10 Jul 2024

Climate strategy 'as useful as teats on a bull', Greenpeace says

8:29 pm on 10 July 2024
Forest & Bird and Forest & Bird Youth hung this banner off a bridge in Wharekirauponga, Coromandel Forest Park on 21 October to protest mining on conservation land.

350 Aotearoa says it is "meaningless" to announce the five pillars when the government was open to mining on conservation land. (Pictured is a banner hung by Forest & Bird and Forest & Bird Youth off a bridge in Wharekirauponga, Coromandel Forest Park to protest mining on conservation land in 2022.) Photo: Supplied / Forest & Bird

Greenpeace says the government's five pillar strategy for tackling climate change is "about as useful as teats on a bull".

The government announced its five climate pillars on Wednesday, but did not reveal any policy detail, saying that was coming in the next two weeks.

Climate Change Minister Simon Watts said the three-page strategy was a "comprehensive" and "ambitious" plan to reduce the impacts of climate change and prepare for its future effects.

Each of the five pillars was accompanied by three aspirational bullet points (e.g. "The costs of reducing emissions are minimised") arising from the core goal set out in each pillar, but with no explanation as to how all this would be achieved. More details have been promised in the forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan.

Climate groups slammed the strategy as meaningless and including nothing that would combat climate change.

Climate scientists and researchers were also highly critical, pointing to the lack of specificity, given how long the government has been in office and the large number of climate policies it has repealed.

Greenpeace said the strategy was "about as useful as teats on a bull".

Greenpeace Aotearoa spokesperson Sinéad Deighton-O'Flynn said the "so-called climate strategy" was a "kick in the guts for people around Aotearoa who had their homes and communities flooded recently due to extreme weather events."

She said the strategy included nothing that would actually combat climate change and revealed a reliance on what Greenpeace called "unproven and unreliable" technofixes.

350 Aotearoa said it was "meaningless" to announce the five pillars when government announcements since the election had been dominated by reopening oil and gas exploration and mining on conservation land.

The group's co-director, Lisa Mclaren, said: "Meeting New Zealand's Paris obligations requires a focus on phasing out fossil fuels. Yet this government has made no plans to do the thing that really matters ...

"It is ridiculous that the government is putting such a focus on adapting to climate change whilst actively promoting policies like mining and oil exploration that will make it worse."

Green group Pure Advantage was slightly more complimentary, albeit in a slightly backhanded way, praising the pillar of using "nature-based" solutions such as native forests.

"We commend the government on their five pillar strategy to deliver climate change goals. This is in stark contrast to the recent onslaught of environmental policy downgrades and repeals for New Zealand's climate action since the coalition came into power, so we welcome the vision," said the group.

'Several contradictions in the government's plan'

Climate scientists and researchers were similarly unimpressed.

University of Canterbury political science Professor Bronwyn Hayward, an author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had some positive comments.

University of Canterbury Professor Bronwyn Hayward.

Canterbury University political science Professor Bronwyn Hayward. Photo: Supplied

The five-pillar approach was an important statement for the National-led coalition, Prof Hayward said, but "the question now is, what are the foundations that will support those pillars and ensure coordinated, effective outcomes?"

The government was trying to find ways to unite its support groups, including farming and industry, "some of whom have been wary of the implications of climate action for their future", she said.

However, gains on climate over the past three years could be lost if the Climate Change Commission was downscaled, as the government planned to do, and the government failed to overhaul the Emissions Trading Scheme, she said.

"The good news is that we have finally matured politically as a country in that all our major political parties now recognise that there are urgent pressing problems due to climate change. This was not the case even eight years ago."

University of Waikato senior climate change lecturer Luke Harrington said there were "several contradictions in the government's plan".

University of Waikato environmental science senior lecturer Dr Luke Harrington.

Senior climate change lecturer Luke Harrington. Photo: Supplied / University of Waikato

"For example, the installation of more fast (EV) chargers is largely pointless if you simultaneously collapse the market by removing all incentives to purchase an EV and introduce new disincentives. EV sales have plummeted in recent months as a direct result of recent policy decisions," he said.

Since the election, the government has removed subsidies for EVs, watered down planned rules on tailpipe emissions of new imports, and brought in road user charges for electric vehicles. It also promised 10,000 public EV chargers by 2030.

"Similarly, the government knows how to turn the Emissions Trading Scheme into a credible market - they just seem unwilling to make the necessary changes that were recommended by the Climate Change Commission," Harrington said.

"Building resilience to future weather extremes sounds great, but this requires adequate resourcing to ensure councils can adapt to these ever-worsening climate extremes.

"There also needs to be targeted regulation to ensure we're not building new things in places where they will just be destroyed by the next weather event."

Harrington said he liked the aspiration of having more native forests, and "it would be brilliant if the government put forward clear commitments about how many additional hectares of native forest will be restored or replanted over the coming decades".

Sara Walton

Professor Sara Walton. Photo: Supplied

University of Otago Climate Change Research Network co-director Professor Sara Walton said the strategy lacked specificity.

"Some climate subsidies have been removed and decarbonisation is not a significant part of recent transport polices nor changes to the Resource Management Act with the Fast Track Bill," Walton said.

"To realise these five pillars and for meaningful climate action, we would expect to see a suite of policies to support the change needed to, for example, foster innovation and transformation within industries.

"Thus far into the government's term, it would seem that strengthening environmental legislation has not been on the agenda."

Minister promises full transparency on emissions cuts

Watts has promised full transparency on the government's plans to cut emissions when the government begins consultation on its Emissions Reduction Plan for 2026 through to 2030 within the next two weeks, and possibly sooner.

"The Emissions Reduction Plan will set out policy proposals across the five pillars and focus on the largest drivers of emissions in New Zealand - energy, transport, agriculture, and waste sectors."

The plan is a legislative requirement, and sets out how the government will go about achieving the reductions demanded by New Zealand's international commitments.

The first ERP was unveiled by the previous Labour government in 2022.

"We want to be transparent and clear with New Zealanders in regards to the options that we have available to hit our targets, what we're going to focus on, and how much impact each of those initiatives will deliver," Watts said when announcing the five pillars in Auckland on Wednesday.

Watts' climate announcement followed two by Energy Minister Simeon Brown the previous day, of a new draft framework for carbon capture, and a watering down of standards aimed at improving fuel efficiency - and therefore emissions.

That second change came after lobbying from the petrol and diesel car industry that the clean car changes went too far.

Watts said the aim of the change was to bring New Zealand's standards in line with Australia's, and would have a comparatively small effect on emissions.

"Clean car standards ... in terms of overall impact, have quite a insignificant impact," he said.

Watts said climate change could often be seen as a challenge, and a difficult area, but he did not want to view it that way.

"I think the way in which I want to frame climate change is: yes, while it is challenging, it also presents New Zealanders with a significant opportunity, and an opportunity to play to our strengths."

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