Monday, August 10, 2009

Climate change: the big day

Today is a Big Day in climate change policy. After a public consultation exercise which called overwhelmingly for a strong target, and a government-commissioned strapped-chicken report which, by ignoring our best means of emissions reduction, came to the conclusion that its all just too expensive, the government will be naming its 2020 target for the upcoming Copenhagen climate change talks. Note that this isn't strictly a target for domestic emissions reduction; rather it is a "responsibility target": what level of emissions we will be responsible to the international community for, and to the extent that it is not matched domestically, how much we are willing to pay.

There are strong reasons for choosing a tough target, and then setting strong policy to meet it. And there is reason to think we can meet a tough target. But anti-environmentalism is now a bedrock belief on the right, while "strong policy" is an anathema to those who think everything should be left to the market. And so the government is making timid noises about a target in the 5 - 15% range. 5 - 15%, when the science is telling us we need to be pushing for 40%. Like Australia, this simply seems to be a recipe for failure.

And failure seems to be the goal. National has figured out that ACT-style overt climate change denial is toxic with the electorate, so they have hit on a more subtle strategy: sabotage the talks with non-commitment, thus allowing their polluter mates to continue to pollute with abandon, while being able to point the finger at someone else. But New Zealanders expect better from our government. We expect to be a good international citizen, "do our bit", and show leadership on environmental issues to get the world to act. And if National isn't willing to do this, it should get out of the way for someone who can.