Friday, November 13, 2009

Climate change: The greenwash game is up

Since signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, New Zealand's climate change policy has essentially been one of greenwash: portraying ourselves as a leader and talking up the prospect of action, while in reality doing nothing. As a result greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 22% since 1990, or 39% in gross terms. It was only a matter of time before the world noticed this yawning gap between our advertising and the reality. And now it has happened. Writing in the Guardian, Fred Pearce smashes our "clean and green" image:

But my prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as "clean and green".

New Zealand secured a generous Kyoto target, which simply required it not to increase its emissions between 1990 and 2010. But the latest UN statistics show its emissions of greenhouse gases up by 22%, or a whopping 39% if you look at emissions from fuel burning alone.

Some countries with big emissions growth started from a low figure in 1990. Arguably, they were playing catchup. There is no such excuse for New Zealand. Its emissions started high and went higher.

They are today 60% higher than those of Britain, per head of population. Among industrialised nations, they are only exceeded by Canada, the US, Australia and Luxembourg.

And he hasn't even heard of National's latest joke of an ETS, which provides no incentive for polluters to reduce emissions, but instead subsidises them...

"So what?" the right asks? Well, in case people have forgotten, a large section of our economy depends on that image. Tourists come here because we are internationally seen as "clean and green" (something Tourism NZ exploits with its 100% Pure campaign). Our high-end farm and wine exports are partly built on our environmental reputation. In other words, our inaction on climate change is going to cost us money.

How much will depend on the extent of consumer backlash against our hypocrisy. But you can be sure that farming and tourism groups in Europe will be deploying this as ammunition in their battle for market share. And at the upper limit we're talking 54% of dairy exports and a 68% drop in international tourist visitor-nights (original MfE report here).

Our government thus has a solid commercial reason - the only sort these bean-counters understand - to take serious action to reduce emissions: because if they don't, our export markets are going to be subjected to increasingly frequent consumer campaigns against them. Having built that reputation, we are going to have to live up to it - or watch it (and the billions of dollars it brings in) be destroyed. And won't the farmers squeal then.