06 July 2009

Consult and Survive: The First Session

I've just come back from the first session of the New Zealand Government's consultation meetings on New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020.

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith was faced with an audience of between 300 and 400 people. After his twenty-minute presentation, doing its best to send a message of "we'll sign up to a target, but don't expect it to be substantial", members of the audience had the chance to speak — and, one after another, they implicitly or explicitly supported New Zealand taking on a strong reduction target in Copenhagen, with most of them plumping for the target to be a 40% cut in 1990-level emissions by 2020.

The Minister's response was interesting. He stayed in his seat after most of the speakers, and when he did take the stage, he claimed that a 40% cut was too difficult because the fact that agriculture is responsible for 50% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions meant that no emissions would be allowable in all other sectors if we adopted a 40% by 2020 target.

There was a glaring hole in this response: it assumed that no emissions reductions were possible in agriculture. This is patently untrue: in fact, many farmers can make a profit while reducing emissions by using nitrification inhibitors, as revealed by the Sustainability Council.

So why don't they? Part of the answer is that they are under the sway of their leadership, Federated Farmers, who are so opposed to taking responsibility for farming's share of greenhouse gas emissions that they have called for agriculture to be completely excluded from New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme.

Fed Farmers are only one of a number of powerful lobby groups - others include the Major Electricity Users' Group and the Greenhouse Policy Coalition - which have spent a lot of time and money trying to prevent New Zealand taking any effective action on climate change. These groups are too clever to deny the science of climate change - instead, they argue that it would cost New Zealanders too much to take action. What they really mean, of course, is that it is their members who are responsible for the bulk of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore their members who would have to start paying.

I was forcibly reminded of this, because I happened to sit behind the the main lobbyists from two of these groups at tonight's meeting. They didn't get up to speak. They didn't state their real views. But they were listening, carefully, and no doubt working out the arguments they will use behind closed doors to try, yet again, to prevent the New Zealand government getting serious about climate change.

When I left the meeting, the speeches from the floor were still continuing, speaker after speaker making passionate, well-informed calls for action. And the lobbyists were still sitting quietly, saying nothing and taking in a lot. The constrast symbolised why these meetings are so important. For most of the time, the well-funded lobbyists have the Minister's ear. But tonight, and for the next twelve nights, it's the public turn.

Find out when the meeting is in your town
. Get along and call for serious action on climate change. Challenge the Minister when he tries to leave agriculture out. And don't let the lobbyists have it all their own way.

UPDATE: Joshua Vail has posted a full report of the meeting, with video links to Nick Smith's presentation and people's responses. It's at http://www.joshuavial.com/wellington-consultation-for-2020-emissions-target/

UPDATE 2: 350.org.nz is posting summaries of the consultation sessions on their home page - scroll down to see them. I'm pleased to see Dunedin went so well!


Anonymous said...

Well I stayed to the end and the fossil fuel lobbyists still remained quiet. They certainly didn't seem to want to engage in a public debate. The atmosphere amongst the public was very positive throughout. Though I reckon it was between 400 and 450 from my rough head count.

Anonymous said...

Paul recorded some of the speakers here http://www.myonlinediary.com/pmwiki.php/ClimateChange/NewZealands2020EmissionsTarget

Tim Jones said...

The meetings have been continuing - now into their second week. A report from the Queenstown meeting last Friday as here: http://efsqueenstownlakes.blogspot.com/