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Hobbs Speech To Panel on Climate Change

Minister for the Environment
Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change
Working Group I
Third Drafting Meeting
Waipuna International Conference Centre
Mt Wellington, Auckland
15 February 2000, 9.00 a.m.

Sir John Houghton, Professor Ding Yihui, Working Group I authors, Paul Hargreaves, Jim Salinger, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to open the proceedings of this important component of the work of the IPCC and to welcome you all to the South Pacific and New Zealand. Your deliberations over the next three days will form part of an assessment of climate change that will guide international decision-making for several years to come, and I wish you well in this vital task.

The issue of climate change is one that no government can ignore. When President Clinton was here last September, he underlined in his speech to the People of New Zealand the importance of climate research in this part of the world, in particular in Antarctica, and the need to take action to avoid major impacts globally. UK Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister John Prescott, commenting on the summary of responses to the UK Climate Change consultation paper, said, and I quote: “It is becoming clearer month by month that climate change is one of the greatest environmental threats that we face today and that its consequences will be far reaching.” I agree totally with both Mr Clinton and Mr Prescott.

It is vital that there is greater awareness of the threat of climate change and the impact, here and abroad. Such awareness is necessary if we, as a community, are to summon the will to do something about it, and – where necessary – find sensible ways to adapt to what we cannot mitigate.

The New Zealand Government believes that sound decision-making on climate change policy must be under-pinned by scientific knowledge. Those of you who have travelled from overseas to get here will appreciate the geographic location of New Zealand as being relatively isolated in the south-west Pacific. It is this very isolation that underscores New Zealand’s role in global climate science. While New Zealand spends only a modest amount in global terms on climate change science, New Zealand is able to undertake observations of atmosphere and ocean climate, and of greenhouse gases in a relatively data-sparse region of the globe. These observations are an important contribution to global and regional monitoring of climate variability and change.

However, we recognise we can’t do it all, nor can we alone answer all the questions. Climate change is a truly global issue that requires a global scientific approach. But we must never forget that these global problems grow from local problems and they must be tackled from our own backyards.
Global cooperative efforts such as those undertaken by the IPCC in conducting regular assessments of the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change is a huge undertaking that benefits -all countries.

Each successive IPCC assessment has provided a stronger message than the previous one, and I expect that the Third Assessment Report, due for completion in early 2001, will follow this pattern, and provide further clarity on a number of issues. I would note that the IPCC includes the full range of scientific viewpoints in conducting its assessments, and I commend this type of approach. In my view it is this broad assessment of the science that gives authority to the work of the IPCC. Despite this approach and this authority, some international business groups, and indeed New Zealand’s Business Roundtable, are still intent on focusing their attention on the part of the climate change science spectrum that supports the view that government action on climate change is not called for.

One of the important climate issues in this part of the world is the behaviour of El Niño and La Niña. New Zealand, being a country substantially dependent upon primary production, is particularly vulnerable to weather events, with the 1997/1998 El Niño drought estimated to have resulted in an economic impact of the order of one billion dollars. Information on expected changes in the frequency and severity of such climate extremes is of great interest to many New Zealanders. The IPCC has already concluded that our Pacific Island neighbours to the north are also extremely vulnerable to any changes in rainfall patterns which are sensitive to El Niño/La Niña events. The South Pacific countries have the added uncertainty of the impact that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases might have on the frequency and severity of tropical cyclones.

What is the New Zealand Government’s response to this? We are a new government, still coming to terms with the issues in this area. However, we are absolutely clear that we are not satisfied with the lack of progress of the previous government in addressing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. It was remarked in the Speech from the Throne at the opening of Parliament just a few weeks ago that New Zealand needs to improve its record in greenhouse gas control and its knowledge of the impact of climate change. Measures that will be taken include work on the impact of climate change, increased public education programmes, greater investment in public transport, and stronger measures on energy efficiency.

We are also committed to the international process. This year is an important year for the negotiations under the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Major decisions are scheduled to be taken at the sixth Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP6 as it is commonly known) which is being held in The Hague in November. The Government is currently in the initial stages of the process leading to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. We will be keeping a close eye on the progress of the international discussions this year, with a view to making good this Government’s commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as that is appropriate. As New Zealand noted at COP5, entry into force of the Protocol by 2002 would indeed make Rio plus 10 something to celebrate. The Prime Minister indicated in Parliament last week that New Zealand will show leadership in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and in promoting clear targets and timetables for further reductions of emissions of greenhouse gases

New Zealand’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is not large, but we are committed to doing our share. We depend on the emissions reductions of other countries to protect our climate – indeed we all depend on each other. We recognise that the Kyoto Protocol is only a partial response. Eventually all major emitters must be involved and the international process will need to find a way to develop a fully global response. The way to finding such solutions can only underline the importance of the scientific work of the IPCC.

May you have a productive and successful meeting. Thank you.

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