Winston Peters: Balance and Commonsense on Climate Change

Opinion 16/05/2019

By the Rt. Hon Winston Peters, NZ First Leader, Deputy Prime Minister.

The reaction to the announcement of the government’s climate change policy has been interesting to observe. On one hand some environmental purists have considered that the policy doesn’t go far enough. On the other, some agricultural sector groups, notably Federated Farmers, consider the setting of a methane target of one percent a year until 2030 as too ambitious.

Any government will say that if both sides of the spectrum are unhappy with the policy then they’ve got it about right. So, too, with climate change.

Nevertheless, it is useful to point out New Zealand First’s position when negotiating with our coalition and confidence and supply partners on developing an enduring response to the challenge of our changing climate.

First off, we all have the sense that our weather patterns are disturbed.

The intensity and frequency of storms create increasingly difficult challenges for both cities and the regions in terms of risk and disaster recovery. A New Zealand Foreign Minister is also acutely aware of our Pacific neighbours, countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati, experiencing climate change and rising sea level as existential threats.

The last National Government presumably recognised this also by signing the country up to the Paris Agreement in 2016, thereby committing New Zealand to the goal of limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5° Celsius.

The status quo, therefore, was seen as untenable which is why New Zealand First sought in its Coalition Agreement with Labour the creation of an independent Climate Change Commission and the introduction of a (net) Zero Carbon Bill.

We were pleased that the commitments made by Labour were honoured this week.

From the outset of the climate change negotiation New Zealand First had the interests of the agriculture sector at heart. We wanted to provide as much certainty to the agricultural sector as possible, so ensured that:

  • The Climate Change Commission would not have the statutory independence of the Reserve Bank.
  • New Zealand’s unique methane profile was acknowledged by splitting carbon dioxide and methane gases in the policy.
  • Setting a methane target of a 10 percent reduction from 2020 to 2030 would provide certainty for the agriculture sector as it transitions to a low emissions future.
  • Unnecessary advisory groups supporting the Climate Change Commission were stripped away.

New Zealand First is pleased to have achieved these commonsense changes which provide necessary balance to the Climate Change Bill. We listened carefully to the many thoughtful members of the agricultural sector and these discussions helped inform the position we took in negotiations.

We also paid close attention to the raft of officials’ advice and the effective bovine-induced biogenic methane target, if projected out to 2050, of 26.7 percent lands squarely inside the consensus of multi-agency advice we received.

While the response to the government’s climate change announcement has been mixed, some of the rhetoric of agricultural sector leaders has been dangerously over the top. Armed with selective science to advance their narrow self-interest, the doom and gloom merchants on that side have no more merit than the environmental purists who would destroy our agricultural sector altogether.

New Zealand First never lost sight of the fact that New Zealand’s contribution to global warming is a paltry 0.17 percent.

While brand New Zealand is most certainly enhanced by our setting ambitious climate change targets, and we firmly believe the country needs to exhibit leadership and do its share to try and limit global temperature increases, we’ve struck a balance that allows for a managed and predictable transition.

To this end, New Zealand First is committed to assisting the agricultural sector through that transition with hugely discounted emissions costs, better tools and knowledge to help them manage emissions and other environmental factors, plus increased investment in research and development on ways to reduce emissions.

We will work alongside the sector on how it wants the free allocation to agriculture from its entry into the Emissions Trading System to be channelled back to the sector. When recently discussing climate change policies with the Danish Foreign Minister, our delegation was impressed with the billions being invested by the Danes into research to reduce emissions.

That is an opportunity now open to the agriculture sector.

How does it want its free allocation distributed? The question of how much should be fed directly to farmers to assist their mitigation efforts and what proportion of the free allocation be directed to fund sector-wide research and development into methane inhibitors, vaccines and other new technologies is now firmly in focus. New Zealand First will listen very closely to, and work with, the agriculture sector about their preferences.

New Zealand First strove to achieve common sense climate change policy that provided as much balance as our position afforded us in negotiations because we know that the overwhelming majority of farmers are already on to this and want a sustainable future, one that will allow them to bequeath the fruits of their labour to their children and grandchildren.

Winston Peters is Leader of New Zealand First and Deputy Prime Minister.