John Key again seems to be wasting no time in signalling a change in policy direction from National, with a speech today in which he signalled his support for action on climate change, albeit with many caveats and some of the same credibility problems suffered by his predecessor. At the same time, his attack on Helen Clark's proposal for carbon neutrality smacks of bad faith - it is clear that this is intended to be a long-term goal reaching out to around 2050 or so, not something the government is planning on doing tomorrow or next year as National is trying to cast it as. Then there's his attack on the Kyoto Protocol:
Mr Key said the Kyoto agreement was flawed and had done little to constrain New Zealand's emissions which were growing at a faster rate than Australia and the United States which had refused to sign.
But this isn't a problem with the Protocol so much as New Zealand's commitment to it. Successive governments have repeatedly lowered the bar on targets and then dragged their feet on implementing policy. And the National Party has been a key part of this story, backing off from implementing a carbon tax in 1997 (while at the same time signalling that climate change should not be handled through the RMA, leaving us with no solution); kneecapping their own minister Simon Upton's plans for emissions trading in 1999; and working tirelessly to undermine Labour's planned carbon tax as a "threat to economic growth" (and then to add insult to injury, complaining that those policies have not been implemented). We could already have reduced emissions by complying with the Protocol - but thanks to National, we haven't. So their criticising the sole serious international arrangement to combat emissions is just a little bit rich.
As for Key's sole policy proposal of a trans-Tasman carbon market, while its a good idea (the bigger the market, the better), its too late. CP1 begins in 13 months. We no longer have time to waste debating policy and endlessly circling around the questions of points of obligation and permit allocation with the deniers in Canberra. We've been debating it here for a decade, and we know what the solutions are (short answer: it doesn't really matter. What's important is that there is a price). Its time to implement them. If we can hook up with Australia later, that's good, and it makes sense to talk to them - but that must take a back seat to sending a domestic price signal and connecting that price to the international market. Otherwise, we're likely to find ourselves halfway through CP1, and still with no policy - and paying a heavy price for it.