New Zealand has moved on: cross-party support for climate action

Paula Bennett, Minister for Climate Change Issues and Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand

What does it take to unite politicians of all parties in a parliament to start working on finding real climate solutions? Ask New Zealand, because they have done it.

While the Australian parliament has turned into a coal-clown circus of lies, denial and rising emissions, New Zealand – as the country’s minister for climate put it – has “have moved on” and acknowledges the threat of climate change and the need for urgent action. Cross-party.

“This marks the beginning of something new in New Zealand climate policy: unprecedented cross-party collaboration. It provides an opportunity for developing an ambitious pathway to domestic emissions neutrality.”
~ Dr Kennedy Graham, member of the New Zealand Parliament, Chair of the New Zealand sector of Globe


Climate change debate in New Zealand’s parliament

The nonpartisan Net Zero Carbon plan was launched in New Zealand on 13 April 2017. This video on youtube.com shows the almost two hour long debate in parliament.

» Full transcript of the debate

Highlights from the debate:


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Businesses say: give us some certainty

“We might debate the different aspects of what is impacting the most, but, actually, New Zealand has moved on. Our own caucus has moved on, to be quite blunt with you. We have a number of members who have been here in the last six years who probably think differently from some who were here 20 years ago, and I think that is healthy. It is a healthy sign for New Zealand in terms of a topic, a subject, that is as important as this.

I argue to people that we are already changing, so don’t freak out. The climate is changing. But so are we as New Zealanders as to how we live and as what we do. What we need is a mapped-out plan for what those changes are going forward.

The biggest call that I get from businesses — they have all got opinions, but what they say to me is: “Give us the plan and give us some certainty”, so that they can make some decisions within that. Quite a lot have been approaching me of late and saying that they want to invest literally hundreds of millions of dollars in new plant and different ways of doing things. What they need from Parliament is some certainty on some ground rules around the emissions trading scheme (ETS), and I think we have got some challenges there as a Parliament, as to whether or not we can all agree that it is going to be a foundation.

It is entirely up to other parties as to where they move the levers within it, but if we want businesses to be investing literally hundreds of millions of dollars into cleaner plants that are better for the environment, they need certainty, not just in the next five years but, actually, as we know, for at least the next 10 or 15 years. In terms of making that kind of an investment, their boards are not deciding in the next six months and building six months later — those are years-long kinds of investments. I think that that is a challenge for us as to how we address that.”
~ Paula Bennett, Minister for Climate Change Issues and Deputy Prime Minister, New Zealand



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We need education, regulation, and price

We know that the planet is already over halfway to 2 degrees’ warming. We know that if we are to meet our carbon budget and stay below 2 degrees, we have actually got to stop the remaining one-third of that—or more than the remaining one-third of that—budget being released. At current trends, they will all be out there in the atmosphere in the next 15 to 20 years. We are running out of time. We have got the Arctic soon to be ice-free in the summer; in the centre of the Arctic, particularly. We have got record temperatures being recorded semi-annually. We have got glaciers in Greenland, New Zealand, and Antarctica all melting. We have got whole Pacific Island nations sinking under the rising sea. We seem to be able, as a world, to cater for that because they are small populations, despite the fact that we are losing entire cultures. I remember one of the most frightening things I discovered, and other people probably knew this when I first discovered it some years ago: a metre rise in sea level means 30 million Bangladeshi people have to move. Where do they go? Where do they go?

I come back to one of the propositions that I thought I heard the Minister saying, which was, effectively, that we have to choose either a clean environment or a strong economy. I reject that dichotomy. We can have both. As others have said, I was privileged to be the climate change and energy Minister under Helen Clark’s Labour-led Government, and I came to that conclusion that I have earlier suggested: if New Zealand could not overcome our environmental problems, including our contribution to climate-changing gases, there was no hope the world would. I thought that was an incredibly depressing future, and therefore I preferred the framing that we can — and we can — and that we should therefore be a beacon of hope rather than another source of despair. The Vivid Economics report at one level does not actually tell us much more about how we can do it—we have always known what are the sources of emission and the sources of emission reduction—but it does articulate a number of scenarios that would reduce New Zealand’s emissions.

One of the points my colleague Dr Megan Woods made is that, whichever scenario you have, you need a carbon budgeting agency to help lead you there, partly because it depoliticises the route there. As to the hope of getting there, I know of no environmental problem to which there is not a solution. There is none. The solution may involve substituting a product, and it might cost a little bit more, but the new practice costs more only if you are not properly calculating or valuing the environmental cost that you are avoiding. When you boil down environmental policy to get to those ends, there are only three choices: education, regulation, and price. We need all of them. Education does not get you there. When the economic or the profit motivation of private enterprise enables one person to compete against someone who is doing it more expensively but cleaner, then you undermine the clean one unless you have a regulational price that stops them being taken out of the market by someone who is willing to cut that environmental corner. We need all three.
~ David Parker, Labour, former Minister of Energy and Climate Change under the Helen Clark Government



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Two-minute excerpt from Green Co-Leader James Shaw’s speech at the debate in New Zealand’s parliament on 13 April 2017

Four stages of denial

“As we stand here to debate New Zealand’s response to climate change, the second cyclone in the space of a week is bearing down on New Zealand. As this debate got started, my wife sent me a text message to let me know that Ōhope, where she and I had been planning to spend the Easter holiday at my Aunt Sally’s house, is currently being evacuated. All of us have the instinct to help people, to help our family and our friends who are caught up in the path of this storm, but we also know that the work that will matter the most is the work of the men and women who are reinforcing the flood banks, the civil defence staff who are preparing for evacuation, and our emergency services that are supporting those in need.

So despite our instincts, us being here in this House preparing our response to the challenge of climate change is actually the best and most important thing that we here can do. It is remarkable that MPs from all parties are here today to find a common pathway to tackle this crisis. We have come a long way since Shane Ardern drove his tractor up the steps of Parliament. Our climate debate here in New Zealand and around the world has gone through four stages of denial: first, that it is not happening; second, that if it is happening, it is not caused by us; third, that if it is caused by us, it actually is not that bad; and, fourth, if it is that bad, well, actually, there is nothing we can do about it. All four of those stages have a response: it is happening, it is us, it is bad, and we can do something about it. It is that fourth and final debate that we are having here today: what we choose to do about it. After more than two decades of dithering and debate — for more than half my lifetime, we have argued about this while our emissions have relentlessly risen — we are well past time to take action.

There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is today.” (…)
James Shaw, co-leader, the Green Party, New Zealand

» Transcript. On the youtube video Shaw’s speech starts at 52:30.



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The people of New Zealand want to be part of the solution

(…) “Everyone in New Zealand knows it is the right thing to do. I am confident that people want to do the right thing. They want to be part of something that makes the world a better place and makes their community a better place. New Zealanders get out there and chip in when there is a collective problem. I have no doubt that many New Zealanders will be out there in places that are experiencing severe flooding. In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, we saw an outpouring of support of people who were willing to get out there, roll up their sleeves, and pitch in to help repair the damage. That is what we need now more than ever.

I am going to finish with a quote from Naomi Klein from the book ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate’:

“Climate change is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message — spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions — telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.”


I have no doubt that the people of New Zealand want to be part of the solution. What we need to do now is put aside our political differences and show that leadership, because the role of Government is to protect and empower our people and our planet.”
~ Julie Anne Genter, the Green Party, New Zealand



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Need to do more work on educating some of our own

“In Tuvalu, when there was a cyclone that went through Tuvalu last year, they lost an island. It was there in the morning and by the next day it was not there any more. Mr Seymour, when William Sio said that he had been stranded on Kiribati, said: “Not a bad place to be stranded.” I think, Kennedy, what GLOBE-NZ needs to do then is to take some members of this Parliament to some of these Pacific islands and see that it is a terrible place to be stranded, and that we must do more to help our Pacific neighbours in what is a highly polluted and highly crowded environment. We obviously need to do more work there on educating some of our own.”
~ Tracey Martin, New Zealand First



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This is a parliamentary responsibility

“The report from the Vivid Economics group paints four scenarios for New Zealand for the future. We need to consider those, we need to debate them, and we need to pick from them the best way forward.

I say “we” because this is a parliamentary responsibility. This is not, in my view, a responsibility limited to the particular Government of the day. It is a parliamentary responsibility, and we as parliamentarians have to take control of it and drive it forward, because the goals that New Zealand sets for the next 50 years, the next 100 years, and beyond will go long beyond all of our time in this place. It is not just the responsibility of this particular Government or those that will follow.

I draw the contrast with the British House of Commons, where the House of Commons, as a House, voted to determine what the United Kingdom’s priorities in terms of its emissions profile ought to be. I believe that this report gives us the opportunity to start to move in that direction in terms of New Zealand’s policy response for the future.”
~ Peter Dunne, leader, United Future



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A project of common interest

“The popular perception of this Parliament is that MPs constantly work in an adversarial manner, constantly batting their sharp tongues and their policy initiatives against each other, constantly trying to score points and constantly trying to outwit and outmatch each other. Much of that occurs to the absolute bemusement of most New Zealand voters. This report—this very fine Vivid report — is an example of our Parliament working, I think, at its very best. That 35 members of this Parliament — representative of every party in this House — could come together to embark upon a project of common interest, of shared interest in climate change and climate change issues, is, I think, a historic and momentous event.” (…)

This Government’s focus is on how to transition to a low-carbon economy while still promoting jobs, incomes, and a growing economy. This report, I think, is the foundation stone of a starting point of a national, nationwide debate, and I commend it to the House and to all New Zealanders.”
~ Scott Simpson, member of the National Party and the National-led government, Chair of Local Government and Environment



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We are all in this extraordinary saga together

“I move, That the House note the report entitled Net Zero in New Zealand: Scenarios to achieve domestic emissions neutrality in the second half of the century prepared by Vivid Economics on behalf of GLOBE-NZ. (…)

The debate this afternoon marks the end of the Vivid Economics project and the beginning of something new in New Zealand climate policy. (…)

The Vivid Economics report reflects unprecedented cross-party collaboration. It provides an opportunity for developing an ambitious pathway to domestic emissions neutrality, as called for in the Paris Agreement. Nothing is more critical to the fate of New Zealand and the well-being of future generations. (…)

The report identifies four scenarios for achieving emissions neutrality, three of which would achieve the goal in the second half of the century as the Paris Agreement calls for. We shall no doubt be discussing with our cross-party group which of these, or which combination of them, might have the most policy merit, for, ultimately, we need to move from scenarios to policy. The tectonic tension in this respect will be over two broad considerations: the speed with which we must move, on the one hand, and the need for economic stability and distributional justice as we go—the imperative of urgency and the art of transition. We shall all have our views.

From my personal perspective I think the following: I have been working on climate change since 1989. The first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 1990 and the Rio convention of 1992 made clear the consequences of dangerous climate change and the need to avoid it. Since then our annual global emissions have risen hugely and so have our national emissions. We have lost a quarter of a century through largely ineffectual old-style negotiations, which we pursue in short-term, competitive, zero-sum style. That is not the way to solve 21st century global commons problems. I say this more in sorrow than in anger. We are where we are. But it leaves us with a far higher gradient of challenge than when we started and we have very little time left. It was only yesterday that Christiana Figueres, former UN climate head and now UN climate ambassador, identified 2020 as the year in which global carbon emissions must peak for the 2 degree goal in the Paris Agreement to be realised.

So where to from here for New Zealand? I believe the report will be invaluable in facilitating cross-party policy debate—and throughout the country. In particular, I hope that we can pursue in more depth the challenge posed in scenario four of the report: neutrality by 2050. I know this will be difficult, but I know it also to be an imperative and a broader challenge to place domestic neutrality in the context of New Zealand’s overall national responsibility level within the finite and diminishing global carbon budget.

So let us continue our discussions informally around the table and see how far and how fast we can proceed, blending short-term and longer-term responsibilities because, ultimately, they are one and the same, and, ultimately, we are all in this extraordinary saga together.”
~ Dr Kennedy Graham, a member of the New Zealand Parliament for the Green Party, and Chair of the New Zealand sector of Globe


The report

Vivid Economics was commissioned by a cross-party group of 35 members of the New Zealand Parliament to complete one of the first attempts to apply scenario analysis across the New Zealand economy, covering both land and energy, to help illuminate long-term low-emission pathways.

» More information on www.vivideconomics.com

» Download a 38-page summary report (PDF)


The Australian perspective
What’s interesting about the development in New Zealand in the first round is not so much which goals the politicians are talking about as the fact that this is a cross-party and united parliament which is talking and collaborating about this – and which means including the National Party, New Zealand First, Labour, and so on.

In an Australian context New Zealand is perceived as culturally and mentally closer to Australia’s reality than for instance some country in Europe, and therefore – if you live in Australia, then here is a great example you can tell your local member of parliament about: The climate issue is now being approached in a comprehensively multi-partisan way in our neighbouring country.

At the same time we also should be aware of why this meeting of minds might be emerging faster in New Zealand than in Australia. The New Zealand economy doesn’t rest on fossil fuels that whay that Australia does. Australia is called ‘the Saudi Arabia of coal and fossil gas exports’ for a reason, so the balance of forces in Australia is very different.



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Other reports about New Zealand’s energy generation and emissions

» OECD | International Energy Agency – 20 February 2017:
Energy policies of IEA countries: New Zealand 2017 review
This report on New Zealand analyses the country’s oil, gas and electricity security, the competition in energy markets and offers pragmatic policy advice on how to design energy and climate policies for the energy transition. It reviews and analyses the energy policy challenges facing New Zealand and provides recommendations to help guide the country towards a more secure, sustainable and affordable energy future.

» Royal Society of New Zealand – 18 May 2016:
Transition to a low-carbon economy for New Zealand
This is the report of the Climate Change Mitigation Panel, which investigated how New Zealand can reduce the impact of climate change (mitigation options) and assessed the technical and socio-economic options available to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, or remove them from the atmosphere (sequestration). It finds that many mitigation options are already well-understood and achievable. Achieving a low-carbon economy for New Zealand involves taking low-risk climate mitigation actions now and planning for more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

» BusinessNZ Energy Council – 14 October 2015:
New Zealand energy scenarios: Navigating energy futures to 2050
In 2015, the BusinessNZ Energy Council in conjunction with a wide variety of organisations – business, academia, government and non-government – prepared two different and equally plausible scenarios of New Zealand’s energy future out to 2050, called the ‘Kayak’ and ‘Waka’ scenarios. The aim of the scenarios was to help business and policy makers make educated decisions that would, in turn, impact on New Zealand’s energy future. Project Partners for the report were Paul Scherrer Institute from Switzerland, PricewaterhouseCoopers from New Zealand and Sapere Research Group.

» Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand – 30 July 2014:
Energy in New Zealand 2014
Annual publication which provides a comprehensive information on and analysis of New Zealand’s energy supply, demand and prices and an analysis of New Zealand’s energy sector, including statistics on supply and demand by fuel types, energy balance tables, pricing information and international comparisons.



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Generation Zero in New Zealand

A team at the youth climate change organisation Generation Zero have been working hard over nine month together with experts in the fields of law, governance and climate change to develop a blueprint for a law that will put New Zealand on track to a safe climate future: The Zero Carbon Act.

On 11 April 2017, they unveiled it at New Zealand’s Parliament. The New Zealand Zero Carbon Act is modelled on the UK Climate Change Act.

“It’s a framework that will allow politicians to think beyond election cycles and work together to tackle the urgent challenge of climate change. To make the Zero Carbon Act a reality – and one that will stand the test of time – we need a cross-party agreement,” wrote Generation Zero in a newsletter on 11 April.

The group will deliver the Zero Carbon Act to every MP in the country, and they will be campaigning to build a public mandate for cross-party support.

The Act blueprint is available the website www.zerocarbonact.nz

» Newsroom – 9 April 2017:
Young lobbyists write CO₂ shrink law
“Youth climate lobbyists Generation Zero want parties to adopt a law binding New Zealand to going carbon neutral, but they’ve carved out an ongoing allowance for cow burps, reports Eloise Gibson”



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TEDtalk about finding common ground

Published on youtube.com on 19 April 2017

Activist and communicator George Marshall has spent his life campaigning for action on climate change. He’s done a lot of yelling but over the years he has discovered that listening to those you disagree with can be even more important.

George takes us on a hilarious and insightful journey of speaking to the unusual suspects – from climate change deniers to Tea Party local activists. In a time when the world faces widening divisions, George shares what he has discovered to be the secret power that can come from listening to those with differing views.

George Marshall is the founder of Climate Outreach and is one of Europe’s leading experts in climate change communication, advising governments, campaign organisations, trades unions and faith groups.

Over the past 28 years he has worked across the environmental spectrum – from grassroots protest groups to senior positions in Greenpeace and the Rainforest Foundation. George writes widely on climate change issues and has written two books on our personal behaviour toward climate change and the reasons for our collective denial.



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