Michael Barnett: We need to wag the dog on climate change

Newspaper Published Source
The New Zealand Herald 2020-12-07 Link

Storm front moves over Auckland City during a wet weekend in June, 2020. Photo / Dean Purcell. OPINION Scenes of crumbling sea walls, one in 100-year floods ripping through towns, water rationing from the one in 200-year Auckland drought, hillsides slipping, sending houses crashing into the sea, wildlife habitats destroyed by rising tides and insurers threatening to walk away from providing cover for houses on the coast. Yikes. The climate change emergency is not a result of what New Zealand has done or not done. Stop the blame game and stop demanding our tiny economy does more right here and now. It is the collective impact of what other countries are doing – or not doing that fuels the problems. Our government has declared a climate emergency. Hardly a "nuclear moment", but it is big on symbolism, short on funding, yet high in ideals to be carbon zero by 2050 with an action plan to make Government buildings go green and new fleet cars - with those non-disposable batteries - electric by 2025. We could be forgiven for being very afraid, deciding not to have children to add to the global carbon footprint or the impending environmental and social apocalypse from global warming. Armageddon is not here. Only our ignorance and complacency are coming to an end. New Zealand is in the club with 32 other countries to declare a climate change emergency. We are acting and we are making progress in living up to the goals set by the Paris Agreement. We take climate change very very seriously and are doing our bit. But let's get real. New Zealand is not a big polluter, contributing just 0.17 per cent of global emissions, high for our size, because of greenhouse gas emissions from animal methane. Those millions of burping, grass-chewing animals produce the dairy, lamb, wool and beef exports that keep our economy ticking over and help feed the world. And every year our on-farm environmental, conservation and production innovation, technology and breeding programmes will deliver ongoing improvements and mitigations to manage the effects of climate change. Ordinary Kiwis are no slackers either and we will continue to see behavioural changes at home, work and play, as we take to heart, one and all, the invocation to build back better to care for people - and the environment. We are not China, producing 25 per cent of global emissions; the USA, responsible for 15 per cent; or India emitting 7 per cent, Russia 5 per cent or Japan 3 per cent. We are not one of the countries firing up the coal burning power stations to run factories, heedless of ethical work and environmental standards, or accelerating fossil fuel production to maintain the petrol-head status quo. New Zealand needs to keep on striving to do what is right to make a difference with a workable set of goals, targets and plans to build a clean, green economy. But, without diffusing the urgency to act, we cannot keep overreacting to the slightest international criticisms or over-reach by damning everything we do now. We are one of the world's best, most efficient producers of natural products. The world wants what we have got. Even our style of politics and leadership, it seems, is on the right side of history at present. Our reputation and the influence are riding high as we are heralded for beating Covid-19 and galvanising a nation. The biggest impact we can have on climate change is to use our international status to advocate, inspire and move the world to act collectively for the greater good. The pandemic has demonstrated the power of we, of what can be achieved by working together, but it takes courage to have conversations with those big economies which wield such might and continue to hug the past and its pollutants. This is the time our little country at the bottom of the world can step up and wag the dog. • Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.