Kennedy Graham's Debate on Climate Change | Asia Pacific Greens

Kennedy Graham's Debate on Climate Change

Debate on Prime Minister's Statement 2013 - Part 62

Wednesday, 30 Jan 2013 | http://www.greens.org.nz/speeches/kennedy-grahams-debate-prime-ministers-statement

Contact: Kennedy Graham MP

The Prime Minister's annual statement to Parliament presumably reflects his Government's view of the state of the nation, and its political priorities.

So what is to be found in yesterday's speech? He began by claiming he was re-elected with a plan for a faster growing economy, supporting jobs, income, and better public services, thereby getting it wrong in the first sentence.

His Government was not elected simply for that. Its supreme political responsibility is to ensure that New Zealand achieves sustainability, combining social stability with cultural harmony and economic resilience in a world of unprecedented challenge.

So what are those global challenges? Let us take stock in 2013. What changed over the first year of the 50th Parliament, not just in New Zealand but around the world?

What has occurred in the world is that this world itself has changed. It has moved from a state of global concern to a state of global alarm. We have had extreme weather events—in fact, we are experiencing them now as we speak.

Hurricane Sandy in North America a few months ago was the largest ever record in the Atlantic. It cost $66 billion in damage and business interruption. Australia has become a tectonic hotplate. The Lucky Country now spawns annual heatwaves, forest fires, and devastating floods.

The challenge of climate change is only one of the global problems we face in the early 21st century. Of the nine planetary boundaries we must live within, humanity is transgressing three already: climate change, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen depletion.

Our global ecological footprint is at 50 percent overshoot. These are the factors that will influence us, whether we like it or not. These are the true drivers of the global economy and, therefore, the New Zealand economy, whether the Prime Minister understands it or not.

Mr Key's preoccupation with the financial dimension of life prevents him from embracing a broader view of society befitting a national political leader.

The need for a broader view is especially acute today in light of the global challenges affecting us all. This even applies down here in New Zealand, with its temperate climate and oceanic moat that once protected us—but no more.

The global atmosphere knows no regional oceanic boundaries. The scientific findings of the past year make it clear that global climatic change is kicking in faster and more ominously than even the scientists had bargained for.

The north polar ice melt, the Greenland ice melt, and the warming of west Antarctica are portents of great change, and the change is speeding up.

Lord Nicholas Stern acknowledged just days ago that he had "got it wrong". Climate change is already far worse than he thought it would be only 6 years ago when he released his report.

We are no longer likely to achieve the 2 degrees Celsius limit that the international community set for itself only 2 years ago. We are now on target for 3.5 degrees to 6 degrees. That takes us beyond the dangerous dimension of climate change, which the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change sought to prevent, and into what the World Bank calls "cataclysmic" climate change.

This, of course, omits the most ominous phenomenon of all: the methane release from the northern tundra and seabed that risks taking us past the tipping point and into abrupt climatic change.

Meanwhile, global emissions rose by a record amount in 2012, and our own national emissions soared as well. The Prime Minister speaks of exploiting this country's oil and gas for the sake of keeping Kiwi workers away from Western Australia.

He derides the Green Party for advocating a halt. In this he is egregiously wrong—morally, economically, politically wrong—and he cannot get past his superficial witticisms against Labour sufficiently to perceive the 21st century world for what it is.

What to say to a Government that in face of these developments guts its domestic climate legislation and refuses to enter a second binding international commitment period?

What to say to a Prime Minister who, in his annual statement to Parliament, omits climate change on the grounds that he touched on it last year?

What to say to a Minister for Climate Change Issues who says that New Zealand is ahead of the curve, that it is time to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol and join the largest polluters of the world, and who derides the global civil society when it criticises New Zealand for being one of the chief obstacles to progress at the UN conference in Doha?

We say this to John Key and Tim Groser. We say this: you are on the wrong side of history, both of you, in your respective ways.

This will be shown up for what it is before you leave office. You know a Government has lost touch with the people when the New Zealand Herald runs an editorial criticising it for a lack of leadership on climate change.

John Key acknowledges only a global financial crisis. He cannot see past the dollar sign; Mr Groser beyond the World Trade Organisation.

The global financial crisis of 2008 is part of the global economic crisis of the past decade, and that is part of the global ecological crisis of the past half century.

We are proving unable to handle all of this, because we actually have a crisis in global governance. Once we acknowledge the planetary boundaries we are violating, we shall realise we need cooperation to an unprecedented extent at the global level.

Yet at the international level, which is where we still negotiate, we compete for national advantage, and the global commons suffer and then so do we all.

At the national level we continue with adversarial politics, as if nothing has fundamentally changed in the past few decades, and we can continue as before. So because of our increasingly psychotic state—a mix of dread and fear—we remain unable to change as change breaks around us.

The Prime Minister's statement to Parliament yesterday fixated on a forecast of growth, albeit modest and grumpy. His 20th century philosophy will be engulfed by a tsunami of extreme weather and a revolution in political thought, before this decade is out.

We say to the Prime Minister and to this House: New Zealand has an obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 within the range prescribed by the United Nations 5 years ago, by at least 25 percent.

That obligation is a moral, economic, and political imperative of our survival, irrespective of what the Prime Minister says about it this afternoon in the House.

We need a 40-year carbon budget that sets a quantitative cap on our national emissions, composed of 5-yearly budgets that start from 2016 to 2020.

We need either a stronger emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax, either one reflecting a cost of perhaps $50 a tonne to influence behaviour.

We need strong complementary measures to that. Nobody suggests this will be easy, meeting the climate change head on, yet we have no choice but to meet the challenge.

We have to somehow acquire the wit to link the global future with this nation's future—the economy, the ecology, the society; jobs, rivers, kids.

National is into denial on climate change. It has given the climate portfolio to a 20th century trade negotiator, someone who lacks the nuanced understanding of 21st century politics, and who cannot see the difference between the two.

Until we, and above all the Prime Minister, acknowledge psychologically and politically that humanity is truly in a crisis situation, we cannot possibly solve it.

I call on John Key to make 2013 the year when National gets up to speed with climate change, admits its mistakes of the previous year, and finds common ground with the Green Party and all of us, for all of us to work together, inspiring all New Zealanders to rise to this challenge.

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand