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SMELLIE SNIFFS THE BREEZE: A crap deal for Maori

SMELLIE SNIFFS THE BREEZE: A crap deal for Maori

By Pattrick Smellie

Nov. 27 (BusinessWire) - Everywhere the Government is being flayed by its supporters for doing some sweetheart deal with "bloody Maoris" over the emissions trading scheme.

As if the crumbs from the table and the equitable settlement of Ngai Tahu's legitimate gripe are really some big win for Maori.

Give me a break.

Look at the 12 points covered in the deal between National and the Maori Party on the ETS and ask yourself, was this very hard to get? Here they are:

• Measures to halve the price impact on households - such an easy win that the Government would probably have done it anyway and was happy to give the Maori Party a free hit. The halving effect only lasts till 2013, and while welcome for the general populace, is a short term transition measure. Everyone, eventually, will face the cost of carbon;

• Enhancement of energy efficiency assistance - i.e., there will be an extra 8000 low income homes included in the massively popular insulation and heating scheme that the Government has already announced will barrel along this year with next year's funding. More funding would have been needed anyway, and it's a no-brainer preventive health investment that will make no difference to climate change. People will just be warmer, healthier and more productive;

• Inclusion of a Treaty of Waitangi clause - another no-brainer that simply recognises the Treaty and carries no significant implications for the ETS;

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• Treaty settlements pre-ETS unknowingly disadvantaged. This is where the rubber's met the road. Ngai Tahu's late 90's forestry deal - and a few other tiddler settlements involving North Island tribes - valued forests as if they had been converted from forests to dairy land, which is much more valuable until you include the Kyoto Protocol cost of felling without replanting. By the time of the deal, New Zealand was a signatory to Kyoto, so the Government has decided to avoid time in court by agreeing to compensate. Not one cent will go to the beneficiaries of the much larger Central North Island Forests settlement from earlier this decade, when an ETS was clearly on the cards and the deal done accordingly. So, yes, the $25million price tag for affected Maori settlement forests is a lot of money in anyone's book, but it's a lot less than the $70 million-plus Ngai Tahu was after, and it's stopped a long, messy court case that the Crown would probably have lost. Enraged whiteys: move on;

• Involvement in ongoing international negotiations - not something the Maori Party even needed to ask for. The Maori delegation next month's Copenhagen climate change summit has the potential to be an authentic bridge of the sort New Zealand needs as it navigates its own odd path to a climate change response. As a rich country with the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions profile of a poor country, we will be looking to connect with the developing world. A hand-picked crew of not-born-yesterday indigenous assistants should do the country no harm at all, especially as Maori are highly focused on new forestry rules post-Kyoto. This is a sideshow issue for the most powerful developed countries, but a vital issue for the likes of Brazil and other heavily forested nations. We need to get whatever help we can however we can get it, and Maori involvement simply makes sense;

• Crown/Iwi partnerships in afforestation programmes - in other words, Maori businesses will be invited like anyone else, including foreign investors, to plant permanent native forests on Department of Conservation marginal lands. The deal on this for Maori appears indistinguishable from the deal available to a bloke from Singapore, Malaysia or Sydney. The real issue here is that the current rules say permanent native forests are only 1/15th as efficient as a pine plantation for carbon sequestration. One of the goals at Copenhagen is to bump that up substantially so that native and plantation forests are more comparable as carbon sinks. To lobby for this at Copenhagen, see above re "bring on the Maoris"...

• Review of the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative -complicated, was likely to happen anyway, big deal;

• Fishing industry allocation - the fishing industry gets a sweetheart deal under the ETS transitional arrangements, but that's the whole fishing industry, large chunks of which are owned by pakeha. How is that a special deal for Maori?

• Iwi involvement in Agricultural Advisory Group - no surprises there, would have happened anyway;

• National Policy Statement on Bio-Diversity - see previous entry. Nothing to see here;

• Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions Research - see previous two entries;

• Broader environmental policy - that's the 12th point of the deal? Pull the other one. Maori involvement in broader environmental policy is already happening. The challenge is whether it is making a positive difference at this stage.

So, forgive me my outraged pale-skinned compatriots. What is the fuss about?

If anyone should be grumpy, it's Maori, and the only reason more Maori aren't grumpy about it is that virtually nobody - Maori or pakeha - understands the ETS.

And therein lies the real problem.

This week, New Zealand passed a law that it doesn't really understand or believe will work, based on a massive, multi-year process that was always likely to produce a camel of a policy.

Across the Ditch in Australia - the country we're trying to be in synch with on climate change policy - the Opposition is imploding rather than support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Australia's ETS-equivalent. It's not clear what Australian PM Kevin Rudd will take to Copenhagen.

At least if John Key decides to go, which looks increasingly likely for a leaders' love-in for the last couple of days of the 11 day summit, he can brandish the tatty rag that is New Zealand's new ETS. In all likelihood, it will scrub up well enough in the company of all the other compromises that other countries will be bringing along too.

The important thing, whether or not you agree that climate change is real, is that there is momentum for a deal at Copenhagen. As US President Barack Obama has put it, there is the prospect for a politically binding agreement that will have "immediate effect", even if the details aren't nailed down for a few months yet.

That suggests something like big, global commitments to GHG emissions reductions over the long haul, with end dates identified.

Messy, inadequate, incomplete and compromised, it is pretty much the outcome you'd expect from a process involving human beings. In fact, this week's passage of the New Zealand ETS conforms almost perfectly to that judgement.

Take it as a guide, but also recognise what an act of global leadership an agreement at Copenhagen represents. The human race is being asked to do something painful, difficult and unwelcome on an unprecedented collective scale, in the face of legitimately brandished scientific uncertainty.

That we are even this far along in attempting to take a prudent, risk management approach to a multi-generational problem that appears to be spiralling out of control, is in itself a miracle of sorts.


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