Hard to keep our name afloat amid sinking islands

By Eloise Gibson

When it comes to getting attention on the world stage, New Zealand has some stiff competition.

This week showed Tuvalu was a master, while the United States did not even have to try.

That was illustrated when America announced it was expanding agricultural climate change research by US$90 million ($126 million) over four years.

A long press release from the US Department of Agriculture, picked up by American media, talked at length of the benefits of the Global Alliance but neglected to mention that the deal was brokered by New Zealand - unless you count printing its name 14th on the list of 20 countries taking part.

Whatever happens overnight, New Zealand's record at the talks will go down as a mixture of success and invisibility.

The invisibility was highlighted when John Key was bumped from a televised debate in favour of the leader of bigger, brasher Australia.

The success was in the form of a pledge of US money for work on agricultural greenhouse gases.

By co-ordinating the resources of 20 countries, New Zealand can advance work to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions while claiming the kudos of sharing technology with the poor.

The plan to help developing nations beat emissions from agriculture fits well with discussions that took place in Copenhagen about how to feed the world without pushing up food-related greenhouse gases.

The Greens support the initiative provided the money is put into improving basic farming practices and not solely the search for quick-fix technology.

Labour pointed out that New Zealand would not own the results and compared the Government's $45 million contribution unfavourably with Labour's own scrapped $700 million Fast Forward research fund.

But the alliance attracted the interest of the Economist and Bloomberg.

When it came to the negotiations themselves, New Zealand was mostly content to follow the voices of other industrialised countries.

The exception was forestry rules, where negotiators worked hard to win changes that few other countries would benefit from.

Observers say New Zealand officials are respected in negotiating circles.

But we never made a splash quite like Tuvalu. The tiny nation's plight was a magnet for weary journalists who grew tired of reporting the technicalities of draft agreements.

Even as industrialised countries frowned upon the hold-up to proceedings, there was a hint of jealousy at how easily the islands captured attention with their plea for a more ambitious target.

That target has almost no chance of being agreed upon.

But it reminded observers that the negotiations represented a sliding scale of measurable effects on real people.

- NZ Herald

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