Opinion: Climate Shift is a great name for the recently-launched campaign endorsed by 30 environment groups. That’s a lot of people urging the Government to shift its focus to meet the fast-disappearing climate goal of 1.5C.
It’s a 10-point plan for climate action, guided by three themes – achieving real emissions reductions, supporting frontline communities, and restoring and rewilding nature. Its initiators were Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, and Oxfam.
Its practical thrust contrasts with the glibly duplicitous instructions given recently by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to diplomats engaged in international discussions. The instructions begin:
“Effective action has been and remains New Zealand’s objective for international climate change engagement … Science is the strategic context for all our mitigation efforts.”
Why, I wonder, was air travel an untouchable? How far off the beam would it be to begin a discussion about replacing frequent flyer price reductions with frequent flyer price penalties?
Effective action is not what we’ve yet carried out at home, despite our knowledge of the relevant science. Granted there are bigger players on the international scene but we are one of numerous smaller states whose combined emissions reductions are significant. At our present rate we’re unlikely to reach our target of reducing net emissions to 50 percent below our 2005 levels by 2030.
Climate Shift’s 10 points cover familiar areas but their analyses often go one step further – the earth can no longer afford the short term profit-driven fix. They begin with the most fundamental issue and one that affects all our daily lives – ending our dependence on fossil fuels. This is no mean task but unless government announces there will be no new oil, gas and coal exploration on land and at sea, as the campaign asks, we will have no incentive to rethink our use of these fuels.
Some groups would go further and propose a rationing system for energy.
Climate Shift insists we signal our commitment to this task by supporting the recent call of Vanuatu for a just transition to a fossil-free Pacific.
The campaign’s call for 100 percent renewable electricity eschews the “think big” solution of a large “battery” dam at Lake Onslow to get us through the dry years. Their more sustainable solution consists of “grants-based and equitable finance for new renewables, such as household solar and community energy projects”.
The campaign is surprisingly polite on the Emissions Trading Scheme which this week stuffed up for the second time this year
This proposal promotes a system of distributed electricity which would diminish the power of the gentailers – companies that generate electricity and retail it – and their pricing strategies.
On transport they have nothing to say that isn’t already on the lips of us all – along with the usual push for investment in walking and cycling, their priority is for spending on accessible free public transport infrastructure over roads.
Why, I wonder, was air travel an untouchable? How far off the beam would it be to begin a discussion about replacing frequent flyer price reductions with frequent flyer price penalties? Recent figures show that aviation makes up 12 percent of our carbon emissions – up from eight percent in 1990. The world average is just 2.8 percent.
Ours is the world’s sixth highest percentage per capita for all flights, which is understandable because we are an island at the bottom of the world. For domestic flights only, we’re fourth worst in the world.
We ought to be attempting to do better. I would have liked Climate Shift to voice support for the restoration of intercity rail and a major upgrade of long-distance buses.
On dairy, they have it right. Farming six million cows cannot be a sustainable land use despite the efforts of He Waka Eke Noa. That dairy is still exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme is surely an admission of this irrefutable fact. Thus, capping the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is not enough. Climate Shift wants it phased out because we have already transgressed that planetary boundary and the evidence lies before us in our polluted lakes and rivers.
Climate Shift’s point on the ocean comes second-to-last, yet it’s possibly one of the most important. The ocean generates 50 percent of the oxygen we need, it absorbs at least a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions and captures 90 percent of the excess heat generated by these emissions
Climate Shift would also have us phase out imported animal feed, ban new large-scale irrigation schemes and reduce herd sizes.
The campaign is surprisingly polite on the Emissions Trading Scheme which this week stuffed up for the second time this year. Climate Shift wants assurance that our laws “reflect the urgency required to address the climate crisis by strengthening the ETS …”.
As Newsroom reported, “Uncertainty about the Government’s climate ambition and a lack of determination to tighten the supply of NZ Unit carbon prices had already tanked one of its auctions this year …”
And then it tanked its second one and missed out on the $512m that government would have earned by selling the 8.95m carbon units on offer.
The Government has been criticised for ignoring the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission, the agency empowered to analyse the ETS market and make recommendations on settings. Its advice would have prevented the failure of the March auction.
Climate Shift also wants a legal requirement for “all local and central government decisions to keep warming below 1.5C, and to establish meaningful environmental bottom lines in new planning rules”.
These bottom lines are not spelled out but will clearly depend on individual ecological situations.
We know that planting trees and restoring forests will sequester carbon and heal the earth and we know the threat to our forests and birds from introduced animals. But there is a flaw in our hope of being predator-free by 2050. The focus of that programme is on possums, mustelids and rodents.
Climate Shift points out that as well as the possums, deer and goats are highly destructive yet these don’t figure in many control programmes. Here’s their point 8:
“Maximise native forests’ role in absorbing carbon and in protecting communities from flooding and erosion by effectively controlling deer, goats and possums on all public land, and implementing a native reforestation programme.”
Opposition to efforts by government and conservationists to cull these animals is strong from those for whom deer-hunting is a pastime and from tourist organisations, which promote hunting. Could government restrict where deer and goats are allowed to exist for the entertainment of those who like to shoot them?
Climate Shift’s point on the ocean comes second-to-last, yet it’s possibly one of the most important. The ocean generates 50 percent of the oxygen we need, it absorbs at least a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions and captures 90 percent of the excess heat generated by these emissions.
Data issued by our own marine scientists shows heatwaves devastated our coastal waters in the summer of 2022, with schools of fish washing up on beaches, penguins dying, and whales changing their migration paths.
Climate Shift wants “ecosystem-based fisheries management that ends bottom trawling and restores kelp forests by reversing all kina barrens”.
Overfishing of species such as snapper that feed on kina has allowed the proliferation of kina which in turn has impeded the growth of carbon-absorbing kelp.
Bottom trawling, despite its widely recognised destruction of marine ecologies, is bound to continue for some time. The Ministry for Primary Industries’ draft fisheries industry transformation plan proposes government subsidies for the fishing industry to build lower emissions vessels, including bottom trawl and dredge vessels.
This assumption that carbon emissions are the main problem is either ignorant or a denial of the wider issues in the climate crisis. We are the only country continuing to bottom trawl in the South Pacific.
Thus we have a long way to go, but Climate Shift is a good start. We need a brave government.