The UN's annual conferences of its Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) have never let me down.

In over a decade writing political columns, I have predicted their failure every year and never once been wrong.

This time 28,000 people are jetting in to Katowice, in Poland, purportedly to progress the so-called Paris Rulebook through which commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement can be measured.


The Paris Agreement, in turn, emerged from the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, hastily put together by US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao after the UN failed to even prepare a negotiating text that year.

This decade of flying around was needed when it became clear the 1997 Kyoto Protocol had failed and would not be extended.

Despite some self-laudatory statements, Katowice will similarly fail. There is no prospect of the six biggest emitters — China, the US, the EU, India, Russia and Japan, together responsible for two-thirds of emissions — agreeing a meaningful "rulebook".

The seventh, Brazil, is usually a leader among developing economies and was scheduled to host next year's jamboree.

Last week it cancelled, with its incoming Foreign Minister believing climate change is a Marxist plot.

The failure of the bloated FCCC process was predictable right from the start. Successful global initiatives on environmental issues, from saving the whales to repairing the ozone hole, have been driven by smaller groups of countries led by those primarily responsible for causing the problem and with the capability to fix it. The same is true on security, nuclear weapons and trade.

New Zealand, as on most global issues, is entirely irrelevant on climate change with a couple of exceptions.

At the margins, New Zealand might help show how to move from 80 per cent renewable electricity generation to 100 per cent. Reducing domestic emissions may also be valued as an act of self-expression, regardless of its effect on the climate.


More powerfully, New Zealand can take a world leadership role in reducing the 22 per cent of global emissions that come from methane and nitrous oxide.

On almost all efforts to reduce emissions New Zealand is a technology-taker, but on agricultural science it has world-leading institutions that could make a global contribution comparable with anything from the great powers.

Talks to achieve consensus between the Government and Opposition on climate change policy continue behind closed doors.

Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges attend but the real work is done by Climate Change Minister James Shaw and National's Todd Muller.

The key issues are the powers and mandate of the proposed Climate Change Commission (CCC) plus the emissions-reduction targets to be written into law.

Will the CCC be a quasi-legislative body, able to regulate without reference to the Government or Parliament? Will it at least have some independent tools of its own, like the Reserve Bank? Or will it just write reports, like the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment?

In terms of mandate, will the CCC be primarily concerned with what contribution New Zealand can make to reducing global emissions through agricultural science and other technological innovations?

Or will it be mainly focused on reducing New Zealand's almost irrelevant domestic emissions?

For the latter, will the targets be aspirational and symbolic but obviously unattainable, like John Key's goal of reducing emissions by over a quarter within 12 years or Ardern's hyperbole of zero net emissions by 2050?

Or will they be kept within the realms of possibility so they can in fact create a realistic pathway for other countries with much more significant emissions to follow?

When Shaw and Muller reach agreement, they must then sell it to their colleagues and wider stakeholder groups.

Shaw has kept his environmental networks in the loop. Muller has held dozens of meetings around the country with National Party members, farmers, business owners and the general public to ensure that whatever he agrees is both ambitious and able to be embraced by National's constituency.

Before final agreement, NZ First will need to be brought on board.

Winston Peters may see political advantage in campaigning against any Labour-Green-National deal, but that would surely first demand his resignation as Foreign Minister.

Permanent cross-party agreement on climate change policy would provide a platform for New Zealand scientists to make Manhattan or Apollo Project-type contributions to the global methane and nitrous oxide issues, while providing domestic certainty to businesses and households, and delivering the expressive value that the environmental movement craves.

It would be a more significant contribution to New Zealand's, and even the world's, efforts to reduce emissions than whatever puffery emerges out of Katowice next week.

- Matthew Hooton is managing director of PR and corporate affairs firm Exceltium.