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Climate Change - complex and polarising

Climate change was the focus of my annual speech to Rotary this year. It is a complex subject with Nelsonians having strongly polarised views.

I have been heavily engaged in the issue since attending the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 as a new MP  when New Zealand signed the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and since as Conservation, Environment and Climate Change Minister. An analysis by the media in December noted I had spoken on the subject in Parliament more than any other MP.

Climate change is a serious problem but I am not in the apocalypse camp.  We have future risks from nuclear war, disease pandemics, major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. We need to manage each including climate change as prudently as possible based on the science.

I get why young people are protesting.  The world committed to stabilising annual greenhouse gas emissions at 30 billion tonnes back in 1992 but they have grown 60% to 50 billion tonnes. NZ’s emissions grew 13% under the Bolger/Shipley years (1990-99) and another 10% under Clark (1999-2008).

The Key/English Government did better (2008-2017) reducing emissions slightly by 0.03% despite the population growing 15% and the economy 25%. This was achieved by policies like insulating 500,000 homes, implementing the ETS, restricting dairy growth, growing renewable energy generation, incentives for electric cars and improving public transport. 

It is worrying that NZ’s emissions are rising again. They dropped 24,000 tonne/year in the last Parliament (2014-2017) but the latest Ministry Report projects they will rise by 48,000 tonnes per year during this parliamentary term (2017-2020). The new Government claimed emissions would fall to 79.9 million tonnes this year but now say they would be 80.9 million tonnes ie a million tonnes worse.   

New Zealand needs to do our fair share globally on climate change just as we do on defence and security, humanitarian aid and refugees. That is why National committed NZ to a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 in the Paris Agreement in 2016. It is critical we deliver this.

The new Climate Change Commission set up by the Government with National’s support sets up a good process but the hard decisions are ahead. The best opportunity for NZ to reduce emissions are electric vehicles and phasing out coal for heating. That’s why I bought one of New Zealand’s earliest full electric cars a decade ago. Fonterra should be congratulated for converting Brightwater’s dairy factory from coal to wood waste. I too want to see our hospitals and schools convert away from coal for heating.  

We need to dramatically grow our renewable energy to support these changes. A full electric car fleet by 2050 would require six Clyde Dams or building one very five years, or 60 Cobb Dams or one every six months to power them. More hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power will be needed.  

My full speech is available on-line at nicksmith.national.org.nz/25th_rotary_ speech. I welcome feedback. I am determined to play a constructive role locally and nationally on making the changes needed.  

 

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