Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith on climate change and the cross-party working group GLOBE-NZ
Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith sits on the executive of GLOBE-NZ, a cross-party working group looking at climate change and how New Zealand can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Reporter Oliver Lewis sat down with Smith to talk about his involvement with the group, and take his temperature on climate change.
Can you briefly explain what GLOBE-NZ is?
GLOBE-NZ is an arm of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment. Dr Kennedy Graham, from the Green Party, has been involved for a long time so he set up GLOBE-NZ. It's cross party. My view is climate change has to be bigger than party politics, and GLOBE offers a perfect vehicle to test all these views in a non-threatening way.
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How did you get involved?
It's a voluntary thing, I've had an interest for a long time - other backbenchers and myself in the National Party have been working on how we might meet our Paris obligations by 2030. Then caucus appointed me as the executive member.
Why did you have an interest in climate change in the first place?
It goes back to burning barley stubble as a child - you know when you'd harvest barley? The straw that was left over would be burnt, and then you'd cultivate the paddock. I just thought it was a waste of a whole lot of energy. I wasn't thinking about climate change but that started me off on that journey.
Climate change has interested me for a long time, although my views aren't as hard as some people. I consider myself a pragmatist and a realist. There's no doubt the climate is changing, there's no doubt our emissions have increased, and you can very easily prove in a laboratory that the gases we are concerned about can change the climate. Science is not about a vote, the reality is the facts are the facts.
You mentioned GLOBE is a non-combative space, but when New Zealand announced its Paris Agreement target for 2030, of reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels, there was criticism it wasn't going far enough. Do you think it does?
I believe it does, yes. I notice in the GLOBE debates that there is a group of people that want to solve climate change for the world here in New Zealand. We are a small emitter, that doesn't mean our emissions don't count - they do - but we can't carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Climate change is something we're concerned about, and I think we've got to make some changes. But going out today and foisting an economic hairshirt on our economy would have a massive impact on people's lifestyles and make very little difference in the long run. We have to take people with us.
In March, the GLOBE-commissioned report by Vivid Economics was released. What was the purpose, and what do you think of the fourth pathway they identified for New Zealand to become carbon neutral by 2050, which involves a significant reduction in livestock levels.
The report was to open a discussion and create a framework that all parties could agree on, in terms of quantifying the problem and identifying some potential pathways for a solution.
I think reducing livestock numbers significantly may only displace that production offshore, and the environment would be worse off for it, not better. So we would lower our emissions but likely increase global emissions. The same with the aluminium smelter in Bluff. We have one of the highest rates of renewable energy generation in the world, so to shift that high-value aluminium production offshore to a place where it would be powered by non-renewable sources would actually increase emissions.
What do you think we have to do in New Zealand to reduce our emissions?
I think we've got to plant more trees, absolutely more forestry. We're doing a lot of research in the methane space, so hopefully that will pay some dividends in the future. The methane emissions I mentioned before (methane stays in the atmosphere for a shorter period than carbon dioxide but heats the planet more. Smith said climate scientists were looking to reassess how much worse it was than carbon dioxide because of the shorter lifespan), that would actually make it tougher on New Zealand in a way, because it would make us address the elephant in the room, or the main source of emissions that really do drive climate change, CO2, and the largest part of that is transport fuels.
Do you think there should be Government subsidies on electric cars?
I don't believe we should be subsidising them, for every x number of units produced the cost will go down, and that's starting to happen now. I think we'll get there in terms of electric cars, but it's heavy transport fuels we need to look at. As you know, I'm a fan of coastal shipping, that's the most efficient transport around.
What is the Vivid Economics report?
The report, titled Net Zero in New Zealand: scenarios to achieve domestic emissions neutrality in the second half of the century, was commissioned by GLOBE-NZ.
It explores four different scenarios for reducing emissions, depending on factors such as land use and energy generation, to give lawmakers an idea of how change can be achieved.
The most ambitious of the four scenarios, 'Net Zero in 2050', envisages a shift away from pastoral agriculture, with an overall reduction of stock numbers of up to 35 per cent.
For net zero emissions to be achieved there needed to be a focus on horticulture, crops and the planting of new forests on an additional 1 million hectares of land, the report says.
The report, which was released in March, can be read here.
- The Marlborough Express