More than one year out from the next election, James Shaw has thrown away the Green Party’s best and only bargaining chip. With it goes any chance for them to leverage real change. National may have been flip-flopping on climate change issues lately but, like Labour, what they want above all is to be in government. Given that we are in a climate emergency – an environmental emergency – the environment should be at the centre of all negotiations to form a government.
The Importance of Bargaining Power
If this term of government has taught us one thing, it’s the importance of bargaining power. In the 2017 election, New Zealand First and the Green Party won a similar number of votes. However, by being willing to work with both Labour and National, NZ First had the ability to negotiate a far better deal. Look no further than the $3b Provincial Growth Fund.
Is the Coalition Government Delivering for the Environment?
Meanwhile, because the Green Party only wanted to work with Labour, it managed to negotiate little more progress on the environment than what Labour had already promised in its own manifesto. Let’s take a look at what the Greens have been able to deliver for the environment in government:
- The Zero Carbon Bill is great progress, but let’s remember that it was in Labour’s manifesto and NZ First’s.
- Banning offshore drilling for oil was a popular move with environmentalists, but raising the carbon price would achieve the same outcome, without the potential for perverse consequences (like running out of gas and having to import coal).
- The car feebate scheme and efficiency regulations are tangible steps forward.
- Waste: Progress has been token at best. The main change so far has been the plastic bag ban. Further policy changes have been signalled, but we’ve heard no details yet.
- Water quality: Still a work in progress. A Working Group has been established but the release of its findings has been delayed. Farming interests are likely to water down any real change, as they did for agricultural emissions.
- Marine protection: Progress has been very slow, presumably due to the strength of commercial fishing interests in Labour and NZ First.
In short, the Coalition Government’s progress on environmental issues can hardly be described as transformational.
National’s Climate Wobbles
The Greens point to National’s recent stalling tactics as their reason for not being able to work with them. It’s fair to say that National Party leader Simon Bridges has equivocated on climate change action lately. This may be due to the recent electoral success of the Liberal-National coalition in Australia.
The fact remains that both establishment parties, National and Labour, want to be in power above all else. If strong action on the environment is what it takes, that is what they will do.
We are in a climate emergency. Urgent action is needed to both reduce emissions and start adapting to climate change. Given the challenges we face on water quality and loss of native species, we are actually in an environmental emergency.
An emergency requires action that is different from business as usual. This includes moving beyond the old-fashioned tribes of “left” and “right”, “red” and “blue”. Aotearoa New Zealand and our environment need parties that are willing to work with either major party, because right now we don’t have time to play political games. Refusing to work with anyone will not help us meet the many challenges headed our way.