Energy at all costs

By Bryan Walker 04/04/2011

Unsurprising but nevertheless dismaying news on Radio NZ this morning that the NZ draft energy strategy has been scarcely altered since submissions were called for and will soon be presented to Cabinet for adoption. Both Gareth and I posted on the draft strategy back in July, but it’s worth saying again that this energy strategy statement is highly irresponsible in its primary focus on fossil fuel development for New Zealand’s prosperity. It is bewildering that a government which says it is committed to fighting climate change should be preparing to stake much of the country’s economic development on the exploitation of natural resources which will contribute to climate change.The government reportedly received around 300 submissions on the draft policy. No doubt some of them were from big players applauding the abandonment of the previous policy strategy’s emphasis on sustainability. I made a submission as a citizen deeply concerned by the evidence of dangerous climate change. Submissions such as mine obviously carried no weight for the Minister. I’m not sure that he even understands why we are concerned. I’ve lifted a few paragraphs from my submission to use here as a means of reiterating that the strategy does not acknowledge the seriousness of the threat of climate change.

The first question I replied to was that which asked whether the proposed NZES effectively promotes and supports the appropriate development and use of energy resources:

’The draft strategy sets a priority for the development of fossil fuel resources which is not compatible with the realities of climate change. It looks forward to the full exploitation of our fossil fuel resources while at the same time welcoming the gradual development of renewable energy.  Such a strategy may have made sense if the only threat we faced was the need to eventually have something to replace fossil fuel when all the supplies are exhausted. But the far greater threat is that long before we reach that point we will have set the planet on the path to runaway climate change by continuing to burn fossil fuels. It is astonishing that the strategy does not recognise this but blandly focuses on the assertion that only a small proportion of our mineral and petroleum resources have been tapped to date.

’The development of renewable resources should be its first and urgent priority. It should recognise that plans to survey and drill deep water petroleum resources are deeply questionable environmentally. It should look to the phasing out of coal-powered electricity generation and should acknowledge that unless carbon capture and storage technology develops to the point where it can be employed on a large scale there is no future for coal exploitation in New Zealand.’

In reply to a question asking for comment on the proposed goal:

’The goal speaks of environmentally-responsible development and efficient use of the country’s diverse energy resources. But the document then goes on to focus primary attention on fossil fuels. Evidently the term environmental responsibility is being used as a kind of greenwash. The contradiction between what is said about the environment and what is proposed in relation to fossil fuels is painful. A growing economy which depends on increased global warming is suicidal.’

There were detailed sections of the draft that I commented on, but the above paragraphs indicate sufficiently the wrong direction in which the draft strategy is headed. I concluded:

’The 2007 strategy did not need to be replaced. But if it was going to be one would have hoped it would be by something better. This document is much worse. I urge that it be rewritten to reflect the primary importance of clean energy in meeting the challenge of climate change and that it be much more specific about the measures that will be taken in that direction.’

Such urgings obviously count for very little in Gerry Brownlee’s thinking. Cabinet will no doubt adopt the strategy and the government will again congratulate itself on its wise balancing of the economy and the environment.