New Zealand has picked up the embarrassing honour of being named the most regressive country at the Paris climate change talks.

John Key has been quoted saying that "New Zealand doesn't need to be and shouldn't be a leader in climate change." But even if we are not going to be a leader in this space, I am not sure if it is good for our country to be the worst in the world.

With largely renewable electricity generation in New Zealand, it seems terrible that we are embarrassed like this on the international stage. It can hardly be good for the reputation of our exporters - who happen to be the cause of over 50 per cent of our emissions.

Our leader has spoken out about reducing subsidies for fossil fuels - a seemingly insane angle to focus on given that his own government has increased these type of subsidies over 700 per cent since coming to power in 2008.

With my basic knowledge of the political economy, I thought that right-wing governments aim to remove subsidies as they create economic efficiencies.

I would have thought that if you wanted to subsidise anything, it would be planting trees next to waterways. This creates long-term, sustainable value in ecosystem services by removing nutrients, stabilising erosion, improving biodiversity, cleaning the air (which reduces health costs) and, of course, reducing carbon emissions.

The other great thing about restoring waterways is that the farmers love it just as much (if not more) than the tree-huggers themselves. All the farmers I have spoken to who have planted trees on their land are super proud of them - often it is their favourite part of the farm, where they go to relax and reduce stress. Perhaps this could be a good way to invest some of the half a million dollars of funding that has been put towards looking after the mental state of farmers?

But of course, subsidies are always going to be hard to implement and make fair. Someone always has to pay who doesn't want to and there is only ever so much money in the pot - meaning that there has to be a loser.

However if things like trees were to be given a helping hand due to the value that they add, or making it easier to avoid fossil fuel-driven vehicles we can all take a stand personally and be healthier, which makes long-term economic sense.

I am super proud of Auckland Council for taking a stand against the plague of car traffic and removing a lane out of Nelson Street (one of the CBD's arterial routes) to implement a cycle lane which opens today.


What makes this project - touted as New Zealand's most ambitious piece of cycling infrastructure - so clever, is that it links up with the waterfront cycle routes and shows that Auckland Transport is actually progressing on doing something tangible towards their goals of relieving traffic congestion. As I have mentioned before, many find that it is simply too dangerous to use a bicycle without safe areas.

Check out the new cycleway here:

But many people complain that it is too hard to get up and down the steep hills that abound in places like Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. It is indeed not ideal if you are turning up to a meeting in the middle of the day smelling like a packhorse in summer. But innovation now allows us to overcome this challenge through the use of electric motors that help us along, such as these.

There is even now an electric bike that is designed for a farm and is making plenty of waves in this space.

So the uptake of this is that we need to get up and do something about this problem rather than just talk about it. So take a stand, get out and plant trees, or get on your bike. Or otherwise, tell me what else we could do that would work?