It is unusual for the Opposition to vote for a Government Bill. I am pleased and proud to have voted for the new Climate Change Response Act passed by parliament last week.
I have long taken a keen interest in the science and issue of climate change and represented New Zealand as an MP and Minister at many of the global negotiations. Some of the end of world rhetoric is over the top but climate change is a serious risk.
The new law establishes the Climate Change Commission that will recommend a timetable and means for reducing emissions. It is not a magic solution but it will help us make progress. I have advocated for this approach as a previous Environment and Climate Change Minister after seeing the success of this approach in the UK.
Bold talk on climate change is much easier than reducing emissions. Helen Clark, like Jacinda Ardern, referred to climate change as this generation’s nuclear free moment. The Clark Government committed to zero nett emissions but they went up 10% over those nine years. National did better over the next nine years with 0% emissions growth despite the population growing 15 % and the economy 25%. The current Labour NZ First Green Government has not reduced emissions. They are up over the last two years with big increases from burning coal for electricity.
We need practical measures that will get emissions down. That is why National in government insulated 400,000 homes, increased renewable electricity from 65% to 85%, electrified Auckland Rail, introduced incentives for electric cars and a phasing out of powerful synthetic greenhouse gases used for refrigeration.
I made a personal choice a decade ago to purchase NZ’s first 100% electric car with my Mitsubishi Miev. It cost $67,000 as compared to the petrol equivalent of $27,000. The price difference has come down but it is still significant. We need to be upfront about these costs.
We also need to be careful of unintended consequences. The Tiwai Point aluminium smelter uses renewable hydroelectricity. Most smelters in the world are powered by burning coal. If we impose major climate change costs on it that forces its closure, the aluminium will be made elsewhere. We would increase global emissions and put 1,000 Southlanders out of work.
We need to be equally careful with our farmers. New Zealand has only 1% of the world’s cows and 2% of the world’s sheep. Our farmers are the most efficient with lower emissions. It would be unfair for us to impose on them climate change costs that none of their global competitors face. It would just move food production to other countries.
New Zealand emits 0.2% of the world’s greenhouse gases. We cannot solve this problem alone. That is why National put so much effort internationally into helping secure the Paris Agreement in 2016 to limit temperature increases to 1.5◦C. We need to meet our commitment to cut emissions by 30% by 2030. This new cross party Act is an important step forward in achieving this.