Comment: The only way to achieve our zero-carbon target and survive is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels – both urban and rural, writes Federated Farmers' Gavin Forrest

As a society, we should be making the most of the two election cycles in which we find ourselves.

With local government elections looming in October, politicians at local council levels are falling over themselves to declare climate change emergencies. Next year's general election will no doubt feature similar behaviour from their parliamentarian peers.

Cows and sheep are currently being touted as New Zealand's environmental bogeymen, ignoring the fact that the key driver of increased emissions is the country's reliance on fossil fuels to feed its aging vehicle fleet.

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New Zealand politicians are in a pickle because none of them have any re-electable solutions to sustainably reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

Trees not the solution

Continuing to plant more and more trees on farmland to temporarily sequester carbon is not the solution.

We will simply run out of space and have nowhere else to go if we do nothing about reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. We will also have to keep planting the same number of trees each year to maintain the benefits trees can provide.

So once farms are gone, where will you plant?

If reducing emissions was its purpose, the Emissions Trading Scheme is a complete failure. It's just another trading system forum in which we simply pay more to pollute.

Gavin Forrest is GM Policy and Advocacy at Federated Farmers. Photo / Supplied
Gavin Forrest is GM Policy and Advocacy at Federated Farmers. Photo / Supplied

Climate taxes have not worked anywhere on the planet they've ever been instigated. After all, our vehicle emissions have doubled since 1990.

Yes, there has been a call to increase the proportion of our electricity that is generated from renewable sources to 100 per cent – we need to understand that increasing the proportion of electricity generation that is renewable is, like taxing ruminants, a mere distraction.

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The only way to achieve our zero-carbon target and survive is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels – both urban and rural.

Switching to electric vehicles is not the answer if, as essentially the case is now, the increased electricity required is generated at the Huntly Power Station using imported coal.

Does Norway have the answer?

So Norway has the answer? That's certainly the impression some media channels give when they say Norway leads the way with their uptake of electric vehicles.

Our own Productivity Commission states that 80 per cent of our car imports will need to be electric by 2030, and nearly all New Zealand's fleet by 2050, if we're to meet our climate targets.

Norway's other great statistic we aspire to is that 98 per cent of its electricity is renewable. The Government of Norway also subsidises electric vehicles.

Great–or is it? Look closer.

The way the Norwegian government can afford that scheme is by paying for it with the nation's sales of coal and gas that make up about 60 per cent of its exports. Do any of us remember when the New Zealand Government decided to ban future exploration for oil and gas reserves? It was very recent.

Local councils must get on board

Dunedin City Council has recently declared a climate change emergency. Good on them. They follow a string of councils doing the same.

Wellington City Council also declared a climate change emergency – at the same time as its residents deal with a badly maimed public transport system that was overhauled in a way that has now cemented in local vocabularies the term 'ghost buses' (you are at your bus stop and your bus either drives right by you or no bus shows at all).

The Airport Flyer is worse as it has stopped using the city's great Snapper card payment systems. No wonder more residents are grabbing Ubers.

It's time to ask more of your local and national politicians as they face their respective elections.

Ask them what is needed from us all to make a real (not imagined) difference to climate change – because most of us want to do something to contribute, provided it works.

Of equal importance, ask them what they, as our representatives, are going to do themselves to show us the way.

- Gavin Forrest is GM Policy and Advocacy at Federated Farmers.