The next global get-together to sort out our chances of surviving the climate crisis, the Conference of the Parties, known as COP 28, is not until November 30, in Dubai. If this seems a long way off, and you want our delegation to represent certain priorities, you have until May 10 to let the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) know your views.

“Updating Aotearoa New Zealand’s Approach to International Climate Change Negotiations”, is a fairly daunting consultation document that begins by making clear the peril humankind is in – “The world is off track to limit temperature rise below 1.5”.

Enough of us know what this means to ask of ourselves and our politicians what are we doing about it? The question has a ring of rhetoric to it that renders the answer self-defeating. Pessimism is the predictable outcome. Some turn to activism to express their despair and protest by blocking motorways because they see how the system we live in fails to change.

Rhetoric features in Mfat’s reassurance in the executive summary that there are “signs of hope”. The number of G20 countries with net zero commitments, it says, has recently doubled with major emitters Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa and Korea pledging to reach net zero.

No target date is mentioned. Do we assume it’s 2050? Are these countries making better progress than we are?

Five key issues are likely to dominate COP’s agenda. Priority will likely be given to the first global stocktake of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to emissions reductions that were agreed upon at the 2015 Paris COP in order to stay below a 1.5 degree temperature rise.

New Zealand’s current NDC is for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to be 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Like most of the world, we are far from achieving that distant target. Even our own Climate Change Commission was quick to point out its inadequacy.

However, we have recorded a minuscule reduction. According to our national Greenhouse Gas Inventory, gross emissions decreased in 2021 by 0.7 percent from 2020.

Climate Action Tracker, taking that figure into account, moved our NDC rating from “critically insufficient” to merely “insufficient.” This rating, they say, relates to what our “fair share emissions allocation” would ideally be.

Other important topics will include a global goal for adaptation and appropriate funding; working out how the agreement on “loss and damage” will operate, especially for third world countries; Just Energy Partnerships, known as JEPs which are concerned with the just transition to renewables; and the big subject of food security, known as the Sharm el Sheikh working group.

Mfat offers the opportunity to comment on how our delegates should contribute to 20 issues. These include the major topics we are struggling with in Aotearoa – agriculture, forestry, oceans, just transition, biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

The process is not just tick this box, except in one question where I wanted to tick “Most important” for 10 areas considered critical. These are big issues which require responses at the diplomatic level. It’s hard to see, behind the veneer of rhetoric, that at this stage in our struggle to preserve a future for our children global cooperation and some kind of consensus are crucial.

For example, in the biodiversity section we’re asked to answer this question – “How can consideration for biodiversity be built into the global goal framework for adaptation?”

If we could solve this for ourselves we might have some proposals for a global framework. But we’re grappling, after the summer’s storms, with our own difficulties of adaptation, relocating homes to safe places and continuing to protect our own diminishing biodiversity.

We’re small, but in some areas we have international recognition above our size, eg in sports (not only thanks to the All Blacks) and in dairy production. We’re the world’s eighth largest milk producer of which we export 95 per cent as dried powder. But this statistic is unrelated to the (unsubstantiated) claim by Mfat that “New Zealand has been world leading in our action toward a sustainable agriculture sector.”

But we are signatories to the Global Methane Pledge, launched in November 2021 to reduce global anthropogenic methane levels by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030. Our personal commitment for biogenic methane reduction is only 10 percent below 2017 emissions by 2030, according to the Ministry for the Environment.

As for actions to make agriculture sustainable we could learn from Holland which appears to have taken on board the fact that “….emissions from agrifood systems make up one third of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and are continuing to rise”.

The quote is from Mfat’s consultation document. Despite this official lip service nothing we plan to do will lessen that stark figure. Agriculture is still not included in the ETS, He Waka Eke Noa’s proposals will change very little.

In Holland they’ve earmarked $25 billion to help farmers drastically reduce livestock numbers and change agricultural practices.

The section on agriculture points out that we participate in the Sharm el-Sheikh working group. We’re asked for feedback on only three topics – the outcomes we would like to see internationally; how Māori rights and interests in agriculture should be advocated for at COP; and “…should we be hard line in requiring text to recognise that all countries should be seeking to reduce their agricultural emissions?”

Here again, our answer must be conditioned by our failure so far to get our own agricultural house in order.

If I were representing Aotearoa New Zealand in Dubai I guess I would be keeping my head down.

Remember our official infamy at the previous two COPs? Last year in Egypt, our climate minister James Shaw was awarded the “Fossil of the Day” award because Climate Action Network International believed our negotiators did not support setting up a separate funding pool for “loss and damage” – which Pacific countries had been calling for.

This followed the “Fossil of the Day” award he took  in Scotland for his refusal to update our NDC.

Recent decisions by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to scrap or water down emissions-reducing projects – such as the clean discount – mean we could be on track for a third such prize.

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