Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Climate change: The slow boring of hard boards

Yesterday, the government announced that it was planning to publicly consult on its proposed zero carbon law, before introducing it in October next year. In the interim, it was establishing an interim climate change board to provide preliminary advice, including on whether agriculture continues to receive a billion dollar a year climate subsidy.

This doesn't sound very exciting, and National's happy mischief makers (who have consistently opposed any action on climate change) are already trying to present the government doing exactly what it said it would do as a betrayal. But it is understandable. The Zero Carbon Act is going to provide the framework for climate change policy for the next thirty years. While we know roughly what that framework is going to look like - budgets, reporting, advice given publicly to make it costly for the government to refuse - such fundamental legislation needs a bit of thought into it. And you can bet that if the government wasn't consulting, those same happy mischief makers would be wailing about how undemocratic and irresponsible it was being. Farrars' gonna Farrar, after all.

And that said, there is a tension between taking climate change seriously enough to set this sort of long-term framework to reduce emissions, and continuing to allow fossil fuel exploration and extraction. I accept that it can't all be banned overnight - if only because it takes time for the legislation to be passed through Parliament - and that the government is therefore bound by the existing legal framework (and that it can't talk about specific projects like Te Kuha to avoid handing them a judicial review on a plate). But if we are to have any hope of meeting our targets and saving the world, then it has to end, and sooner, rather than later. We can't afford to burn the coal, oil and gas we've discovered, let alone any more. In such a situation, talking about "transition" sounds like continuing the unaffordable and destructive status quo, while allowing new exploration runs the risk of creating powerful vested interests in more destruction if they find anything. So, it would be better to end it, and quickly, rather than pretending that it can continue. Otherwise, we're going to continue the same old policy of setting targets but doing nothing, and that is going to cost us tens of billions of dollars.