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Q+A 30/3/14 - Climate Change - Call to Action or Do Nothing

Q+A Sunday 30th March - Climate Change - Call to Action or Do Nothing?


The Act party says it would do nothing about climate change as policies around reducing carbon emissions are ‘irresponsible moral exhibitionism’.

Act leader Jamie Whyte told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that there’s no point in New Zealand cutting its emissions if we know other countries won’t do it.

‘it's irresponsible of us towards our children to waste money on a futile gesture, when we could be using that money to adapt future climate change.’

Mr Whyte told Q+A that adaptation can be achieved through private means.

Tomorrow the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report will be released in Japan outlining implications for New Zealand’s agriculture, industry and tourism.

Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman says the report is very much a call to action.

‘So it's about whether we take our responsibility as human beings seriously to our children or not. I mean it's pretty straightforward. So this is about do we have the ability to act together, both in New Zealand and around the world, to reduce our emissions.’

See the full Q+A interview on the website: http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/ta-tvnz-index-group-2556429

Q + A
Episode 3
RUSSEL NORMAN & JAMIE WHYTE
Interviewed by SUSAN WOOD

SUSAN Climate change, tomorrow a UN report will be released in Japan with dire warnings on disruption to food supplies, slowing economic growth, and continued warming in New Zealand. Senior scientists and government officials from all over the world are in Japan trying to agree on the impact of rising temperatures on we humans, animals and the ecosystem. The report outlines the impact on New Zealand's agriculture, industry and tourism. Some are already calling it alarmist. Are they correct? ACT Leader Jamie Whyte and Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman. A very good morning to you both.

SUSAN Russel we've been hearing dire warnings, the end of the world is nigh, not quite, but about global warming for a very long time now. What is in this report that adds to that that is different?

RUSSEL NORMAN – Green Co-Leader: Well I mean it's in some respects just adding more evidence upon evidence. This is a science based approach, and so over time our scientific knowledge grows, and our understanding of the climate system grows, and so they’ve assembled it all together and it's very much a call to action. Because it says look at all this evidence that we've been assembling, and there's more and more science obviously coming, and this means that it's going to have a significant impact in terms of rising sea levels, in terms of more extreme weather events, both droughts and floods, and in terms of disrupting food production. So there's very significant consequences and we're already starting to see the beginning of it in New Zealand and globally, and that’s what the scientists are telling us.

SUSAN Jamie Whyte if 300 scientists from around the world I think they’ve assessed something like 9000 peer reviewed papers, but you're not really buying the science are you?

JAMIE Oh I'm happy to buy the science. I'm not buying the policy of mitigation.

SUSAN You're accepting that global warming's happening, you're accepting that it's causing extreme weather conditions, that it's going to affect agriculture, water and our way of life.

JAMIE Well global warming is certainly happening. There is some debate about what causing it, but it doesn’t really matter very much. For the purposes of this debate let's suppose we fully accept it. The question politicians face is what to try to do about it.

SUSAN But hang on, it does matter what's causing it because that’s what we need to do something about.

JAMIE Well even if it's not being caused by manmade interventions in the climate, it still matters if the climate's changing and there are things you need to do, you need to adapt to that. So it does matter whether it's happening or not.

SUSAN Before we get to, and we will talk about what we should be doing and the ETS of course what is being done. Water resources Russel, really important to us. We're talking about declining in rivers, certainly fresh water. Problems in the East Coast. Is there any certainty around this, around these predictions, because I've read that report and some of them have medium certainty, some of them – it's not absolute in any way shape or form is it?

RUSSEL Yeah it's science not religion, so therefore it's based on scientific evidence and therefore we look at what are the probabilities of the models and the estimates being correct. And so we have got very high probabilities of increased drought events in the north and the east of the North Island and the north east of the South Island, as well as high probability of more floods and extreme weather events of that nature. So you're kind of getting higher probability of both. And that’s I think a very important message for New Zealand in terms of us getting ready for climate change which is coming. Now the reason why the cause matters, and the science is also extremely clear about this – in the last 12 months I think there were 9136 climate scientists who published about climate science, and only one of them said it wasn't human caused, climate change. The reason why that’s important is that humans can do something about it. We can reduce our emissions as well as adapting to the changing climate. So we need to do both. We need to cut our emissions, and we need to adapt to the changing climate.

SUSAN And for that we have the Emissions Trading Scheme.

JAMIE The question is who we are. So we are just us here in New Zealand, we can't control the behaviour of people in other countries. So there's no point our cutting emissions of we know with almost complete certainty that other countries in aggregate won’t do it. It's a bit like you say I've got this great idea, why don’t we put some money in a bank account somewhere and we only get it back if everybody else puts their money in the bank account too. No one would suggest such a crazy plan because you can predict pretty accurately that other people aren't going to go along with it. We have the same amount of global emissions and we will have borne the cost.

SUSAN Isn't that completely defeatist though. You're basically saying everybody else is filthy so we'll be filthy too, and blow the environment, blow the planet?

JAMIE Well it's the opposite of that, it's saying I know I can predict with almost complete certainty how other people behave and I'm not going to impose a cost on myself as an empty moral gesture.

SUSAN Is the ETS an empty moral gesture Russel?

RUSSEL So it's about whether we take our responsibility as human beings seriously to our children or not. I mean it's pretty straightforward. So this is about do we have the ability to act together, both in New Zealand and around the world, to reduce our emissions. Now New Zealand has a very high per capita emissions, one of the highest in the world. Under current projections it's projected to increase 50%. New Zealand's emissions in the next decade according to Ministry for the Environment, the net emissions, so we're in a very bad position in terms of our emissions. So we have I believe a responsibility in terms of the global community to play our part.

SUSAN Yeah well I'm going to stop you there. Jamie's got a fair point. Global emissions it's .2%. it's a very small amount that New Zealand contributes. You look at countries that are truly dirty. You look at the air in Shanghai for example. Why would we do it, why would we put a cost on our consumers, on their electricity bill, on everything they buy?

RUSSEL So look at it the other way then. Okay, so you're saying we want everyone else to save us from climate change but we're unwilling to do anything ourselves. I just don’t accept that argument. If your argument's right then we're reliant on the rest of the world acting to reduce their emissions. So we turn up to these international meetings and we go, we're not willing to do a single thing, not lift a finger, in fact we're increasing our emissions by 50% but we want you all to save our bacon … by reducing emissions. I just think we need to take action ourselves.

JAMIE The truth is we are dependent on other people reducing their emissions, to having effect on emissions globally, and it's irresponsible of us towards our children to waste money on a futile gesture, when we could be using that money to adapt future climate change. So it's irresponsible moral exhibitionism to go down this avenue when we know it won’t work.

SUSAN So what would you go, because you're saying ….

JAMIE I would do absolutely nothing.

SUSAN Oh you would do nothing?

JAMIE Yes and the reason I would do nothing is because adaptation can be achieved mainly by private means, so most adaptation will be paid for privately. There may be some cases in the future – cos this is all going to happen over a very long period of time, where the government will need to get involved in some adaptation, and we can do that as the need arises.

SUSAN So you're saying just as it comes.

JAMIE Yes. Well we have got 100 years here. For example people shift all the time, dwellings are knocked down and rebuilt, and we can rebuild them in different places. There's no need to take precipitous action.

SUSAN What happens Russel if we do nothing? A small country like New Zealand, .2% of global emissions, what happens if we do nothing to us here?

RUSSEL So if you think about where the world's moving in terms of economics, so we're moving in for a carbon constrained world, and if New Zealand invests in very carbon intensive technologies and we take no action to move our economy towards low carbon intensity, then we will lose out economically, because we will have what the OECD calls all these stranded assets, these assets that are basically carbon intensive. The second thing that happens is we're going to have very high costs of adaptation if we don’t act soon. So if you think about coastal properties for example, we should be putting in place coastal hazard zones now that tell people this is an area which is going to be affected by the ……rises coming, and in terms of more extreme weather events.

SUSAN Let me bring Jamie in on that point because Northland the Bay of Plenty at risk, I mean are you worried about the beach house? Are you putting up the sandbags?

JAMIE I don’t own a beach house unfortunately. No I wouldn’t be putting them up at the moment, I'd be taking a more wait and see approach because as Russel said this stuff's uncertain, it's not religion, it's science, and if you read that document which I did wade through last night, and it's full of low certainty, what's the word, some are low probability, high confidence, high probability.

RUSSEL But they’ve got very high probability about sea level rise and about global warming, and they are pretty clear about that because the science is already here.

JAMIE People are free now to act on their own initiative, so people can start doing that if they choose. There's no need for the government to force people to do it, you can put the sandbags if you want at your beach house.

SUSAN I don’t have a beach house either.

JAMIE People aren't that convinced it's the truth, they're not that worried about it.

SUSAN What impact can New Zealand have, they're meeting the scientists – climate scientists meeting in Japan at the moment, there will be another raft of paper and there’ll be a few forests cut down for that, but what difference can New Zealand make Russel?

RUSSEL Well we can be part of taking global responsibility for the biggest issue facing our kids. Now that’s – it seems to me…

SUSAN Like we did with say the anti-nuclear, is that your point?

RUSSEL A critical part of what we can do is be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

SUSAN Do we need an ETS to do that, do we need to put our money where our mouth is?

RUSSEL If you read the OECD reports who write about this all the time, and who are very very focused on it, what they say is that the cheapest way to reduce emissions is to have a price on emissions. They believe in markets. I believe in markets. If you put a price on it, it will affect in the long term, behaviour, and you'll be able to reduce emissions. That’s why a price on carbon is important because it's the cheapest way to reduce emissions, so that we can do the responsible thing by our kids in reducing greenhouse emissions in out of control climate change.

JAMIE Other countries who are very important in this face quite different trade-offs. So if you're in a poor country you're developing, that price might be way too high, but that’s not the right trade-off for you. What you need is economic development and you don’t want to set up barriers to that development. In fact I also think it would be wrong for us to try to lead the way on this. It's for these poorer countries who face a tougher trade-off to lead the way.

RUSSEL You're saying the poorer countries should lead the way even though it's harder for them?

JAMIE Yes I think that they should lead the way on what the trade-off is, because you're imposing a western privileged trade-off on people it doesn’t suit.

RUSSEL Alright well I mean you know when you look at the report what they say is that developing countries are actually going to be significantly affected by climate change, we're the ones who are producing the high per capita emissions, surely we have a responsibility to cut our emissions.

JAMIE They are going to be affected by climate change, but they're going to benefit enormously from economic growth that you're trying to stifle.

RUSSEL We're not trying to stifle it, we're trying to redirect it into low carbon technology, which is what the OECD says we should.

SUSAN You two can argue on in the green room to your heart's content. Thank you both for your time this morning Jamie Whyte, Russel Norman.


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