National’s failure to grasp climate change a major challenge for NZ

by Steve Abel / 21 February, 2019
dairy farm

The National Party’s Bluegreen wing are set to hold their annual conference in Raglan this weekend. Greenpeace’s Senior Campaign and Political Advisor Steve Abel will be there to challenge the party on their climate policies, which he says are a major barrier to credibility.  

While Tasmania and Tasman District are terrorised by fire and the temperature tally for 2018 confirms the last four calendar years as the hottest on record, National’s Climate Change Spokesperson, Todd Muller has suggested that the best climate strategy may be to sit back and let the doomsday clock tick. 

Muller views it as a matter of National Party principle that New Zealand should not extend our ambitions beyond accepting our basic irrelevance to the rest of the world and helplessness to affect any meaningful impact. I wonder if he takes the same view of our export industries, of our historic part in global challenges such as the Second World War, or our sporting efforts.

I could almost imagine that as Trent Boult was skittling wickets in the fourth ODI against India, Muller was yelling from the sidelines: “Slow down mate, you’re only a New Zealander after all!”

But there’s a bigger problem with what National were doing on climate change when in Government than Muller’s somewhat immoral philosophy of do-the-bare-minimum. Because National were not even doing that. They were actually making the problem worse.

Read more: Climate change is no longer a distant, slow-moving emergency

National have instituted policies that specifically favour fossil fuel expansion and dairy intensification, while doing next to nothing to support clean energy development. It’s no secret that dairy emissions soared on National’s watch. And right now, as we wilt under mercury-sizzling sunshine, the coal burners are cranking at Huntly Power Station on a five-year high. Rather than seize the opportunity to call out the Ardern Government’s blind spot on the role solar and battery storage could be playing in offsetting dirty and expensive fossil fuel electricity, National have instead banged on about the need for more gas. Energy Spokesperson Jonathan Young’s statements on gas parrot the oil industry almost verbatim –and have no basis in science. 

The science says all three of the fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – must be cut rapidly to avoid catastrophic impacts. And no, gas is not a transition fuel. Switching from coal to gas is comparable to an alcoholic switching from spirits to wine and deluding themselves they’ve kicked the habit. We have abundant unutilised wind and solar resources that should be seized now to get us off the fossil fuels.

National also maintains that the dairy gas – methane – should have special privileges in our climate rules; methane was left out of the Emissions Trading Scheme during their time in power. Rather than being led by science, National are being obedient to rural constituency loyalties. The reality is we must cut dairy cow numbers and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser if we are going to reduce emissions. This would have the added benefit of reducing pollution to freshwater. Both the current fires in Tasman District, and a horrific figure from across the ditch that up to 300,000 cattle were killed in the Queensland floods this month, highlight that rural communities are among the worst affected by climate change. This is no time for pussyfooting.     

Other than in rhetoric, National’s policies on agriculture, energy, and transport have been indistinguishable from those of a climate-denying Party. Their purported market ideology was nowhere to be seen when they mobilised extensive public resources to advance polluting industries by restructuring MBIE, subsidising oil and gas exploration, facilitating dairy expansion, and pouring billions into roading.

It would be a big step simply to get National out of pro-fossil fuel and industrial dairy mode and into neutrality, let alone for them to actually support the urgent switch to clean energy and regenerative agriculture that we must achieve.

As a country, we should be deeply concerned that the biggest caucus in Parliament and our nation's largest political party has such a backward position. Former Oil Minister, now National Leader Simon Bridges, seems intent on making the promise to bring that industry back from the brink as part of his 2020 election manifesto. Sadly, this would cement National in the annals of history as the enemy of progress on the greatest challenge of our time. 

If the Bluegreen caucus within the Party is to have any credibility, they must turn National around on climate policy – for all of our sakes.  

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