Editorial: Climate change U-turn

20:23, Nov 11 2012

It is difficult to reconcile the Government's action on climate change with the tenor struck by John Key, then Opposition leader, in a speech in May 2007. That's when he committed his party to making a 50 per cent reduction in carbon-equivalent net emissions, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. He also said National would not pull out of the Kyoto protocol.

Mr Key described global climate change as "the biggest environmental challenge of our time" and promised National would do much better at reducing New Zealand's emissions than Labour had done.

In the past week, however, Parliament has passed legislation to keep agriculture out of the emissions trading scheme indefinitely and enable polluters to import unlimited cheap foreign carbon credits. The Government has decided to abandon its commitment to the legally binding Kyoto protocol, too, and will aim instead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention.

The decline of the forestry sector was among concerns addressed in the 2007 speech. Under his prime ministership, Mr Key said, "we will encourage tree planting". Labour's war with the forestry sector had led to "a chainsaw massacre" of trees. His government "will incentivise more planting and less cutting" by giving some carbon credits to the foresters who planted the trees in the first place. Policies to encourage "climate friendly" choices like wind farms and hydro power and reduce behaviours like burning coal were promised too.

Roger Dickie, from the Kyoto Forest Owners Association, is among those complaining that the deforestation of land capable of being converted to dairy is under way again. State-owned Landcorp is clearing trees to make way for pasture. Planting forests for carbon "is a bad joke", says Mr Dickie. Cheap carbon credits overseas are undercutting the price of Kiwi carbon credits produced by our forest growers.

Back in 2007 Mr Key did say: "I want to save the planet as much as the next guy", but - at the end of the day - he was "more interested in every Kiwi having a job than I am in becoming the United Nations secretary-general".

Last week's increase in the unemployment rate showed he is going backwards with that aspiration, too.