Megan Woods: Climate change - the status quo is not enough

The smokestack industries are under a thick cloud. Picture / Greg Bowker
The smokestack industries are under a thick cloud. Picture / Greg Bowker

The ink is barely dry on New Zealand's ratification of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and already the questions are mounting. Under this agreement, governments have pledged to limit global warming to "well-below" 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to "pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees"

All the models suggest that globally if we were to continue on a business-as-usual pathway then the world would warm by 4degrees over the next 100 years. Domestic policies and actions now must become the focus. What does this mean for New Zealand?

For Labour, it is critical that we have an integrated across government plan to reduce emissions.

Working parties, technical advisory panels and forums are good starting places but cannot be the finish line. We need an agency who has a statutory mandate to look across transport, primary industries, energy and buildings and put together a carbon budget and critically monitor our progress against those that budget.

If we are to reach our targets then we must accept that there is a relatively fixed amount of carbon that can be emitted and we have to work within that budget. Our policy at the last election was to have an independent Climate Commission, based on the UK model, and I remain convinced that this is critical to us reducing our emissions.

It is also critical that we think carefully about how local government fits into these plans. Cities, led by Michael Bloomberg, proved themselves to be powerful players at the Paris Conference and we are well placed to seriously consider the planning, transport, infrastructure and building functions of our councils in putting together carbon budgets in New Zealand.

We must confront the issue of our agricultural emissions as a matter of urgency. At the moment half of all our emissions sits outside of our emissions trading scheme.

This was never the plan when the scheme was designed but sectoral politics has seen the National government make others pay for increasing agricultural pollution. In effect this means all other industries in New Zealand are subsidising agriculture.

This cannot continue. There are smart ways we can transition agriculture into the scheme. We can look at the different agricultural gases and asses their relative impacts. We also have to look at what carrots can be offered as well as what sticks will be wielded.

Given that ETS obligations sit at the processor level how then can we reward good sustainable farming? This is not about punitive reparations but is about forward planning on future land use decisions.

Reducing our emissions offers New Zealand exciting opportunities in transitioning our economy. High value low-carbon industries and business will benefit everyone. Nowhere could this be more valuable than in our regions.

Government has to actively leading the planning work around what replaces high-carbon industries in some of regions. If we simply sit back and watch we will witness communities and individuals left stranded in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Ensuring that this does not happen is core business for Labour. It is why transition planning with proper skills training is central to our Future of Work project.

Targets and talk is not enough. Now we need a concerted plan of action. This month for the first time we had carbon dioxide levels permanently above the 400 parts per million level. This was a symbolic milestone that meant we are rapidly running out of time.

The first step for New Zealand must be an independent Climate Commission. It can't be easily dismissed as Minister Paula Bennett has done, by saying a combination of the status quo will do. We need to do better.

Wigram MP Dr Megan Woods is Labour's spokesperson for Climate Change Issues.

- NZ Herald

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