Editorial: Match the talk with action on climate change

Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett says the emissions trading scheme needs to be tweaked.

Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett says the emissions trading scheme needs to be tweaked.

OPINION: The Government is striking a new tone on climate change. It will bring forward ratification of the Paris climate treaty to the end of the year, it says.

The global mood has changed, says Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett. She wants to reach across the aisle and work with Labour, the Greens and others to forge a cross-party approach to the issue.

This is a departure, in rhetoric at least, from years of inaction and waffle on the world's most pressing environmental crisis.

There are two things that can be said about this development. The first is: better late than never. There is simply no basis anymore for a Right-leaning government to be stubborn about climate change.

The issue has gone way past being the pet cause of environmentalists – the science is well-founded, major businesses are concerned, and political authorities are starting to think about how to protect their coastlines in the decades to come.

Broad political consensus on the need for real action is more than justified.

The second response must be that the Government needs to match the rhetorical pivot with action.

Bennett says there will need to be tweaks to the emissions trading scheme to meet New Zealand's "ambitious" Paris target.

Like Prime Minister John Key, she labours the high cost that the country will supposedly have to shoulder to make even modest reductions in carbon emissions.

Both of these contentions are overstated. New Zealand's Paris target is not ambitious; it is unusually weak compared with other developed countries.

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The costs involved are hardly insurmountable, especially compared with many claims on the public purse. After years of doing nearly nothing about emissions, there is still low-hanging fruit to be plucked, like taking action to reduce transport emissions.

A more ambitious target would be more costly, involving such moves as gently bringing agriculture into the trading scheme, but the urgency of the problem demands such a response.

There is still a lot of cause for pessimism. New Zealand's track record on climate change is appalling. The country's emissions have only continued to rise in recent years – a shocking fact that ought to depress every Kiwi.

Meanwhile, the emissions trading scheme has been exploited to near-meaninglessness by the use of trash foreign credits and special deals devised long ago as a short-term balm for businesses during the global financial crisis.

The use of the dirt-cheap credits, in particular, is a blight on the businesses that bought them – and the Government which allowed their mass purchase for so long.

At last, the loopholes are being closed. But there is still plenty of thought going into how to substantially lessen New Zealand's burden in the years to 2030.

Enough of the obscure rules and the clever accounting: if New Zealand can't be a champion for tackling climate change properly, few countries ever will be.

The need grows more pressing by the year. The Government has made a start in turning over a new leaf. It should keep up this new vein of encouraging talk – and begin making the tough calls that will signal it really believes it.

 - The Dominion Post


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