It was tempting for me to indulge in a thought experiment as to whether this prolonged Covid pandemic will buy nations more time for adaptation to the global warming challenge.
Jacinda Ardern does not have this luxury.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has done more to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the short-term than intentional moves by Governments, companies and consumers — there is a caveat.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has some sobering comments. It says the global response to the Covid-19 crisis has in fact had little real impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2.
In 2020, carbon emissions fell dramatically due to lockdowns that have cut transport and industry severely. Due to lockdowns in early 2020, carbon emissions fell by 17 per cent at their peak but the impact on overall concentrations of CO2 has been small.
Preliminary estimates suggest that CO2 will continue to increase but that rise will be reduced by 0.08 to 0.23ppm.
So, Prime Minister, the time is here to make good on your pledge that climate change is your generation's nuclear-free moment. And to do something concrete to reduce NZ's increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
There is simply no alternative for Ardern but to deal with two major challenges at once: Covid-19 and climate change.
It is a relatively simple matter to seal New Zealand off from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cross fingers.
But in the latter case, New Zealand risks becoming an international pariah if the Government does not step up. We know this. And just as with Covid-19 there are no quick fixes.
The Climate Change Commission has centred on what really matters: getting a physical reduction in New Zealand greenhouse gases. It has not fallen prey to the arrant nonsense that New Zealand can continue to increase emissions as long as it can mitigate this by, for instance, paying for trees planted in some faraway land. This notion has always been somewhat facile. But it is finally time for some intellectual rigour.
Unfortunately, the commission did not treat the unveiling of its momentous draft proposals to combat greenhouse emissions in New Zealand last weekend with the importance they deserved.
The raft of policies the commission proposes are forecast to clip about 1 per cent off gross domestic product (GDP) each year. That is a strong slap to the economy.
There should have been an appropriate briefing or lockup where journalists and representatives of the most affected sectors — particularly agribusiness, transport and heavy industry — could discuss detail with the commission before its proposals were published.
Instead, the commission's report was shifted on to the political fast train with Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw taking questions from unbriefed reporters at a press conference in Auckland last Sunday on that province's Anniversary weekend. Are they serious? This cavalier approach to such significant economic change should not be repeated.
The commission's climate proposals call for steeper and earlier cuts in fossil fuels than on prior timetables. Take just one example. The commission wants coal and gas consumption to reduce to just one-quarter of current usage by 2035.
That is a massive shift in just 15 years. It has implications for heavy industry in New Zealand. It can really only be achieved by regulation, not by consensus alone. Although there is a strong constituency of New Zealand companies which are up for the challenge. And not by science either in the short-term.
Unfortunately, the commission is backing more trees; more plantation forests and more permanent native forests on less productive land as an offset.
In an environment where some prime export industries — think export education and tourism — have been decimated by Covid, would it not make sense to preserve as much agricultural land as possible?
There is also a heightened fire risk to factor it. The dairy industry will be seriously affected. To its credit the sector is exploring various methods to reduce cow emissions. But the commission has stressed it may be necessary to cut herd numbers — if so, how will that be achieved equitably?
The commission's overall proposals are well known. At a domestic level, it recommends no new petrol fuelled cars should be imported after 2032. And no new natural gas connections to NZ homes after 2025.
In reality, car manufacturers are phasing out petrol cars in any event with GM announcing it will no longer sell gasoline powered cars by 2035.
Ardern and Shaw are facing up to climate change realities. But the impetus will come from offshore as much as here.