Editorial: Guilt by association in global pollution

Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012

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OPINION: At  the Taranaki Sportsperson of the Year awards, International Olympic Committee member Barry Maister offered a surprising and disturbing insight.

During an inspiring speech before the region's best and brightest, the 1976 Olympic hockey gold medallist told the audience of what went on behind the scenes during the tense handover of the gold medal that would later be placed around Valerie Adams' neck.

As the Belarussian official was handing back the medal stripped from their disgraced shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk, he told Maister not to get too comfortable, because this symbol of sporting supremacy would soon be taken off Adams as well. Like everyone else, she was probably using performance-enhancing drugs, and that was just the way things were done. Adams, and hence the reputations of all Kiwi Olympians, was casually dismissed by association.

Maister's insight was recalled as a conference got under way this week in Doha, Qatar, to thrash out a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, before the next major talks scheduled in 2015.

New Zealand, which signed up to the original ground-breaking agreement and has long sought to market itself and its produce as "100% Pure", declined to be involved in the second commitment document, instead preferring to stick to emissions pledges under the United Nations Convention Framework. Interestingly, the Kyoto protocols are legally binding, while the convention ones are not.

That withdrawal means New Zealand has opted to join a group of protocol dissenters that includes some of the globe's worst and brazenly recalcitrant polluters.

These nations, including the United States, China, India and Russia, have stubbornly refused to honour international agreements and instead protect their own interests. They have been repeatedly pilloried for that ignorance and stubbornness. And now New Zealand is part of the gang.

Just as Adams' hard work and heroism was slighted by association with the dirt of sports doping, New Zealand's reputation and its assiduously cultivated branding will be undermined by its membership in this flock of climate change ostriches.

Particularly in Europe, where Kyoto has solid backing, nations have made great strides towards honouring their commitments and New Zealand has long looked to sell its pure products and image.

Interest groups, journalists and editorial writers across the continent will now be able to attach our country to that regularly maligned list of shame.

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser believes our change of heart will help us better align with an Asian market we are keen to exploit. That growing shop floor comprises many of the nations that have consistently refused to curb their emissions. Which implies some alignment with that cynical Belarussian attitude that if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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Which brings us back to Adams. She was, Maister concluded passionately, proof we could all believe in that New Zealand athletes were 100% pure.

And she was proof of what could be achieved by not being a "fast follower" and taking the easier option; proof of the success and rewards that can come with hard work and finding your own path.

That would be a good lesson for the rest of us right now.

- Taranaki Daily News

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