Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stalled NZ climate change policy worries vulnerable Pacific nations

By Megan Anderson: Pacific Media Centre

As the New Zealand government continues its review into the stalled emissions trading scheme, the nation’s vague climate policy doesn’t look good for some of the most vulnerable countries facing the effects of climate change – the Pacific Islands.

The National-led coalition is delaying the ETS, passed by the Labour administration last year, by putting it before a committee in order to determine whether to implement the scheme at all, impose a carbon tax, or adopt other climate control measures.

The ETS has been criticised by the agriculture sector and businesses as having the potential to stimulate economic disaster, by limiting emissions and requiring those who exceed them to purchase carbon credits to offset emissions.

Oxfam executive director Barry Coates says the ETS review is simply making the scheme “more favourable to big business”, and heaping the cost of climate change onto consumers.

Greenpeace political adviser Geoff Keey says the reviews are “a big exercise to push the price from the polluters back to the taxpayers”.

Keey criticises Federated Farmers’ recent proposal to scrap the scheme, saying it could have serious consequences for both the dairy industry and New Zealand’s reputation overseas.

“If New Zealand’s farming sector shows its finger to the rest of the world and the rest of the world shows its finger back, then there goes our economy.”

New Zealand’s climate policy changed drastically last year with Climate Change Minister Nick Smith saying: “The new government takes a more modest view of New Zealand’s role in the global efforts to tackle climate change.”

National’s “modest view” coincides with increasing worries surrounding New Zealand’s “clean and green” reputation.

Keey notes how New Zealand products are already being taken off the shelves overseas, particularly in the UK, because they are not seen as sustainable.

Latest report
Sean Weaver, principal of Carbon Partnership Ltd, says: “We are one of the highest emitters in the world per capita.”

While the latest report of New Zealand’s total emissions from UNFCCC (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) showed carbon emissions were down in 2006/7, this has been ascribed to drought reducing agricultural emissions, mild weather, and the switch from coal to gas at Huntly.

The decrease has meant New Zealand’s Kyoto 2008 deficit of $546 million is now a surplus of $241 million.

None of the emission reductions, however, have been attributed to actual government policy.
Weaver says: “If we don’t demonstrate that we’re playing an active role in combating climate change, a lot of countries – not just governments, but people – might put a lot of energy in damaging the New Zealand brand.”

New Zealand faced further blows to its “green” reputation during the March/April UN climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, which will culminate in the much-anticipated climate change agreement in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

During the talks, the government’s review of the ETS was used as an excuse for New Zealand’s refusal to put forward a mid-term emissions target. Along with Russia and the Ukraine, New Zealand was the only country of the 192 UNFCCC countries that failed to do so.

Greenpeace’s Geoff Keey says New Zealand’s refusal to settle upon a target during the talks is already having consequences.

“New Zealand’s reputation is starting to look very shaky,” he says.

“People are starting to notice overseas that New Zealand is getting quite far behind.”

He adds that one commentator at Bonn referred to New Zealand as “the Cuba of the South Pacific”.

Pacific worries
New Zealand’s failure to deliver on any definitive climate policy is also worrying its Pacific neighbours.

Although the amount of Pacific emissions is insignificant, the Islands are among the most at risk from the effects of climate change.

Jason Garman from Oxfam says: “Communities in the Pacific are among the most vulnerable in the entire world”.

He says such climate policy delays such as the ETS “are making the situation more dire”.

Garman says climate change also puts development in the Pacific at risk.

“[I]f there are stronger cyclones that people aren’t prepared for, or if they simply don’t have the resources to cope, decades of good development work that has improved people’s lives will be wiped out.”

In the climate talks held in Poznan, Poland at the end of last year, the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), composed of 43 island states inclusive of the Pacific, called for developed countries to reduce their emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 - the minimum reduction required for the survival of the small islands most at risk by climate change.

Coates, however, says a 40 percent reduction – advocated by many, including Oxfam and Greenpeace – is “entirely possible with existing technology”.

At the Bonn talks, in light of gloomy new scientific predictions surrounding the pace and effects of climate change, AOSIS increased this demand to 45 percent emission cuts by 2020.

Weaver, who is closely involved with AOSIS, says: “AOSIS has frequently made strong demands of the developed countries because they stand to suffer an awful lot, especially in tropical regions.”

The Bonn talks also revealed the differences in climate change goals between rich and poor countries.

Widening gap
Coates says: “The gap between developed and developing countries is widening.”

He notes “developing countries are taking note of the latest science”, referring to how climate change has been shown to be a process far more rapid and destruction than previously thought.

“The link between impact and human suffering is greater than anticipated.”

A report released by Oxfam last month calculated that in six years the amount of people affected by the consequences of climate change is expected to increase to 375 million a year - a rise of 54 percent.

Weaver says: “The Pacific Islands get to suffer from the effects of climate change without having any real influence over how climate change is dealt with.”

He says climate change in the Pacific will also affect New Zealand economically, in terms of increased migration and an increased need for aid.

While New Zealand and Australia already give money to the Pacific to aid them in dealing with sustainability and climate change, Coates says this is not enough.

Oxfam says US$50 billion needs to be spread across developing countries for dealing with climate change.

Coates says this is a lesser target than the UN’s proposed US$86 billion.

Coates says the establishment of an international ETS would present an opportunity to generate the money needed to support those to be worst hit by climate change – developing countries.

Weaver notes how New Zealand’s own ETS would have the potential to assist development in Pacific countries.

Carbon Partnership has already proposed a project in Vanuatu that would see coconut oil - a plentiful commodity not depended upon for food – being used to make diesel in order to cut Vanuatu’s reliance upon oil imports.

Vanuatu’s production of this diesel would also entitle it, under the Kyoto Protocol, to earn carbon credits, which it could subsequently sell to other carbon markets in order to invest in its industries further.

Weaver is also involved in forestry projects in Vanuatu and Fiji that will generate carbon credits in order to support more sustainable economies in those countries.

For Weaver, an ETS opens opportunities to the Pacific as well as attempting to curb climate change.

“This is an opportunity to help them gain energy independence,” he says.

Picture: Tonga - Oxfam has described the Pacific Islands as "among the most vulnerable in the entire world” when it comes to climate change. Photo: Megan Anderson.

Megan Anderson is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the AUT Asia-Pacific Journalism course.

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