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Green Party AGM 2014 Speech: Climate Change


Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman

Green Party AGM 2014 Speech: Climate Change


Tēnā koutou Tēnā koutou Tēnā koutou katoa.


Thank you very much Jeanette for that introduction and thank you, all of you, for the very warm welcome.

Greetings Green Party members and friends, greetings to those here today from the wider green movement, to our guests from the diplomatic community, and an especially warm welcome to senator Scott Ludlam from Western Australia.

Tēnā koutou.

They used to call climate change the biggest issue of our time.

More recently I’ve heard it described as the biggest issue of all time.

As humans, we are in unchartered territory.

Climate change is not war. It’s not a plague. It’s not a global financial crisis.

There is nothing to compare it to in human history. We have no points of reference.

Because of this, understanding what we’re seeing and taking action is a challenge, both politically and psychologically.

How we respond to this climate challenge will define us.
Today I’m going to outline a plan - a plan that will allow New Zealand to rise to the challenge of climate change – to play our part.

This is a plan to empower New Zealand to become part of the climate solution, rather than remain part of the problem.

But it’s not just about that.

It’s also about opportunity and prosperity.

Because what the climate debate too often fails to capture are the opportunities inherent in what’s happening with our planet, and the opportunities that come when we release New Zealanders’ innate ability to innovate in the face of challenge, however big.

By meeting the challenge of climate change, we will transform our economy and society for the better.
This has not been understood by our current Government.
And its failure to grasp it has left New Zealand exposed.
Today I’m going to outline how the Green party will future-proof our country and grow our prosperity.
I am going to outline a plan that will put New Zealand firmly back in the global green race, while ensuring households and businesses are better off.

It’s a plan that will both tackle the challenge of climate change, and seize the opportunity of a smarter greener economy.

I’d like to briefly touch on some of the latest climate impacts around the world.
Because I know how easy it is to lose track.

The effects of a warming planet can begin, after a while, to seem like a bizarre sci-fi film playing on repeat in the background of daily life.
The sheer scale and cost of what’s occurring is difficult to comprehend.
From the tropics to the poles, from the mountains to the sea, from the poorest countries to the richest, climate change is tightening its grip.

The last few years are perhaps best summarised as a series of “is this really happening” moments.

Antarctic ice loss being one such moment.

We recently learnt that parts of the ice sheet have begun an irreversible slide into the sea.

160 billion tonnes of ice is being lost every year - twice as much as when the Continent was last surveyed. Antarctica is literally shedding ice.

The resulting sea level rise doesn’t bear thinking about.

The impact on coastal communities, of which New Zealand has many, is likely to be catastrophic.

Then there are the floods, the wildfires, the super typhoons, the droughts and the crop failures - again, the likes of which we have not experienced in human history.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had a point when he described climate change as the “world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction”.[i]

In the midst of all this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released three ground-breaking new reports.

Let me summarise them for you in three points:

1) Things are worse than previously thought. The world is at risk of genuine catastrophe.

2) New Zealand is already being affected by extreme weather from climate change, and worse is to come, with serious risks to our agriculture, tourism, coastal settlements and native species.

3) Avoiding climate catastrophe remains doable and eminently affordable, as long as all countries begin the transition to a carbon efficient economy with some urgency.

They say time is money, and never more so than with climate change.

As preeminent British economist Lord Stern has made clear, the longer we delay the more we pay.

The International Energy Agency recently estimated that a two-year delay in greening the global economy has just cost the world $8 trillion dollars.[ii]

Standard & Poor's recently ranked New Zealand’s sovereign credit rating as among the more vulnerable in the world, because most of our cities are coastal and agriculture makes up such big share of our economy.

Already in New Zealand, climate change is not coming cheap.
Insurance companies paid out $174 million in costs for weather-related events last year.

Drought in New Zealand during the first five months of last year cost the economy $1.6 billion.

At Fox Glacier, jobs are being lost along with the ice. You can no longer walk up the valley and climb the glacier face due to its retreat. The only way to reach it is by helicopter. Thirty people have lost their jobs as a result.[iii]

GOVERNMENT FAILURE

Of all the threats associated with climate change, inaction is the greatest threat.

Inertia, idleness and lethargy are lethal in the face of climate change.

Complacency will destroy our children's future.

Which brings me to the current Government.

The National Party Government is doing virtually nothing to bring down our emissions and transition us away from fossil fuels.

In fact, National’s policies mean New Zealand’s net emissions are set to go up by 50% in the next 10 years[iv], putting us on track to be the worst performing developed country under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This complacent government is a threat to our country.
My office was in contact with someone high up in the UN’s climate division the other day.

They were discussing New Zealand’s role in global efforts to address climate change.

The UN official said, “I fondly remember the days when we could look and point to New Zealand for inspiration”.

I felt ashamed that successive governments have squandered that reputation.

On a per person basis, New Zealand now produces twice the amount of greenhouse gases as China and eight times that of India.[v]

We are the fifth highest per person emitters in the developed world.

Despite all this, our climate change efforts have, according to leading experts, “been more or less parked”.[vi]

The Government’s current response is indistinguishable from business as usual, despite climate scientists saying business as usual is no longer compatible with civilisation as we know it.

The Prime Minister's favourite line is: We’re only 0.2% of global emissions. What difference will it make what we do?

As lines go, it is flawed, facile and dangerous.

Taken at face value, yes, New Zealand comprises a small proportion of global emissions.

National uses this as an excuse for complacency, and to imply that what New Zealand does does not matter.

Well, it does matter.

The nature of climate change is such that everyone’s actions matter and everyone is affected by everyone else’s actions. We all share Planet Earth.

Our choice is whether we stay part of the problem or become part of the solution.

We cannot expect other, bigger countries to reduce emissions if we are not doing so ourselves, especially when many of these countries are poorer than us.

On the other hand, by demonstrating that a transition to a clean economy is both possible and rewarding, we can help spur global action.

We are a can-do country. We’re not the kind of people who expect others to do the heavy lifting while we sit back.

So why sit back on climate change?

When in history have we ever been satisfied to do nothing in the face of a global challenge just because we are small?

Time and again - from the sciences to space exploration to women’s rights to rugby, we have outdone ourselves despite our size.

Why, when faced with the biggest challenge of all, would we be prepared to remain small?

The kind of New Zealand that says “we’re so small that we don’t matter” is not the New Zealand I want my kids growing up in.

What proportion of global emissions we are is not the point.

The climate crisis is a universal call to arms and we in New Zealand need to play our part.

The Green Party will provide the political leadership to ensure that we do.

INNOVATION/ OPPORTUNITY

Apart from anything else, climate inaction is not a smart economic strategy.

Any high-carbon economic model has a built-in self-destruct mechanism.

We should be making every effort to shift our economy onto a more sustainable, lower-cost, low carbon footing.

Countries like China, the United States and Germany are well out of the starting blocks in the global low carbon race.

President Obama said “We can’t win it if we’re not in it,” when announcing a sweeping new plan to tackle climate change in June last year.[vii]

In 2011, the world invested nearly NZ$330 billion in renewable energy, and the global market for clean technologies is valued at more than NZ$5.8 trillion.

New Zealand already has expertise in wind and geothermal energy and our clean and green brand holds real economic clout.

The estimated potential market share of the global green economy available to New Zealand is up to $22 billion annually[viii].

To put this economic opportunity into perspective, that figure of $22 billion is well over our current dairy export earnings.

The opportunities are there, and the Green Party will ensure New Zealand seizes them with both hands.

More than 500 businesses, including giants like GM and Nike, recently issued a Climate Declaration, calling action on climate change “one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century”.

We agree.

As Albert Einstein said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

The economic revolution of this century will be powered by fuels that are free and infinite.

And there are untold benefits for those in the vanguard of the transition.

In New Zealand, the absence of a long-term vision, the absence of a meaningful carbon price, together with almost non-existent low carbon measures, has created a policy vacuum that is delaying our country’s transformation.

Low carbon investment is being stifled because there are no clear signals to business.

But actually it’s worse than that. Current Government policies are helping lock in high-carbon investment.

It is often said that New Zealand’s “unique emissions profile” means we are hamstrung.

Well, every country faces a different but difficult set of circumstances.

We cannot continue to use ours as an excuse to opt out.

Precisely because we have distinct challenges, we need to get on with it.

It’s all the more reason not to delay.

I believe Government excuses for inaction suggest a fundamental lack of faith in New Zealand businesses and New Zealanders’ ingenuity.

The Green Party is not afraid to ask New Zealand businesses to innovate, and in some cases to lead, because we know they can.
The world is in a unique situation.
We are on the cusp of something extraordinary or something unthinkable - a global green revolution or a global catastrophe.

Make no mistake – it is one or the other.
And we are down to the wire.
We’re basically playing Russian Roulette with two bullets instead of one.
Today, the Green Party is announcing policies to ensure New Zealand is on the right side of history.
Today we’re announcing policies that will ensure our smart and dynamic country is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

THE ETS

The Government’s emissions trading scheme has failed.
Hollowed out and weakened to the point of redundancy, it has accelerated deforestation and driven up emissions.

The ETS was designed to incentivise investment in clean technology, emission reductions and the planting of trees. It has done none of these things.

In fact it’s done the opposite.

For an example of how farcical the ETS is consider this…

Under current rules, the Climate Change Minister has given out 1.3 billion dollars worth of free carbon units to polluters[ix].

Remember these are free permits to pollute - paid for by you and me and every New Zealand taxpayer.

But it gets worse.

Rather than handing these units back to the Government to pay for their emissions, these big companies have been selling them on at $4 a pop instead.

And to cover the costs of their pollution, the companies have instead been handing over dodgy, dirt-cheap 20 cent carbon units which the Government has allowed to flood into the country from overseas.

So not only has National gifted millions and millions of free credits to polluters, but it’s allowed almost worthless credits to come in from offshore, enabling polluters to make a healthy profit of approximately $3.80 per tonne of carbon pollution.

What is not wrong with that picture?

When I asked the Climate Change Minister about this in Parliament last week he admitted this was the case, saying the scheme is designed in such a way as to allow polluters to “maximise their fiscal position”.

That’s funny. I thought it was designed to tackle climate change.

The reality of the ETS is this: New Zealand taxpayers are subsidising polluters to produce greenhouse gas emissions at the rate of about $3.80 per tonne.

This is why I find it ironic when National accuses the Green Party of trying to lump costs onto ordinary New Zealanders.

In a recent survey, not one single emitter or carbon trader believed the ETS is helping New Zealand transition to a greener economy.[x]

These are the very people benefiting from the scheme and even they concede it’s a joke.

It is time to put the failed emissions trading scheme out of its misery.

THE POLICY

We need a clean start to get New Zealand back on track, get our emissions down, and ensure households get the benefits.

That’s why the Green Party is announcing a comprehensive package of measures to cut emissions and genuinely transform our economy, so that it is smarter, cleaner and fairer.

Today, we’re announcing that in Government, the Green Party will:

Firstly, set a goal of carbon neutrality for New Zealand by 2050 - so a net zero-emission economy by mid-century.

Secondly, establish an independent Climate Commission, made up of climate science and policy experts. The Commission will advise Government on national carbon budgets and best practice to meet them.

Thirdly, we will end the failed Emissions Trading Scheme and introduce a carbon tax on pollution. Every dollar raised from the carbon tax on pollution will go back to New Zealand households and businesses in the form a Climate Tax Cut.

The charge will initially be set at $25 per tonne on CO2 equivalent emissions for all sectors except agriculture. Dairy emissions will pay $12.50 per tonne. Forestry will be credited at $12.50 per tonne.

All revenue raised will go back to families and businesses through a $2000 income tax-free band and a one percent company tax cut.

Kiwi households will be about $320 better off a year on average once the tax is introduced. That’s after factoring in any increases in the cost of fuel, food and power.

Let me be clear: New Zealand households will be several hundred dollars better off every year because of the climate tax cut.

And finally, we’ll introduce a suite of complementary measures to support the rapid transition to a carbon neutral economy.

Dairy will be included in the Climate Tax Cut.

Emissions from the dairy sector more than doubled between 1990 and 2012 – an increase of 116%[xi]

The sector’s emissions increased by over one million tonnes a year just between 2010 and 2012, and while the ETS was in operation.

This is why it is essential that dairy faces a price on its emissions.

We will however be exempting sheep and beef farming for the initial period, as their emissions remain below 1990 levels, and continue to fall, and because indications are the tax would leave them vulnerable.

The independent Climate Commission would work at including sheep and beef as soon as is fair and practicable.

We will set a price of $12.50/tonne for the planting of forests, which is the price foresters say would begin to turn around New Zealand’s shocking deforestation statistics.

A carbon tax will ensure that polluters pay for the damage they cause.

If you make a mess you need to help clean it up. This is a basic principle by which we all live, and it’s time we applied it to the climate.

A climate tax cut, where the revenue goes back to households and businesses, will leave New Zealanders better off.

A carbon tax on pollution is straightforward, it's honest and it's transparent. None of the smoke and mirrors of the ETS.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Using a carbon tax on pollution to both reduce emissions and reduce income tax at the same time is not new.

In 2008, the centre-right Liberal Party of British Columbia, which has a population roughly the same size as New Zealand, introduced a carbon tax on pollution.


It started at NZ$11 /tonne and has since moved up to $32 NZ dollars per tonne.

To cut a long story short, the tax has worked.

There has been a major reduction in British Columbia’s fuel usage, a corresponding decline in emissions, yet its economy has been outperforming the rest of Canada.

It has also changed the culture of energy use in BC and raised the awareness of climate change and the need for carbon reduction.

British Columbians have even become quite fond of their climate tax cut. Polls have shown anywhere from 55 to 65 percent support for it.

According to the OECD, a credible and consistent carbon price should be the cornerstone of every government’s actions to tackle climate change.[xii]

OECD Secretary-General, Mr. Angel Gurría said we should all be aiming for zero net emissions by the second half of the century[xiii].

The climate tax cut will help New Zealand get there.

It will mean a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, a safer climate and a better future for our children.

COMPLEMENTARY MEASURES

But a carbon tax on pollution will not, on its own, do the job.

Which is why the Green Party has a range of complementary measures to bring down New Zealand’s emissions.

These include:
• our policy to help households install solar,
• the establishment of a Green Investment Bank to fund transformational green projects,
• major investments in public transport, including an immediate start to the Auckland City Rail Link,
• the extension of our insulation scheme to a further 200,000 New Zealand households and
• a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2025.

Between now and the election we’ll announce even more measures to transition New Zealand to a cleaner, smarter footing.

CRITICS

It goes without saying there will be critics of the climate tax cut.

There always are in points in our history where strong positions are taken on critical issues.

When Parliament introduced the smoke free law in 2004, some bars and pubs cried foul, saying they’d be forced to shut their doors.

What actually happened?

There was no downturn in takings, in fact patronage increased overall due to higher numbers of non-smokers.[xiv]

When the Government announced New Zealand’s first marine reserve, the end of the world as we know it was heralded. Commercial fishers cried foul. You can’t lock up swathes of ocean, they said. It will reduce our catch.

What actually happened?

New Zealand’s marine reserves have replenished fish stocks, not just in the marine reserves but in the wider areas[xv] , to the joy of both conservationists and fishers.

At first the concept of women entering polling booths must have seemed absurd to some.

A pledge to be nuclear free must have appeared naïve to its critics.

When first proposed by Michael Joseph Savage, a welfare system in which the Government looked after its people from ‘cradle-to-grave’ probably sounded extreme and invasive to its opponents.

As for getting a plane up into the air, splitting the atom or climbing Mt Everest – well the sheer audacity!

This is a moment in history we must seize. It is time for boldness and leadership.

Climate change waits for no-one.

CONCLUSION

Friends and colleagues – the Green Party is today making climate change an election issue.

We are saying to New Zealand: the Green Party will transition our economy to being carbon neutral; to being clean, safe, smart and prosperous.

We will foster greener jobs and greener businesses and we will not allow households to continue to shoulder the cost of pollution.

The Green Party is responding to the threat of global climate change – not only that, we’re turning it into an opportunity for New Zealand innovation.

Failure to do so would be a betrayal of our children, our grandchildren and our beautiful country.

You might live on the Coast, you might be a farmer, you may be a flat white drinker watching with alarm as climate change threatens the global coffee supply.

You may be a skier, you may work in insurance, you may work in species conservation.

No matter who we are, or where we are, a stable climate is the centrepiece of our lives.

It is time for New Zealand to come together on this – the biggest collective issue we’ve ever faced.
New Zealand’s heroes are those who overcame the insurmountable – Sir Ed, Peter Blake, Kate Sheppard, Ernest Rutherford, Dame Whina Cooper.

We will stand up and be counted on climate change.

We will lead.

We have a problem. Now we must solve it.

Let’s do this – let’s be tenacious and fearless

If we try, we will win.

ends

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