On the surface, the councillors gathered around respective tables in Nelson and Christchurch can say that they have done something positive for the climate, but on the other hand, despite being able to make an educated guess as to what it means, I wonder if anyone has a clue what it would mean on paper.
Granted Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw says it has no legal standing, the time for words is passed.
I am concerned though that all it will end up being is another layer of symbolism on top of a wad of earlier actions that were symbolic but lacking in substance. Under Prime Minister Helen Clark there was a move to reduce exhaust fumes, without really understanding that most exhaust fumes are invisible and that in effect the measure being introduced was just window dressing. For real progress on vehicle emissions there would had to have been steps taken to address the state of the New Zealand car market or a maximum age a car could become before it is permanently removed from the roads.
As mentioned in earlier columns there are a host of steps that New Zealand could be taking right now which we appear reluctant to do so. For example an energy audit done by the Green Party done a decade ago found that New Zealand could reduce its household energy use on average by 10-15%. If that were coupled with more recent ideas such recycling all aluminium, which would significantly reduce reliance on electricity from Manapouri power station.
For all of successive governments talking about having a strong knowledge based economy, even 20 years since the then Labour Deputy Leader Dr Michael Cullen promised a “knowledge economy”, New Zealanders still seem rather averse to higher levels of investment by both the public and private sector in science, technology and research. Compared to the O.C.E.D. average of 2.4% in 2017, New Zealand spent about 1.3% of its G.D.P. on science. These results may be linked to a general lack of investment in schools in science and mathematics – my two bogeyman subjects at high school, but ultimately two very important ones that everyone needs to know a bit about. Labour has committed to increasing the percentage of G.D.P. spent to 2.0%, but how this will be spent and and on what, remains to be seen.
Following on from this, it needs to be noted that a report has come out suggesting that cutting back the methane from farm animals is not on its own, despite being the largest portion of New Zealand’s green house gases, going to significantly reduce the impact of emissions. Which raises a quandary, because New Zealand’s climate change focus has been on this and will now have to be reviewed just as the Government starts to look at ways of ramping up its response. Does that mean we have the science all wrong?
What we need in terms of climate planning is a clear set of objectives that we are to achieve. For that we need policies that give effect to those objectives and rules to enforce the policies. But we also need to be realistic about the potential change of pace – on one hand we need to move reasonably quickly because the window is closing on how long the world has before some of the natural changes become irreversible. On the other hand, simply going in and laying down a whole wad of rules without thinking about who will be affected by them and how, is a sure fire recipe for trouble.
So, in summary, it is all very well for Canterbury and Nelson to declare a climate emergency, but unless there is a clear idea of what it is meant to achieve, how and when, it is really just another layer of symbolism.