and the Productivity Commission are heroic.
“Two and a half million more hectares of pine forests; a mix of exotics and natives in there as well of course.
“But we've got to have a vision of New Zealand to be more than a sort of pine plantation of the South Pacific.
“That's a quarter of sheep and beef farms being turned into forests.
“We've got to be realistic here in terms of our response.”
Shaw clearly recognises that if he is going to get support from National over the eventual climate change policy, there will have to be some compromise.
“Everybody's going to have to compromise,” he said.
“These guys (National) are going to have to compromise
“I'm going to have to compromise.
“You know the farmers are going to have to compromise, Forest and Bird, Greenpeace in order to get an enduring solution.
“The way I've been describing this recently is everyone's going to end up pretty much equally unhappy with the way this thing lands.
“You can’t leave a significant portion of people behind because that'll just prolong the debate and slow things down.
“It's been slow for the last 30 years we've actually got to get everybody on board.”
It’s an unusual process. It’s rate that an attempt has been made to secure political consensus on such a controversial policy area. As last night’s debate showed, it won't be easy, but it may just work.