Monday, March 30, 2015

This does not bode well

The Local Government and Environment Committee is due to report back today on National's Environmental Reporting Bill. One of the key themes of submissions on the bill was that no-one trusts the Minister to decide the topic of the reports. And with good reason. Because Statistics New Zealand announced their Ministerially-approved national environmental reporting topics today, and they're a complete disaster.

The list of topics is here. And you don't have to look very far to find some obvious gaps.

  • Emissions of key air pollutants will be tracked for home heating and transport, but not industry or farming;
  • Global greenhouse gas emissions are included, but not national ones. Meanwhile there's a strong focus on natural drivers of climatic variation such as the El NiƱo Southern Oscillation and on temperature, rainfall and sunshine-hours time-series.
  • Their definition of "extreme weather events" will focus not on the droughts, fires and floods highlighted by the IPCC, but on lightning strike density.
  • The impact of climate change will be measured by milk production, the economic performance of the agricultural sector, and by ski-field operating days. The health effects will be measured by melanoma statistics rather than heatstroke deaths.
So, rather than comprehensive statistics on climate change and what it is doing to our country, we're going to get a bunch of stats which ignore key drivers and impacts while heavily implying that its all the result of natural environmental processes (oh, and throws in some cheerleading for our biggest environmental polluter as well). And it just goes on and on. Statistics on the effects of irrigation takes on rivers have been deliberately excluded, as have been illnesses caused by dirty rivers. Pollution of the oceans will be tracked by tracking not discharges of oil or sewage to the marine environment, but "marine debris". But the value of oil, gas, and mineral extraction from the marine environment will be included. These aren't environmental statistics. They're economic ones, mislabelled, and deliberately designed to obscure rather than highlight our environmental problems. And just to make it clear who is responsible,
The Minister for the Environment and Minister of Statistics approved the final list of topics in September 2014.
Submitters on the Environmental Reporting Bill were entirely right to be concerned. And if this is what National means by "environmental reporting", we're better off without it.