Outgoing Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright has done an amazing job. Her scientific background enabled her to produce a watertight evidence base on several key environmental issues facing New Zealand, such as water quality, climate change, and our native species. With evidence supporting her, nobody was able to ignore her views, so she was able to progress the public conversation significantly.
Wright’s main concern was putting policy where our promises are.
"There is no direct link between New Zealand climate policy and reaching the Paris target."
Let’s look at a few of the main takeaways from Wright’s work.
In her final act as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright has backed Generation Zero’s call for a Zero Carbon Act. This would follow the UK model of enshrining emissions targets in law, and setting up an independent Climate Commission to help the government plan the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Commissioner Wright has also called for the Government to start planning for the country to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise.
This is completely in line with The Opportunities Party (TOP) Climate Action plan.
2. An Actual, Transparent Plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
On Morning Report this morning, Environment Minister Nick Smith unwittingly set out exactly why we need to adopt Commissioner Wright’s ideas.
New Zealand has climate change targets, but has failed to develop any plans to reach those targets, let alone take action. As a result, our emissions have kept growing (between 1990 and 2015 net emissions rose 64%), and now we face a massive challenge to meet quite a modest emissions reduction target for 2030.
Contrast this with the UK, where net emissions have fallen 38%. Now, Minister Smith is right to point out that the UK economy is quite different to ours – they have transitioned from manufacturing to finance. However, New Zealand has had similar advantages with our forestry planting in the 1990s, which we have completely squandered.
So, what did the UK do? Firstly, they put their climate targets into legislation, and required five-yearly carbon budgets showing how those targets would be met. These budgets included limits on purchasing foreign credits (forcing action to be taken domestically) and are based on the recommendations of an independent Climate Commission. That Commission prepares progress reports each year, suggesting policy changes where needed. If the government doesn’t adopt those recommendations, or doesn’t meet the targets, they have to set out why.
Theirs is a completely logical, transparent model.
National Party Government’s approach thus far has been to do nothing, and instead relying on forestry and dodgy foreign units to cover our growing emissions. In doing so, the National Government has provided a clear case study in why the UK’s approach is so sorely needed.
3. Central Government Responsibility
Commissioner Wright’s final parting shot was about adaptation. She has already raised the fact that central government needs to get involved in planning for sea level rise instead of leaving it to local authorities to sort out. We have places like South Dunedin that are a disaster waiting to happen.
At the very least, we should understand the risks, because if the worst happens, we can’t expect local areas to resolve these issues themselves. After all, we didn’t leave the people of Christchurch to sort themselves out after the earthquakes, did we?