Monday, December 01, 2008

Climate change: Poznan

The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicks off in Poznan today, with representatives from across the world working to negotiate the framework for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. New Zealand will be there. Unfortunately, our agenda there will not be a progressive one. According to Radio New Zealand [audio] this morning, we're primarily looking for a change in the rules around agriculture. Half of New Zealand's emissions currently come from agriculture, and rather than working to reduce or offset them, the government has decided that it is easier simply to try and get them not to count. Voila! Instant emissions reduction, without changing the underlying reality one iota. This is a cynical tactic, which will not do a thing to help the situation (and in fact will give a false picture of its seriousness). But it will be enormously beneficial to our filthy farmers, and their interests apparently are all that matter.

Secondly, they will have a special representative from the New Zealand forestry industry along, to argue for the ability to "relocate" forests and for the recognition of stored carbon in wood products. The first is reasonable, if a suitable definition of a managed forest can be agreed; the Kyoto rules were framed primarily around preventing deforestation of natural forests, not around sustainable plantation forestry of the sort practised in New Zealand. The second is simply an effort to have their cake and eat it too - for cutting down forests to count as a reduction - and given the uncertainty around the ultimate fate of those wood products, doomed. There's something to be said as well for rules which err on the side of caution and thence produce additional reductions.

Fortunately, National's lurch into climate change denial is likely to fundamentally undercut our special pleading at Poznan. No-one is going to listen to a country which has just dumped its only policy for controlling emissions and is conducting a fundamental review of the science. And if we make too much of a nuisance of ourselves, we will be treated the way the US was at Bali last year: told to get out of the way, while the countries who actually care solve the problem, then presented with a deal which (given NZ's foreign policy aims and our desire to retain access to environmentally-sensitive European markets) we will have no choice but to accept. And given National's policies, that might very well be the best outcome.