Stuart Smith is right. He's the National MP tasked with setting out his party's position on climate change and yesterday he made a big call. The Government has made a four-year, $1.3 billion commitment to help developing countries meet the climate challenge and Smith declared: now is not the time.
It's true. The Covid crisis is ruining lives and businesses, dividing families and setting New Zealanders against each other. Now is not the time to be distracting ourselves from the effort needed to get through it all. Nobody needs another crisis as well.
But I do have a question. When's the right time?
The world meets in Glasgow at the end of next week, for the most important talks on the climate crisis since Paris in 2015. Arguably, it will be the most important climate talks ever.
It's definitely not a good time. These talks were supposed to happen a year ago, but Covid put a stop to that. And although they're happening now, the world is still being ravaged by the disease.
Covid deaths are tracking up and vaccination rates are tracking down, even though only a third of the world's eight billion people have had both shots.
And there's not much good news from Britain, host of the climate talks. On a proportional basis, it's the country second worst affected by Covid: as of yesterday, 138,997 deaths had been reported, 3462 of them in the last 28 days.
There are countries heading to Glasgow whose Covid prospects are dire. India has fully vaccinated only 20 per cent of the population. Nigeria has managed it for just over 1 per cent.
Both those countries, like all their neighbours, also face the prospect of droughts, floods and other climate impacts far in excess of what we are likely to encounter here.
Although, to be fair, the flood-stricken residents of Kumeu, Greymouth, Ashburton, Gisborne and Marlborough might want to say this winter was plenty bad enough. And they'd be right about that. Covid sucks up most of the media oxygen but the climate crisis is upon us all.
With the Glasgow conference looming, a few bald facts are hard to ignore.
Such as: The world is supposed to reduce its emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, but we're on track for a mere 12 per cent fall. It's a crisis we're pitching ourselves headlong into.
If we do miss that 45 per cent goal in just nine years, we won't be able to stop the Earth's average temperature rising 1.5C above what it was in 1880. That will be devastating for hundreds of millions of people, among them our own neighbours, the peoples of the Pacific.
Another inescapably bald fact: Covid has wrecked the best-laid plans of every country on Earth. Public health services have been stretched to breaking, monetary orthodoxy has been annihilated by debt and international supply chains are collapsing.
There's a worldwide energy crisis which, cruel irony, has led to a boom in coal and other fossil fuels. Many democratic governments lack the popular support they need to act decisively on the climate, while many undemocratic ones seem barely interested in trying.
So, Stuart, of course it's not a good time. It's a terrible time. But it never will be a good time.
The $1.3 billion over four years Smith complained about is part of a Paris commitment by developed countries to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries transition to new technologies.
Smith said $1.3 billion is four times greater than our previous commitment. That's true: since Paris we've given, in total, only about $300 million.
He also declared, rather boldly, that the National Party "knows that emissions targets need to be met, because we signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015 when we were in government".
Well, hang on. The New Zealand contribution is supposed to be about $500 million a year. That's $2 billion over four years. Despite Smith's complaints, we're still not going to meet our commitments.
We're not alone. The $100 billion annual target has never been met: the closest developed countries have come was 2019, when $80 billion was committed.
This will be a hot topic at Glasgow because developing countries are angry about it. They argue that it's not fair simply to require them to give up on the economic growth made possible by fossil fuels – the very thing that made developed countries so powerful last century.
The $100 billion deal, therefore, is a commitment by the countries that created the crisis to help the others achieve economic progress with cleaner technologies.
The Green's James Shaw, Climate Minister but with little leverage, had his game face on last week when he joined with the Prime Minister to announce the long-awaited proposals for our Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP).
The plan is moderate. The Government still seems to have high hopes for the Emissions Trading Scheme, which encourages forestry at the expense of lowering emissions. Business NZ hailed this as a good thing.
But Lawyers for Climate Action co-founder James Every-Palmer QC called the ERP "deeply disappointing".
"Over the last three decades we have relied on CO2 removals from forestry," he said, "instead of tackling how much we emit."
He pointed out that during 2022-25 forestry will contribute less than in the previous decade and therefore "our net emissions will increase significantly over this period at the very time when the science says they must be falling rapidly".
There are also several transport proposals. All Aboard Aotearoa's Paul Winton wasn't impressed: "The science is indisputable," he said. "We need to reduce [transport] emissions by well over 70 per cent by 2030 if we are to pull our weight internationally in line with agreed climate science. Yet the government is proposing reductions of less than a third of this."
The transport proposals won't even meet the Climate Change Commission's target of a 41 per cent reduction from 2019 levels by 2035.
Still, at least transport is addressed. Agriculture is still not expected to make any contribution to emissions reduction before 2025, and it's not clear what will happen after then.
"It is frustrating," said Jenny Cooper QC, also from Lawyers for Climate Action, "that agriculture continues to have a free pass and that the Government is still at an early stage of developing policies in key areas such as energy and industry."
This didn't stop Stuart Smith from complaining that "James Shaw needs to urgently push pause on his plans to reach into every aspect of Kiwi lives in the name of climate change".
That's the idea, Stuart. Climate change is about all of us. Shaw needs more "all of Government" influence, not less.
Smith has turned down an invitation from Shaw to go to Glasgow. That's a shame. Jacinda Ardern is not going either, which is understandable, given the Covid crisis, but also unfortunate.
It would be good for everyone if they were both exposed to, and perhaps inspired by, the desperation and hope of so many countries and so many people who really are determined to deal with this crisis.
People who know perfectly well that now is not a good time, but it's the only time we have left.