It's with relief I report that Paris is still Paris. I lived here for several years in my early 20s, and the terror attacks have not slowed or stymied this magic city.

There's definitely increased security (I've acclimatised to Kalashnikovs), but people are getting on with life. For the 40,000 people who've gathered at the COP21 climate conference on the outskirts of the city, that means getting on with the not-insignificant task of saving the planet. All going well, by this time next week, a deal will have been struck that genuinely makes a difference to the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Things got off to a good start, with a record set on day one - more world leaders in one place than at any other time in history. 150 to be precise. And they said all the right things. Barack Obama: "I actually think we're going to do it. I actually think we're going to solve this thing". Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "Canada is back!"

But will it work? Will we get an agreement that limits global warming to well below 2°C (ideally 1.5°C), the point at which scientists say dangerous and irreversible climate change sets in? Behind the scenes, the going is slow and sticking points many. At the end of the first week, there was a degree of frustration and disappointment at how little ground had been covered. "Congratulations on the effort but progress is too slow," the COP president told negotiators.


The main blockages are these: should a distinction be made in the agreement between developed and developing countries? To what extent should richer countries pay to help poor countries to mitigate and adapt? Should richer countries be liable for "loss and damage" in places like the Pacific, which are already bearing the brunt of extreme weather events? And should countries' emission reduction commitments be legally binding?

Which brings me to how New Zealand is placed here in Paris. We are not covering ourselves in glory, that's for sure.

On the first day of talks, we were crowned "fossil of the day" due to John Key's hypocrisy over fossil fuel subsidies. The Prime Minister took to the international stage calling for these subsidies to be phased out, while back home he's throwing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year into finding new oil deposits.

The emissions reduction target New Zealand has tabled (an 11 per cent cut on 1990 levels by 2030) has been analysed by independent international experts as "inadequate" and little more than "creative accounting". Without that clever accounting, our pledge translates into an 11 per cent increase in emissions by 2030 - hardly a constructive contribution. In September the Greens released a detailed analysis showing New Zealand could reduce its emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

The fact the New Zealand Government has no plan to meet its target is equally problematic - our emissions are expected to keep rising sharply over the coming decade. But New Zealand's real coup de gras (otherwise known as "finishing blow' in French) is our Government's campaign for countries' emission reduction targets to be non-binding under any agreement.

The world's ability to effectively manage climate change rests on countries being legally obliged to reduce emissions. Only this will give confidence each signatory will deliver on their commitments, and make the agreement durable in the face of changing governments. It's the simple difference between saying you'll do something and doing it.
For New Zealand to call for the targets to be non-binding was to admit defeat from the outset. It demonstrates a lack of ambition that, sadly, has characterised New Zealand's approach to climate negotiations for years now.

Why the lack of ambition? Put simply, a strong deal is against National Government's interests; it has too much riding on a pollution economy, the mainstays of which are oil and gas exploration, intensive agriculture and motorways.

Finally, we need to consider New Zealand's record on climate. The National Government has refused to acknowledge the threat of climate change, or seize the opportunities inherent in taking action to mitigate it, As a result, New Zealand is here in Paris with one of the poorest emission reduction records of all developed nations at the talks. While most OECD countries reduced their emissions between 2000-2012, New Zealand's rose 25 per cent.


Climate change minister Tim Groser will, as ever, attempt to portray himself as a realist; a deal broker with his heart in the right place. But behind the scenes and under his watch, New Zealand will be whittling down ambition. Mr Groser has a history of lowering the bar in terms of what can be achieved at these talks.

Our weak emissions reduction target, our lack of a plan, and our failure so far to cut emissions make it hard to be proud to be a New Zealander here in Paris.

There is one week to go. Will New Zealand step up? Will this be a watershed moment for the world? Like never before, there is everything to play for.

Julie Anne Genter is a Green Party MP.