NZ stance on Kyoto a lose-lose decision

Policy damages important international reputation and comes with economic cost, but it's not too late.

The anger from increasingly desperate developing nations towards unco-operative governments has been palpable. Photo / AP
The anger from increasingly desperate developing nations towards unco-operative governments has been palpable. Photo / AP

The results of the Doha climate change talks leave fresh tears in our world's social fabric. While frustrations were felt by all countries during the negotiations, the deepening anger from developing countries was palpable.

The lack of progress towards addressing climate change is creating a global climate rift. In a setting where sensitive trade relationships are at stake, statements from developing countries became increasingly frank, targeted and accusatory during the endgame of the negotiations.

Criticism landed firmly on developed countries for their lack of commitment and co-operation. New Zealand, with Canada, has been labelled the worst of a bad bunch in this regard by international observers. We have been put squarely in the firing line of a growing discontent from the developing world. We need to move.

There was a new dynamic at play in Doha. While detailed texts were being drafted and reviewed, the Philippines was being pounded by Typhoon Bopha.

The death toll from Bopha passed 500, the number rendered homeless reaching 310,000, while the conference moved into its final days. With the impacts of Hurricane Sandy still etched in First World consciousness, it was clear that the long-anticipated effects of climate change were being realised.

The enhanced sense of urgency this brings was best articulated by the head of the Philippines delegation, Naderev Sano, who, in an impassioned and chilling address, asked the leaders of the world to "open [their] eyes, to the stark reality we face". With regard to the desperate lack of action he finished by asking the plenary "if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" The world's most vulnerable nations are slipping into desperation.

The urgency felt by vulnerable nations is being channelled into anger as the United Nations process fails every year to reduce emissions, or address the effects already being felt.

The argument is increasingly being framed as a dichotomy, in which developing countries are paying for the consequences of a problem they have had little hand in creating, while developed countries are unwilling to change their behaviour to remedy this injustice.

New Zealand's position within this dichotomy is a prominent one. Our Government's decisions show a lack of willingness to participate constructively, a stance which has not been lost on our Pacific neighbours, nor our second-largest trading partner, China.

The Government greatly misjudged the depth of international opposition to their policies. New Zealand and other countries not signing up to Kyoto have been denied access to international carbon markets because the deal we tried to put forward was politically unacceptable to the developing world.

This is a loss for New Zealanders economically as we will now have to pay more per tonne of carbon. More importantly though, the Government's stance does violence to our international reputation. As international urgency on climate change grows into desperation New Zealand has been fielding a great amount of criticism. Even disregarding the moral arguments against New Zealand's decisions, the position we are in is a bad one.

In the international blame game, Tim Groser's approach has been to try to shift the focus on to emerging economies that refuse to reduce emissions despite growing wealth. While some of these economies have something to answer for, Groser's attempt to divert blame simply has not worked. In the context of the United Nations, clever politicking is not a substitute for real action. The world has made it clear that they will accept nothing less than action from developed countries.

While the Cabinet's decision to reject Kyoto has locked us into this bad economic situation until 2021, we can still patch up our international reputation. We have yet to announce our emissions reductions targets for the coming eight years under the convention, which leaves us the opportunity to deliver the commitment that the world has so clearly demanded of us. Providing substantial increases in finance to the nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including our Pacific neighbours, would also help to improve our integrity.

These solutions are simple but not easy. As a small economy highly dependent on exports and tourism, we need our international reputation. Being disgraced on the world stage means that we, as New Zealanders, will lose out. The sad thing in this case is that the world will lose out too.

The authors are members of the New Zealand Youth Delegation to the climate change talks in Doha. http://youthdelegation.org.nz/youth/

- NZ Herald

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