Comment

Don’t kick climate to touch

As he passed the Zero Carbon Act last week, Climate Minister James Shaw announced that climate change would no longer be used as "a political football". But, reflecting back on the last few weeks, Amanda Larsson says she can’t help but notice the many ways in which action to save our young people’s future has been sacrificed to the game of politics.

Mere days before passing the Zero Carbon Act, Climate Minister James Shaw - alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - shared a platform with dairy boss Tim Mackle to announce that agriculture would not, as promised, be entering the emissions trading scheme anytime soon. After 11 years of having its emissions fully subsidised by taxpayers, New Zealand’s most polluting industry will enjoy another five years of free rein to treat our atmosphere like an open sewer.

The Labour-Green politicians dressed up their partnership with industry as a world first and a win for the climate. But below the thinly-veiled layer of rhetoric lay no substance. No regulation. Nothing but vague promises to maybe do something about dairy pollution in two to five years’ time. Labour had fully backed down from their coalition agreement with NZ First to bring agricultural pollution into the ETS this term. Astoundingly, the Greens defended their complete capitulation to the dairy industry without blinking an eye.

Remember that ticking clock that the world’s climate scientists warned us about last year? A decade to cut our pollution in half? Our progressive political alliance has just kicked agricultural emissions regulation in to touch for another five years.

The announcement was flabbergasting until the response from National rolled in. Or rather, the stunned lack of response. And then the trickling in of praise from senior opposition MPs and right-wing shock-jocks.

What a clever piece of political chess. In announcing that the agriculture sector will face no cost for their climate pollution for two more terms, the Labour-Green alliance have managed to fully disarm the opposition of their most powerful weapon - “you hate farmers”. Check.

Our Labour-Green politicians will have gone to bed with headlines championing their supposed climate leadership and slept peacefully in the knowledge that their conservative challengers in the upcoming election were scrambling for new attack routes. But in doing so, they sacrificed effectively responding to our young people’s increasingly desperate pleas for the right to live in a world free from climate chaos.

... while the Zero Carbon Act was a hard-fought and important framework, let’s be under no illusion that our Parliament has now fixed the climate crisis or done its bit.

Fast-forward to the passing of the Zero Carbon Act, and National surprised everyone by signing up to a deal they’ve threatened to pull out of for months. It was their turn  to neutralise one of the most dangerous weapons in the Labour-Green arsenal: that the Nats are climate deniers who would sacrifice future generations to corporate profits. Check mate.

Despite all the headlines and self-congratulatory back-slapping these last few weeks, I’ve seen little in the way of climate leadership and courage from politicians on either side of the aisle. Instead I’ve seen a cynical game of politics and electioneering playing out under the false banner of taking our young people’s climate concerns seriously.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s emissions continue to rise. There’s a rig off the coast about to start drilling for new oil and gas we can’t afford to burn. The beautiful Mackenzie country is still under threat from more mega dairy farms. Car dealerships are shipping in record numbers of gas guzzling SUVs and double cab utes. Fonterra and Genesis are happily still burning coal.

True courage means sticking your neck out and doing what’s needed, not just what’s popular or easy. And while the Zero Carbon Act was a hard-fought and important framework, let’s be under no illusion that our Parliament has now fixed the climate crisis or done its bit. The Act itself does nothing to cut emissions until polluting industries themselves are properly regulated.

The true test of our political parties’ commitment to climate change lies in the choices they make now. Where are the bold policies that will allow thousands of households, communities and schools to generate their own power from the sun? Where is the billion-dollar fund needed to support farmers to transition to carbon-storing, biodiversity-enhancing, regenerative agriculture? When will we see more electric cars and buses on our roads, fast trains connecting our cities, and safe walking and cycling on our streets?

Who will introduce sensible laws that stop new coal mines from being built in a climate crisis, and oil companies from drilling more unnecessary wells? Who will put a stop to the excessive dumping of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on New Zealand’s pastures? And who has the guts to tell Fonterra that they can’t keep burning coal?

At the start of this term, our Labour-Green alliance showed some of those guts. They banned new offshore oil and gas permits (though, as we see now, they allowed existing ones to run their course - with dangerous consequences). They also stopped doling out the irrigation subsidies that were driving industrial dairy expansion. But since then, the Government has been nothing short of timid on climate action, while rhetoric abounds.

Only Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter, with her proposed Clean Car Scheme, has dared to pop her head above the parapet and suggest we do something modestly bold. We can only hope it doesn’t get watered down by a Select Committee with pre-election jitters.

The Zero Carbon Act was a hard-fought win for many climate-concerned people in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a people-powered win that should rightly be celebrated. But let us not allow our political parties - whatever their stripes - to use it as a convenient excuse to do nothing further on climate change. The framework is in place but the hard work is yet to come. And it will mean showing courage in the face of criticism - something our politicians have been far too shy of to date.

With the elections coming up and policy announcements being prepared, now is the time to start demanding tangible actions to cut pollution at its source.

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