OPINION: In the wake of Australia's climate change backtrack, Federated Farmers and several business lobby groups have called upon the Government to do likewise here. It should resist the temptation.
Just because Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has gone wobbly at the knees on an issue he once described as "the great moral challenge of our age" is not reason for John Key and his colleagues to do the same.
The emissions trading scheme that is due to come into force on July 1 is the very least New Zealand can do and hope to maintain international credibility – credibility that is vital to a small trading nation which ships much of its produce half way around the world. The scheme is expected to push up power prices by 5 per cent and petrol by up 4 cents a litre but major industrial polluters are shielded from its full impact and farmers – the source of about half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions – are excluded altogether, till 2015 at the earliest.
It is possible, just, that global warming will prove to be as chimerical as the Y2K concerns about computer dating a decade ago.
However, the weight of scientific evidence suggests human activity is contributing to global warming and that unless measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there will be substantial rises in water levels and temperatures, causing massive problems for humanity.
In those circumstances it makes sense for nations to err on the side of caution and for New Zealand, a relatively wealthy country, to do its bit. Just because Australia and the United States are backsliding is no reason for us to do the same.
There is another reason too for New Zealand to press ahead with the introduction of carbon trading. Foresters and energy companies have begun making decisions on the basis of the scheme. According to Climate Change Minister Nick Smith, forest plantings are increasing after several years in decline and investors have begun putting money into renewable energy projects because of the carbon credits that will flow from them. Clean, environmentally friendly businesses need certainty just as much as polluters.
By sticking to its guns now, the Government will send a message to investors that it is worth their while to invest in environmentally friendly projects. It will also send a signal to major carbon producers that they need to change their ways.
Being forced to adapt before their competitors overseas will impose additional costs on some New Zealand businesses now, but it could give them a competitive advantage in years to come.
And, if the science or the circumstances change, the Government has given itself an out by scheduling a review of the emissions trading scheme next year.
Dr Smith has already indicated it will not be extended in 2012 as planned unless New Zealand's major trading partners do their bit.
By accident New Zealand has found itself half a step ahead of Australia and the US. That is a useful place to be for this country's reputation and one that could yet reap an economic dividend.
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