Monday, June 15, 2015

Climate disclosure

Over the weekend, Green co-leader James Shaw announced a new Legislation (Climate Impact Disclosure Statement) Amendment Bill, which would require the Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment to assess government legislation for its impact on climate change and emissions, in much the same way as the Attorney-General is required to assess legislation for consistency with the Bill of Rights Act. John Key immediately hit back that its a silly idea, because not every bill relates to climate change. Well, no - but the fact that most assessments will (like most BORA assessments) be a simple box-ticking exercise, "no adverse impacts reported" isn't a reason not to do it.

What the bill really boils down to is a claim that we're not doing this very well. And you only have to look at the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's (a statutorily independent watchdog) submissions on various pieces of legislation to see that that's the case. Like the BORA, the is also predicated on the idea that Parliament should know what its doing before it does something stupid. And again, its hard to disagree with that, or view it as a challenge to Parliamentary sovereignty. So I guess the question for John Key is "why don't you want MPs to know about climate change impacts before they vote on them?" His answer to that should be pretty illuminating.

But like the BORA, the real value of the bill will be behind the scenes. The BORA reporting process means checking against human rights is built into the policy process, so that stupid mistakes get caught early. And when we're looking at the biggest environmental challenge humanity has ever faced, we probably want Ministries whose work is relevant to that challenge - energy, transport, primary industries and the environment - to be doing that too, and keeping it in mind.

My only criticism of the bill is that the Chief Executive of MfE isn't the right person to be doing this reporting, because they're obviously subject to Ministerial pressure. The need to maintain a good working relationship with their Minister means they face an incentive to misreport. Instead, the job should be given to an independent body, such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. That's the only way we can have any confidence in these reports.