Taking the long view

Taking the Long View
Gord Stewart
Climate Change Consultation – Have your say

What do Victoria University of Wellington, Syracuse University and the University of London have in common?

DCCwinmemeDunedin did it. Why not others?

Also Dunedin City Council, Minneapolis, Paris and Lismore City Council in New South Wales?

And the Church of England and the Guardian Media Group?

They have all responded to the call from 350.org and agreed to divest fossil fuels from their financial portfolios. There is a clear moral reason for doing so and a financial one, too.

To give young people and generations to come any chance of a decent future, we must limit the planet to no more than 2°C of warming. Our CO2 “budget” to stay within this limit will be all gone by 2035 at our current burn rate.

Add to this the fact that known fossil fuel reserves are about five times what we can safely consume and the magnitude of our challenge is clear.

We needn’t count on the Exxons and Shells of the world to show leadership on any sort of “leave it in the ground” policy. Nor are governments yet leading the way.

Our own Government is a good case in point. Given the surplus of known world reserves and the climate change dangers we now face, we need to ask: Why look for more? And especially: Why pursue an extreme energy policy like offshore drilling in deep and treacherous waters?

The universities, cities and organisations noted above – and many others like them – aren’t waiting around for answers. Their actions are a vote for the future and a small step in helping to erode the social license of fossil fuel companies.

“Divestment serves to delegitimise the business models of companies that are using investor’s money to search for yet more coal, oil and gas that can’t safely be burned,” notes the Guardian.

Their financial viability will really be jeopardised when the time comes that governments around the world, collectively, agree to restrict – even prohibit – fossil fuel extraction. And come it must.

The next time governments of the world have a chance to do something meaningful to address climate change is at an international meeting this December in Paris. New Zealand must put forward a target to reduce emissions after 2020 ahead of the Paris negotiations.

To this end, the Government has asked for our opinions. This is a welcome but surprising opportunity. What’s not surprising is how little notice was provided, how short the consultation period is, and how poorly it has been advertised.

But what else to expect from a Government that has watered down and back tracked on the climate change efforts of previous governments, set current reduction targets pitifully below anything scientists say are necessary, allowed emissions to continually rise during its time in office, and has no realistic plan in place to turn things around?

The consultation document provided by the Government – to guide our thinking and help us make a useful submission – is biased and incomplete. It takes a narrow view of “costs”, uses our agricultural emissions as an excuse, and reminds what a small player we are in the big picture. It poses a series of questions surely based on the premise: If we ask the questions we like, we’ll get the answers we want.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by people in the know. At the consultation meeting in Auckland, Barry Coates, former CEO of Oxfam New Zealand and #16 on the Green Party list, gave an impassioned and eloquent presentation.

“One of the crucial flaws arises from the ridiculous financial modelling exercise in the consultation document,” said Coates. “It contends climate change action will cost the economy and households money and quantifies that as a form of scare tactic.

“But it ignores all of the other costs and benefits. It ignores the costs of climate impacts like droughts and floods, the costs to future generations, the costs to vulnerable communities in the Pacific and elsewhere.

“It ignores the co-benefits from taking action on the environment (better health from walking and cycling, warm dry homes, liveable cities). It ignores business opportunities from the growth in clean technology. And it ignores non-monetary values like biodiversity, humanitarian suffering of those bearing climate impacts, and the disproportionate impact on low income households.”

You can bet the Government will devote more time, energy, money and commitment to consultation on a new flag, even though the Church of England calls climate change the most pressing moral issue of our time.

We can each tell the Government what we think. Deadline for submissions is 5:00 p.m., Wednesday June 3. Make your voice heard.
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.

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