Friday, November 20, 2009

Climate change: The greenwash game is up II

Last week, Guardian columnist Fred Pearce blew the lid on New Zealand's greenwash about climate change, pointing out that while claiming to be "100% Pure" and "clean and green" to market ourselves as a tourist destination and food source, our greenhouse gas emissions had in reality risen by 22% since 1990. The government promised a robust response, huffily pointing out that (thanks to a handy "reassessment" of forest sinks and Kyoto's inherent dodginess of comparing apples and oranges: gross emissions then vs net emissions now) we were meeting our Kyoto target. But by drawing attention tot hat dubious accounting, they've managed to make things worse:

The government of New Zealand responded with some irritation to my column last week, which castigated a national strategy for meeting its Kyoto climate targets by allowing greenhouse gas emissions to rise by 22% from 1990 to 2007.

All was well, it said. The 600,000 hectares of forests that were planted in the 1990s would soak up all the excess CO2 – around 90m tonnes of it between 2008 and 2012. In fact, the country was likely to be ahead of its Kyoto target of stabilising emissions at 1990 levels.

But back home this policy is controversial, to say the least, with many experts accusing the government of a sleight of hand. They include the independent but prestigious Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

The central problem seems to be that when it comes to carbon, Middle Earth is a scientific minefield. And the Kyoto rules give the government considerable potential to pick and choose which carbon emissions and which carbon sinks from forests it declares for the purposes of meeting its targets.

There are, it turns out, two sets of carbon accounts.

And our highly environmentally-sensitive tourism and dairy export markets shrink with every word...

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith says that the problem lies in our rhetoric of being a world leader on climate change, and that the problem will go away if we tone it down to match our poor environmental performance. But that "rhetoric" isn't just marketing - it's a vital part of our national identity. In any case, John Key has squashed that idea, saying that the government remains committed to the "100% Pure" brand. Which means that we have no choice but to actually live up to it.