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Q+A: Greenpeace NZ Executive Director Russel Norman

Q+A: Greenpeace NZ Executive Director Russel Norman interviewed by Corin Dann

Greenpeace NZ Executive Director Russel Norman says the Prime Minister accepting their petition to end future oil and gas exploration has raised hopes.

‘Yeah, it has. I mean, I think the fact that she came down and accepted the petition does indicate a direction of travel, in terms of her thinking, which obviously is entirely in alignment with what she said during the campaign about climate change being this generation’s nuclear-free moment.’

More than 45-thousand people signed the Greenpeace petition.

When asked about a timeframe, Russel Norman told Q+A’s Corin Dann, ‘I want them to be extremely ambitious.’

CORIN Twenty years? Ten years? Fifteen years?

RUSSEL No, I’m quite serious. If we’re serious about it—

CORIN So that was the last Block Offer last year?

RUSSEL Yeah, that’s what we need. That’s exactly what we need if we’re serious about making this transition.

Q + A
Episode 4
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN What an interesting week it has been with Jacinda Ardern going on to the steps of Parliament and accepting your petition to end oil and gas exploration.


CORIN Has that got your hopes up, let’s be honest?

RUSSEL Yeah, it has. I mean, I think the fact that she came down and accepted the petition does indicate a direction of travel, in terms of her thinking, which obviously is entirely in alignment with what she said during the campaign about climate change being this generation’s nuclear-free moment.

CORIN So you read that as her giving a very strong signal that they’re going to act on this and can oil exploration, gas exploration, at some point?

RUSSEL I think that I don’t know exactly where we’ll end up in terms of this, but, I mean, I think that it clearly is the direction. So we know that you can’t burn the existing fossil fuel reserves, if you want to avoid catastrophic climate change. So we have to stop looking for new reserves, if we’re serious about climate change. She’s indicated very clearly she’s serious about climate change. So the next step is—

CORIN But she came back in straight after that, didn’t she, into her post-Cabinet conference and basically said, ‘Oh, no, it’s business as usual. We’re just looking at the Block Offers.’ And kind of recoiled a little bit from it.

RUSSEL I think she was trying to just bring the two different parts together. Block Offers are essentially the way that oil and gas exploration permits are awarded. And so she was saying, ‘Yes, this is a serious issue because of climate change. And yes, there is this other process. And so we’re going to bring these two together.’

CORIN All right. Let’s look at this. From reading up on this and looking into this, it looks to me like the industry is in a gradual retreat anyway. Certainly oil, perhaps not gas. Why do we need to be putting a hard, fast target on this when we’re making the change anyway, aren’t we?

RUSSEL We’re not making the change the fast enough. I mean, that’s the long and the short of it. I mean, when you look at what’s happening with climate change globally, we basically have to act to protect our kids and our grandkids. I mean, that’s our responsibility. We need to act very quickly.

CORIN But is there a danger you’ll hurt your kids and grandkids now, because you create uncertainty, you scare off investment. There are 11,000 jobs. I know that’s debatable for some people, but there are thousands of jobs in Taranaki and elsewhere. 250,000 people who get gas into their houses. This will have a dramatic effect on people’s lives.

RUSSEL And so, obviously, for people who are directly affected, there does need to be a just transition, there needs to be support. But let’s remember, if we achieve it, it’s an end to oil and gas exploration. The existing reserves are still there. The existing industry is still there. This is about indicating a phase down, a transition. If you’re serious about reducing oil and gas, you don’t go and look for more. You go, ‘This is what we’ve got and now we’re going to phase it out.’ And we develop a very clear strategy to phase it out.

CORIN But we know that those in the oil industry are paid quite well. You know, $100,000 seems to be the average in that industry. How do you make a just transition there? The government can’t just pay them $100,000 once they lose their jobs.

RUSSEL I mean, we do have a very large regional development fund.

CORIN So Shane Jones needs to get in there, does he?

RUSSEL I do think that is part of it. Particularly a region like Taranaki, which has the largest oil and gas industry in the country. But obviously we just can’t lose sight of the bigger picture about climate change. And when you look at what’s happening anyway. I mean, you think about it – what do we use oil for, right? It’s transport energy, primarily. It’s other things.

CORIN Plastics.

RUSSEL For plastics.

CORIN Fertiliser.

RUSSEL And we know in all of those three areas, so if you look at transport energy, the electrification of transport is where the whole world’s heading and we need to be part of that and we will be part of that. We know in plastics, in terms of bio plastics and the replacement of petroleum plastics, that’s where we’re going in terms of those.

CORIN But we’re not there yet, are we? That’s the point. Sorry to interrupt. So what’s the date where you think that’s doable?

RUSSEL The first step is to stop looking for more, right? So that’s where we’re at at the moment, if we’re serious about it.

CORIN When would you stop? When would you say is the cut-off? There’s Block Offers that have been done years ago, people still have the right to explore for, what, another 20 years?

RUSSEL Look, in my view, you would say today. All right? We are in the middle of a global climate emergency.

CORIN And that will cost $15 billion, according to the government.

RUSSEL People come up with all sorts of ideas.

CORIN That was the advice given to the Green Party, wasn’t it, during the coalition talks?

RUSSEL Yeah, but that advice was misdirected. It obviously came from a government agency, the Ministry of Oil – MBIE – who are absolutely in bed with the oil industry. So whatever. MBIE kind of pulled a number out of their arse, to use your earlier interview of Phil Twyford. So what you need to do is go, ‘This is a global emergency,’ which is what it is. We need to stop looking for more, and we need to phase it out. There are very clear pathways to get ourselves off oil for transport, oil in terms of the fertilizer industry. We need to go down those pathways.

CORIN You might dispute the $15 billion figure, but the fact is if you stopped right now, it would have a dramatic impact. There is a couple of billion in exports. There is huge amounts of gas being used by consumers. You would have a massive disruptive effect on people’s lives.

RUSSEL This is about exploration in the first instance, right? So we’re saying, ‘Are we looking for new oil and gas?’ And so what we’re saying is, ‘We mustn’t look for new oil and gas.’ The existing industry and reserves still exist and they are still available, right?

CORIN But they’ll run out. So gas will run out in ten years, won‘t it?

RUSSEL There’s some dispute over that number, but at some point, it will start to run out.

CORIN So where’s the sense in New Zealand importing gas from Australia to meet that demand that will still be there? Because gas plays a role, not just in homes, but obviously as a security of supply issue to make electricity in dry years if, say, the lakes are low.

RUSSEL So if you look at the electricity sector, which obviously is critical to this with the electrification of transport, right, and electrification of industrial processes. We know that the thing that’s missing is solar in New Zealand, in terms of supply, and batteries, a huge part of the solution. So looking forward, we can meet the peak evening demand with solar and batteries as well as the seasonal demand, etcetera. The dry-year demand—

CORIN Hang on, let’s just unpick solar. You’ve got to bring the solar here from China. That uses a whole bunch of carbon. The term is embodied carbon, isn’t it?


CORIN So it’s got carbon in it, so how are we going to offset that?

RUSSEL If we are no longer burning gas for electricity generation, we will offset it very easily. And of course, solar panels keep producing electricity for literally decades. So I don’t really think that’s a serious concern. I mean, I just think we need to look at what does the electricity system look like when the electrified transport, electrified industrial processes, and we get rid of coal and gas out of that system?

CORIN But we will need an electricity system where there is more localised electricity, right? For people having solar panels and those sorts of things. So it’s going to require a huge transition, isn’t it? It’s a big cost. And then there’s an issue of who can afford solar panels versus those who can’t. Are they being subsidised? I mean, there’s some big equity issues there.

RUSSEL There are significant issues, but they’re not overwhelming, because this is happening all around the world now. And electrical vehicles are part of the solution as well, because they are mobile storage devices. Batteries are going to enter much more commonly in people’s homes – stationary batteries. But electrical vehicles are basically other kinds of batteries that can be drawn down. The latest Leaf has been designed specifically – that is an electric vehicle – so that it can actually supplement the grid at the moment of peak demand. So when everyone comes home and cooks dinner. So you can pull electricity out of the car and then charge it up in the middle of the night when power’s cheap. I mean, all of this stuff is coming at us rapidly.
CORIN To come back to the Phil Twyford interview, to stay on a theme, are you being too heroic here in these assumptions? We can see the technology making the changes, and I think people understand that. And they get that oil is in a declining phase. But are you being too heroic about how quickly the change can happen?

RUSSEL The first step, surely, has to be not to increase, right? So exploration is about finding more oil and gas, right? So we go, ‘Okay, first step, we’re going to stop doing that, because we know we can’t that,’ right? Next step then is how do we manage the transition, right? But until we get our heads around ‘stop looking for more’, we’re not serious about it, right? So the first step, we got, ‘Okay, we’re not going to look for more.’ The next is we’re going to manage the transition. We’ve got a good idea how much gas we’ve got left. We know about the oil situation. We know about electrification of transport, all the rest of it. Let’s have a managed plan to get ourselves of it.

CORIN Okay, before we go. We’ve got about twenty seconds. What is the cut-off date? What should the government set here? What should be the time when New Zealand no longer looks for oil and gas?

RUSSEL I think, like, today should be the day.

CORIN I know you said that, but it’s not going to be. She’s not going to do it today.

RUSSEL No, but in terms of new permits, right? So new permits, we should stop issuing new permits for oil and gas exploration today, if we’re serious about climate change.

CORIN Okay, I’ll rephrase that question. Where do you think the government can get to? Because they’ve got a political issue with New Zealand First, who will presumably be a bit less keen on this. How far and ambitious do you want them to be?

RUSSEL I want them to be extremely ambitious.

CORIN Twenty years? Ten years? Fifteen years?

RUSSEL No, I’m quite serious. If we’re serious about it—

CORIN So that was the last Block Offer last year?

RUSSEL Yeah, that’s what we need. That’s exactly what we need if we’re serious about making this transition. We have the pathway available to us; we should grasp it. This is what New Zealand’s future is going to look like.
CORIN Russel Norman, great pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for joining us on Q+A.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

Please find a link to the interview here.

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
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