Farming leaders are meeting the government today to discuss problems with the Zero Carbon Bill.
National MPs voted for the Bill at yesterday’s first reading but expressed serious concerns over details:
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National): The National Party takes climate change seriously. I want to just reflect on the fact that, as a Minister of the Crown, in my last three years I lead on electrification of our vehicle fleet, of our energy system, and wider than simply electricity, that when it comes to renewables, we saw New Zealand go from 65 percent in electricity to some 85 percent—and, on a good day, 90 percent. By the way, the trend right now is downwards. So, we understand these issues. We take these issues seriously.
I gave—in fact, in one of my first speeches as leader of the National Party, at Field Days, on the issue of climate change last year. I set out our principles and our desire to be bipartisan on this issue, because I agree with James Shaw that it is too important—economically, socially, and, clearly, environmentally—for petty partisanship. Can I acknowledge Todd Muller in relation to that, for having done an outstanding job of thinking through the difficult and the intricate economic, social, environmental issues that go with this area of reform, and for working hard with James Shaw, with the Prime Minister, and with me on this law change.
What I said in that speech at Field Days was, yes, we believed—in fact, before the Government had stated their position, I think—in an independent advisory climate commission, with the requisite expertise economically, socially, environmentally, to do the work and the mahi required. I set out our principles in this area that we would follow and that we think should be followed on climate change. It is science based—that we work heavily on innovation and technology; that there are appropriate economic signals; that we are in step with and work closely with our international partners; and that we think very carefully and understand the economic impact of this. I am glad to say that in the bill that is before this Parliament right now those principles that we outlined are there, as is the split treatment of gases that we made clear in that speech, and our position was the right approach. Those principles, those things, as I say, are in the bill. For those reasons, the National Party will vote for this bill at the first reading, but I want to be very clear with the Government: on this bill, we have real differences with the Government, and I’ve made them clear to the Hon James Shaw, to the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, and indeed to the New Zealand First Party. We need to see change in this law.
The primary area of difference that we have—it may not surprise the Parliament—is in relation to the methane target. There is, in short, no satisfactory basis for setting the targets in 2030 and 2050 as high as the Government has chosen to do in this bill. The 2030 target is negative 10 percent, the 2050 target is negative 24 to 47 percent, and I reflect, when I think about the 2030 target, on what James Shaw has realistically, I think, said himself: that emissions in New Zealand are going to rise into and beyond the mid-2020s. So he is making it quite clear to New Zealand, in terms of methane and agriculture and what needs to be done, that that change is literally in the last three, four, five years before that target is to be met in 2030.
The stark reality is that the science isn’t there yet. I am all for investment in the science. I argued, in the previous Cabinet, that we needed to increase the funding we were making in Palmerston North in science in the Global Research Alliance to make sure— . .
I say, actually, that biotech is an incredibly important part of this answer. I think it’s a tragedy that the Green Party outright rules it out and the Labour Party isn’t sure of its position. Actually, Sir Peter Gluckman and people like William Rolleston, who know what they’re talking about, have made quite clear that it is an essential part of the answer. The reality is that, without doing that, by 2030 we will be culling significantly our herds. That’s not alarmist; that’s the reality of the situation. When half of our exports around the world are food, Mr Peters, who’s shaking his head on this issue, that’s how we pay our way around the world, and we take that seriously as well.
No one else—none of our partners—are doing this. They may have moved in other areas. There is not a country in this world, no First World nation, that is moving on agriculture, in what is a global problem that requires global leadership. But also, if we act unilaterally, it simply sends that production offshore, and 2050—a target set by the other side, unilaterally cherry picked, I’m sorry to say, for political purposes from parts of the United Nations report, but economically disastrous, wrong on the science. Don’t trust me; ask the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, ask Professor David Frame, ask many of the experts in the science throughout New Zealand who argue for a much lower target of 10 to 22 percent methane reduction, a target too high in this bill for the National Party and for New Zealand. The whole purpose of this bill, it seems to me, in dealing with climate change is based around an independent climate commission that provides reasoned, worked-through, evidence-based advice, and my position certainly is that that is where we should be sending the methane targets for an answer on that issue to be thought through. The Government will say that’s non-binding but certainly, if done well, difficult to ignore, and I’ve made those points to the Prime Minister and others.
I’m also concerned and the National Party, on behalf of New Zealanders, is deeply concerned about the wider economic impact of this law. We take climate change seriously, but we cannot accept—indeed, we believe it’s naive—when James Shaw stands up in this House and says that it’s the single greatest economic opportunity for us in at least a generation. James Shaw—I respect him; he believes we can bend the arc on climate change quite quickly, rip the plaster off and get to some sort of economic innovation nation nirvana. Well, the reality is not that simple. Short of someone inventing the new iPhone or the next great big thing, this will have very real economic consequences on working Kiwis, on working New Zealand families and on their petrol costs and their electricity costs and their incomes and their jobs. Indeed, the RIS on this bill—the regulatory impact statement—makes quite clear that, even with a tailwind, there is $300 billion of cost to 2050 on the New Zealand economy and New Zealand workers and families; a reduction in gross domestic product by 9 percent in GDP, $10 billion to $12 billion a year; and indeed at 2050 a $45 billion smaller economy.
So I say: let’s have an honest discussion with New Zealanders about this—the costs and the trade-offs—but let’s be clear, Hon James Shaw, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, that those costs are real. There’s a phenomenon in our rural communities, which I’m sure others in my party will speak about—but what is happening right now with dairy conversions and other farming conversions and the very real effect of this Government’s policies, the billion trees and so on, for no good, that’s actually resulting in a hollowing out already in some parts of New Zealand. We worry and we’re concerned about that on behalf of New Zealand.
We get climate change, we want bipartisanship, but all New Zealand needs to come on this journey. We want to see this bill changed—it’s essential that it is—so that we take out the politics; we do this on the policy. I urge New Zealanders to be heard on this, from the students to the farmers, right around the country. . .
TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to speak for the first time on the Climate Change Response, (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill. Just over a year ago, our leader, Simon Bridges, in the Fieldays, outlined our approach that we would take in the negotiations with the Government over this bill. He touched on some of the principles that he felt, from a National Party perspective, were absolutely critical to inform this commission’s judgment.
The first was the importance of broad science. The second was the fact that we needed as an economy to have access to innovation and technology to assist us on this journey. The third was that we needed to calibrate our response, aligned with our trading partners in the global response. Fourthly, we saw a key role in the emissions trading scheme as a signal and an incentive for the change over time. Fifthly—and most critically—that we assure ourselves of the economic costs of this transition. At the core of the National Party approach to this issue is that climate change is an issue that we have to confront as a collective country, but we do it best when we are informed in a dispassionate way about what the science is suggesting is available in terms of innovation for us to apply and what the economic costs are for this change.
We have had a fair discussion with the Government over the last 10 or 12 months. As I noted the last time I spoke—last week—for most of that period, it has been a very forthright and goodwill-based conversation between myself and my opposite number, James Shaw, and we are very pleased to see that in this legislation are the key tenets that underpin our principles and approach to climate change. There is science to inform the conversation and judgment of the commission. Innovation and the availability of that innovation is a critical part of their judgment. So is global response and so is the economic costs that we need to reflect on as a country, as is the importance of this commission being advisory and also the approach with respect to split gases. But, clearly, we have a challenge with respect to the target that has been landed with respect to methane.
I listened closely to what the Prime Minister said, and her speech today, more than anything else, reinforces the importance of having a commission to reflect on where this methane target should be. She spoke with authority in terms of her own interpretation of what the science says. She talked to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which says that minus 24 percent to minus 47 percent of an interquartile range of four illustrative pathways out of 85, and each one of those pathways is hugely challenging. Most of them actually don’t see the economies reaching the targets, and they say in that report they are not to be used for national guidance. She used one line out of that and said, “That that works, and I’m cloaking science and the credibility of my comments around that.” It is nonsense. That interquartile range is just one line from a series of illustrative pathways that can be considered by countries as they walk this journey. David Frame says methane should stay at minus 10 percent; the Parliamentary Commissioner: minus 10 to 22 percent.
The point is: why are we having this debate in this House? None of us are qualified, from a scientific perspective, to hold a view, when the economic cost of getting this wrong is eye-watering. This is not something that you can just wash away with lovely words. If we get this wrong, regional New Zealand will not look the same again. If we get this wrong, the standard of living that exists in this country will be materially impacted. The whole purpose of a bipartisan conversation around establishing a commission is for them to look at the competing objectives of science, of available innovation, of what the rest of the world is doing, and of what the economic impacts are.
The emphasis is mine because this is very important – the cost of getting it wrong is high in both economic and social concerns for no significant environmental gains.
The view expressed by the Government that the primary pinnacle perspective that floods all of this legislation is that we must do our bit to keep the global temperature within 1.5 degrees Celsius. Well, the global temperature is already over 1 degree Celsius, it’s pushing to 1.3 degrees Celsius, and this country is 0.17 percent of global emissions. The very idea that our collective effort will somehow impact the global temperature is nonsense. We have to call this for what it is. One point five is an objective in this legislation, it is one of the perspectives that the commission has to bring to bear along with what the science says is possible, what innovation is available to apply across the economy at a cost that works, and what the economic impacts are for New Zealanders.
The regulatory impact statement talks to the modelled cost on this economy between the current gazetted target, that we have supported previously as the National Government, and what is suggested in this bill. The sum of the difference is $300 billion; $45 billion different than what it would be if we stayed with the National Party’s target. Prime Minister, I’m sorry, those modelled assumptions assume that electricity has been integrated across our entire transport sector, assume that electricity is in our industrial heat, and assume that we have found technology to support our opportunity in the agriculture sector—all those innovations are baked into the model and it still costs us $300 billion.
That’s a lot of assumptions.
So for us to sit here and say “This is a new nirvana and we’re just going to walk there together.” is not giving New Zealanders credit. This is hard transitional stuff. It will cost and it will continue to cost, there will be opportunities there as well, but it is going to cost. The Government’s own regulatory statement talks to the scale of the cost. I’d venture to suggest that there would not be a bill that has been in front of this House in the last two decades that has a regulatory impact statement saying that the cost is $300 billion. But on this side of the House, we stand willing to support a conversation around a commission that can guide us; but to frame this up as a headlong run, to commit to 1.5 degrees Celsius even if the rest of the world doesn’t, and that those other conditions are secondary is flawed, from our perspective—seriously flawed.
I am not arguing that we do not progress our own emissions reduction journey over the next 10, 15, or 20 years. I am not suggesting that because it’s $300 billion we do nothing, because the world expects us to play our part. What I am saying is that our communities expect us to be prudent and to be measured and to use evidence as we slowly make this transition, because if we get it wrong, the Taumarunuis, the Te Kūitis, the small communities who have been so strongly underpinned by our agricultural exports and activity, the most efficient and effective emissions efficient food producing sector in the world—I repeat that for people listening at home: our agricultural sector is already the most emissions efficient food producing sector in the world. No one here suggests that New Zealand does not put its shoulder to the wheel, but we must not be so naive that we get crushed under the axle. We need to be seriously measured and prudent as we step through this. That is why, when we go to the select committee, I hope—and I echo my leader’s comments—from students to farmers to academics to those who just have a passing interest in this: please, we want to hear your voices. We want to hear the scientists—you’ve rung me, I want to hear you at that select committee, because, as James Shaw has said himself, this is an opportunity but we have to do this together.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): National is supporting the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill because a climate change commission is a good idea that will help New Zealand make progress on the challenging issue of climate change. This is the National Opposition being both responsible and being constructive about one of the most challenging issues that faces our country and, actually, faces the world.
I brought five climate change – related bills to this Parliament during the last Government. On not one did the Opposition support it. I do say it is a big step for an Opposition party to say, yes, it wants to back this idea because it’s constructive.
I’m the only member of this House that was here when New Zealand signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. You might not believe it, I was even younger than Chlöe Swarbrick, and I was privileged to be part of the New Zealand delegation to Rio de Janeiro when that initial convention was signed. But if there’s an important lesson from the intervening 25 years that this Parliament must recognise it’s that good intentions are not enough to be able to address this issue.
I’ve totalled up that over a hundred countries have made bold commitments on climate change that have failed and come to naught. The reason the Climate Change Commission is such an important part of the solution is that it will enable us to be able to have a more constructive, a more open, and a more honest conversation about how we actually can make progress on this issue. When the world signed up to the UN convention on climate change, global emissions were 24 billion tons. The commitment was to stabilise them. Today they’re 37 billion tons, or 60 percent greater.
I have to say, I’m a bit tired of big, bold commitments that set ambitions way beyond members of this House, or beyond the term of the Prime Minister or the climate change Minister, without the grit as to how you’re going to get there. I remind this Parliament that Prime Minister Helen Clark in coalition with the Alliance Party, including the Greens, came to Government in 1999. They said it was our “nuclear-free moment”. Sound familiar? They said their goal was carbon neutrality. Well, what happened during the nine years of that Clark Government, supported by both the Alliance and then the Greens? Emissions went up by 10 percent. We actually went backwards on renewables from 73 percent of our electricity being renewable to 65 percent being renewable. So my plea to this House is to not be carried away with big bold intentions but to actually look to the policies that will make a material difference to our country and globally making a difference on this issue.
I remember when our party in Government worked hard to secure the Paris Agreement. Members on this side of the House say, “Actually, New Zealand needs to do its fair share, but the solution to this has to be globally.” and I’m proud of the role that we played in securing the Paris Agreement and of New Zealand’s commitment to a 30 percent reduction by 2030. But the part that I do have to challenge parties opposite—and this part, for, me is extraordinary—is that in all the talk we know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the key of this issue. And I choked on my cornflakes. I literally could not believe it—that when we’re describing climate change as an emergency, when we’re saying it is our nuclear-free moment, to hear the Minister for Climate Change say that he expected emissions to continue to increase until 2025. I’m sorry; this has got an awful sound like KiwiBuild and some of the other big, bold intentions of Government—of not having followed through. Effectively, what James Shaw said on the radio is that this Government would not do as well as the previous Key Government in making progress, and that would be a grave disappointment.
I also want to make a plea for scientific literacy around the issue of climate change. I totally support the provisions of this bill that set up the Climate Change Commission. The reason the Climate Change Commission is a good step forward is that with the expertise, with the setting of budgets—not just big, bold targets but actions—it will enable us to get down emissions and that will help us get there. But scientific literacy is important. This notion of this bill being called “Carbon Zero” is really a misnomer. The first thing is, carbon is not the problem; carbon is at the heart of life. There would not be life on this planet without the existence of carbon. The issue is greenhouse gas emissions. Some of those greenhouse gases do not even have carbon in them: 11 percent of New Zealand’s emissions are nitrous oxide, which we are—I’m sorry; where’s the carbon in nitrous oxide? If this bill was to be scientifically literate—and I continuously have a problem with the Green Party in not being scientifically literate—it should be a bill referring to greenhouse gases, at the very least carbon dioxide and methane that are the core issues.
Now, my colleagues have rightly challenged the notion of these incredibly bold targets around the issue of methane, one of the significant gases for New Zealand. Here’s my problem. I haven’t heard a single Government member or the Minister tell us how a mid-range on a 35 percent reduction in emissions can be achieved. You know how I think they can be achieved? I think our best hope is biotechnology. When I look at the development by Landcare Research of ryegrass that can achieve as much as a 20 to 25 percent reduction in emissions, I see light, I see hope, I see a solution. For me, what is extraordinary is for the Government to set targets for the agricultural sector that go beyond what the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and scientists have said are realistic, and then take away from our agricultural sector and our farmers the very tools that would enable us to achieve those targets. So my last challenge to the Government is let’s have a conversation about the actions.
I say to Minister Shaw, let’s have an honest conversation about the cost. Ten years ago, I bought an electric car. It cost me $84,000. The petrol equivalent was $26,000. There is a real cost. My community at the moment is looking about getting electric buses. The cost of an electric bus is about $800,000, compared with $180,000 for the diesel equivalent. There is a real cost. If we want to convert over to wind, solar, and those energies, let’s have the honest conversation that there is a real cost.
For those who pretend that those costs can be ignored, I ask them to look at the yellow vest protests in France, to realise that if we are to win these arguments, we need to take New Zealanders with us. Blind open commitments that say there are no cost impacts on New Zealanders, in making progress on climate change, risk repeating the mistakes I’ve seen of the last 25 years, and it is not being upfront and honest about the trade-offs that we need to have.
I’m very proud to have invited Lord Deben to New Zealand, the architect of the climate change commission legislation in the UK, and of being a member of the Environment Committee that triggered our visit there. In my view, the Climate Change Commission is a step in the right direction, but don’t let any member of this House pretend that establishing a Climate Change Commission is going to take away the really gritty, the really tough, the really difficult issues that we have to work through in our energy sector, in our agricultural sector, in our transport sector, and in our industrial sector, if we’re going to have another round of meaningless targets and not get the runs on the board to really make progress on this huge issue.
If the government wants National’s support for progressing the BIll at subsequent readings it will have to start accepting the science.
It will also have to take far more account of economic and social costs.
The bold intentions in the Bill are no compensation for the faults which make it bad policy.