Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Climate change: policy consensus

The release of yesterday's IPCC report on the impacts of climate change on New Zealand has drawn the expected reaction, with National claiming that it exposes government inaction and accusing the government of being "long on rhetoric about climate change but incredibly short on action". And - for once - they advocate an alternative policy:

“National wants a tradable emissions permit system that will cap and then reduce emissions. We want foresters to receive credits for the carbon absorbed from the trees to reverse the record rate of deforestation. We would also toughen up on the building code to improve energy efficiency, encourage more fuel efficient cars and provide incentives to farmers to use more climate friendly fertilisers.

Except it's not that "alternative". Labour is currently working towards an emissions trading system (and in the same way that National has advocated - starting narrow and gradually expanding it to cover the whole economy). They are already toughening the building code to improve energy efficiency. They have measures in the pipeline to improve vehicle fuel efficiency, and nitrogen taxes and subsidised inhibitors were the core component of their recent paper on Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change. The only measure in dispute is whether to give a $1.25 billion windfall to National's donors in the forestry industry (the government prefers a much saner deforestation permit system. Sometime, I should really do that post explaining why...).

In other words, if the government is "short on action", its a charge that applies equally to the opposition, given that they wouldn't be doing much differently. But snark aside, something important has happened over the last year: we seem to have reached a policy consensus on how we are going to tackle climate change. It's a slow and unambitious path, which will fail to meet Helen Clark's bold vision of a carbon neutral future - but it will at least see some policy implemented. And that's a hell of a lot better than the consistent inaction we've seen over the last seventeen years.