Thursday, June 07, 2018

Climate change: Backing away from net-zero

When Labour ran for election in 2017, it was very clear about climate change. It promised to

set a target of net zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with legally binding emissions reduction targets, and carbon budgets to keep New Zealand on track to this goal.

Jacinda Ardern backed this up by saying that climate change was "my generation's nuclear free moment" - something she was absolutely right about. In the 1980's, nuclear weapons threatened global destruction. Now its our own shit. Climate change is the most important problem facing humanity, which threatens to cause global devastation - not in one single destructive spasm, like a nuclear war, but in a long, slow catastrophe of famine, war, and death.

So I was appalled this morning to read the government's Our Climate Your Say discussion document [PDF], which seems to be backing away from that promise. How? By offering targets affecting only some gases:
We explore three target options that could replace our current target of 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050:
  • net zero carbon dioxide: reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050
  • net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases: reduce emissions of long-lived gases to net zero by 2050, while also stabilising emissions of short-lived gases
  • net zero emissions: net zero emissions across all greenhouse gases
Its obviously a response to the latest tactic from farmers - to argue that methane doesn't matter because its short-lived. Which has some truth behind it, but pretty obviously if you just keep pumping it out, then it effectively becomes a permanent stock in the atmosphere, with a permanent effect on the climate. And as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that effect is worse than for carbon dioxide. The suggestion that we restrict our goal to "net zero carbon dioxide" is a betrayal of labour's promise and Ardern's rhetoric. Its also very obviously just another way to keep giving farmers - our major greenhouse gas polluters - a continued free ride, and to make the rest of us continue to subsidise their polluting industry. Something I am frankly getting fucking sick of. The rest of New Zealand should not have to bear the burden of supporting this destructive, dirty industry while it continues to destroy our climate and destroy our water. Instead, they should clean up their act, rather than sticking their hands out again and again for subsidies, then for assistance when the consequences of their subsidised pollution (droughts and floods) come back to bite them. As for the consultation document, to borrow a slogan, "net zero emissions means net zero emissions". We should not let them cheat us, or the world, by backing away from their promise. In the face of a deteriorating global climate, we have to do our bit.