Bennett gets serious about climate change
By Richard Harman (author)
Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett is proposing to refer questions about the economics of climate change to the Productivity Commission.
Facing criticism from the Environment Comissioner that the Government is not doing enough she is also talking about bringing a wide range of stakeholders into her Climate Change Taskforce.
She told POLITIK that she wants the Productivity Commission to focus on the economic benefits that might come from change solutions.
Her decision to do this not only yet again underlines the faith the Key Government has in the Commission but also comes after a report on Friday from the Environment Commissioner, Dr jan Wright, to have an independent body evaluate climate change policy.
Dr Wright has been keen to see Finance Minister Bill English and Treasury involved in evaluating responses to climate change which she argues, because of rising sea levels, poses a big threat to the country’s infrastructure.
Ms Bennett said she had been talking to the Finance Minister about having the Productivity Commission to an in depth piece of work “not just on that side because I think we’ve got quite a bit on the implications of sea level rises.”
“What we need is a plan,” she said.
“But I don’t think we talk enough about the economic benefits of working on solutions for climate change.
“I think instead that it's always going to have cost implications and impact jobs.”
She said she had also established an informal Ministerial group to bring together all the work that various departments and Ministries were doing on climate change.
“It means getting all that in one place so that we can actually see the work streams that are happening and look at who’s in control of them and tick them off that we are actually making progress.
“Whether we need to ramp that up to something more formal we shall see.”
She has already announced that she wants to set up a task force on climate change involving business, the Government, academics and non-government organisations.
She is however not ready to move that forward yet.
“It needs careful thought, “she said.
“What we do and set in place over the next twelve to 24 months is hopefully there for the next fifteen to twenty years.
“But I’m wondering about whether we should have working groups under the task force; one might concentrate on agriculture, another on adaptation and another on sea levels and another might be perhaps politicians.
“They could have a working group themselves feeding into all of this to come up with a master plan.”
Ms Bennett’s appointment last December as Climate Change Minister surprised some in the scientific community.
But as she unfolds her ideas about getting people involved in the practical implications of climate change it is easy to see why the Prime Minister gave her the job; she gets things done.
But she is also a very popular figure within her own party and she was a keynote speaker at the party’s Central North Island conference in Hamilton where she set out to redefine climate change as an issue.
And in doing that she has made the most forthright call for action on climate change that we have heard from any member of Mr Key’s Government.
She said climate change was about more than whether the climate was changing, or sea levels were rising or temperatures were getting hotter.
“It’s actually about our identity and us as a country because our identity is in our land, and it’s in our beaches and it’s in our mountains.
“It’s a part of who we are as New Zealanders.
“We identify ourselves based on the absolutely magnificent landscapes that we are surrounded by.
“That’s what gives us our sense of pride and our sense of identity.”
She said if that was what we thought then “this stuff matters and we need to be looking thirty, forty or fifty years out,”
She said people could call it climate change, call it identity, call it what they liked.
“But get involved.
“And know that unless we change our behaviours, particularly in business and how we are doing business and as consumers and what we are choosing we will be doing a disservice to the very thing that we see as out identity.”
She acknowledged that the aprty has within it some climate change sceptics.
But she said the debate over the science was over.
This will undoubtedly attract a barrage of critical emails from the sceptics but in much the same way she reformed social development and social housing, it is quite clear that she has now decided on a need for action and she is going to push ahead.