Speed bumps on the road to Paris

By Peter Griffin 24/06/2015

The next few months will witness a steady build-up to COP21, the December major climate change conference organised by the United Nations, and in the mind of many scientists, our last chance to strike a global agreement to tackle emissions reduction in a bid to stop dangerous global warming.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 4.17.21 pmThere hasn’t been as much anticipation ahead of a COP “conference of the parties”, since 2009, when politicians, policy officials, scientists and climate activists descended on Copenhagen to hammer out an international deal to curb emissions. That COP was widely considered to be a failure. The will wasn’t there. But will it be there six years on?

As we close in on the Paris meeting, scrutiny will also fall on the commitments individual nations make around emissions reduction targets beyond 2020.

The New Zealand Government recently held public consultation on our climate target, received over 10,000 submissions and attracting attendance of around 1,700 people at public meetings around the country.

So far, so constructive. But the climate target discussion paper and the nature of the consultation has attracted widespread criticism, most recently from the Association of Scientists just this week. Below I’ve summarised some of the feedback on the climate target from various parties:

Association of Scientists – critical of the short consultation period (less than four weeks) and the “minimal involvement” of key scientific institutions.

“The general lack of engagement by CRIs and Universities in the consultation process may reflect concerns previously raised by the Association about conflicts of interest in the scientific community, as a result of the Government’s policy of mainly funding scientific research that has a direct application in industry or government.”

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright – made an urgent call for the setting up of a national forum to tackle climate change. Said measures currently in place to tackle climate change are “insufficient”.

“The discussion document is disappointing – it is long on national circumstances, but short on ambition.”

Dr Wright’s submission on the climate target discussion document is available here.

Joint statement from Morgan Foundation, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, Generation Zero, Greenhouse Capital, Greenpeace and several individuals – consultation period was too short, emissions trading scheme hasn’t worked, we need cross-party agreement on tackling climate change.

“We can’t continue to puff up our existing achievements and investments while our emissions rise. There is only so long our international reputation could survive that sort of damage.”

Royal Society of New Zealand – a detailed science-based appraisal, recommending that New Zealand’s target should be around a 40% reduction in net emissions relative to 1990 gross emission levels, by 2030.

“This brief consultation period is not sufficient for the discussions we need to have as a country on how we want to respond to the biggest challenge of our time. Such conversations need to happen at multiple levels, on an ongoing basis, and across sectors.”

You can read the Royal Society submission here.

Victoria University academicsreported the New Zealand Herald, the academics say there is a “disconnect in it between the Government’s suggestions and questions, and CO2 emissions projections”.

“It nowhere demonstrates how it plans to achieve New Zealand’s existing CO2 emission reduction targets for 2020 to 2050.”

New Zealand Herald economics editor, Brian Fallow – consultation short on time and information.

“The short consultation timeframe and the limited information the Government has released suggest its attitude is one of shoulder-shrugging indifference: ‘Climate change? Is that still a thing?'”

Other analysis and criticism of the climate target discussion paper is outlined here.

A summary of submissions will be published by the Ministry for the Environment.