Missing the point by miles



It doesn’t seem to matter what the climate question is, the government is always answering the wrong one…

Last week John Key’s science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, issued a new report on climate change and its likely impacts on New Zealand. New Zealand’s changing climate and oceans: The impact of human activity and implications for the future (pdf) gives a succinct and careful, if perhaps over-cautious overview of what is expected for NZ’s climate and the waters around us as the planet warms over the next 40 years. I could quibble with some of the detail in the report, and the lack of an explanation of the climate commitment — the warming that is now inevitable because of current carbon emissions — but on the whole, from a narrow NZ focus, the report is definitely useful.

Here’s a key passage from the conclusion to the report. After acknowledging that NZ’s emissions are a drop in the global ocean, the report points out:

…New Zealand’s contribution to the global effort to reduce greenhouse emissions is more of a geopolitical issue than a scientific one. Irrespective of what happens globally to emissions, the New Zealand challenge will involve adaptation to climate change.

I might put that a bit more strongly. Whatever happens to global emissions, New Zealanders will have to adapt to unavoidable changes in our region, and cope with what happens to the rest of the world. We have no choice in the matter.

Responding to the report on behalf of the government, climate change minister Tim Groser said:

The government’s primary response to climate change is the Emissions Trading Scheme.

And therein lies the government’s problem. Its climate change minister either didn’t read the report with any great care, or simply didn’t understand what the PM’s science advisor was saying.

Emissions reductions in New Zealand are necessary, because we have to be good global citizens and play our part in addressing the issue, but the primary response of relevance to the future well-being of New Zealanders has to be building national resilience to the changes coming down the line.

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In case you think I’m exaggerating Groser’s apparent incomprehension, consider the preceding sentence of his press release:

As Sir Peter says, scientific reports cannot address how countries like ours respond to climate change, and find an acceptable balance between environmental and economic drivers.

Small problem. That’s not what Gluckman says. In his foreword, Sir Peter carefully points out that:

“Science can inform these [policy questions], but cannot alone answer them.”

Science most definitely does address how NZ can respond. It points out the need for adaptation and resilience, and suggests areas where these might be best deployed. It also tells us that some warming is unavoidable — whatever we do to cut our emissions. But Groser and his cabinet colleagues seem unable to allow themselves to be informed about the true gravity of the problem we face. That has to be unforgivable. How galling for Gluckman, to be the advisor no-one listens to.


  1. Finally I am in complete agreement with one of your climate change posts! ;-). Adapting to climate change (which is essentially entirely beyond NZ control, whether man-made or not) is a much better use of our resources than spending the same amount of money trying to somehow stop it. The Emissions Trading Scheme, BTW, will prove to be a completely useless way to decrease total global CO2 emissions – it will merely act as yet another financial instrument for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgon to securitise and leverage to further scam money from Governments (i.e. taxpayers).

  2. I like that the Gluckman report gives some practical examples of possible outcomes eg: “While Auckland currently experiences around 21 days per year above 25C, this figure could increase to 61 days per year by 2100 under even a low emissions scenario.”

    I hope people are extrapolating what that means. If its 25 plus for 60 days in summer, what will it be like in Shanghai for most of the year, where they are roasting pork on the pavement now. What will summers in Australian cities be like?

    I was disappointed the report hints at, but doesnt make more of the fact that halting warming at 2 degrees isnt really possible any longer. So the ‘low emissions’ scenario will likely arrive much sooner than 2100.

    Perhaps current politicians should ask themselves, what will it be like when I am 80 years old, sitting in my poorly serviced resthome, with mild dementia, and its 25 plus degrees for 30,40,50 days of the year?

    • In Australia – here in rural Wheatbelt W.A.(inland from Perth) we count the number of days over 40C – last summer 17, compared to the 120 yr observed average of 9!
      year before – 14, year before that 15 – year before that – 12…………..13………..11……….and we haven’t seen a frost in 5 years, either..the winters are slowly getting warmer..and the rainfall is slowly, but inexorably declining….the trend is all one way…in the wrong direction!

  3. In fairness they are funding a Climate Change Impacts and Implications project worth several million over a few years. But I think to be of maximum value this ought to be accompanied by a push in policy circles on how to govern the issues that arise in climate adaptation – the confluence of multiple risks where some are changing, issues of treatments of the same issue in different jurisdictions, etc. Plus, we don’t do enough research into the range of possible physical climate futures. [NZ has weird climate change research priorities, by international standards.]

    • “NZ has weird climate change research priorities, by international standards”

      It would be interesting to get a little more context to that statement.

    • Agree. We are getting used to to the idea of designing infrastructure, such as new roads, to cope with high end climate scenarios, but havent given any thought at all to what the impacts of those scenarios will be on the need for that infrastructure. So we risk ending up with lots of large concrete structures adapted to withstand the rigours of a changed climate, but no infrastructure that is useful in that changed climate, and no money to belatedly spend on the infrastructure that will be required.

  4. A appropriately regulated free market open economy is the best way of adapting to a rapidly changing situation. This enables people to change what they do to suit what is happening around them.

    • “A [sic] appropriately regulated…”

      Regulated by whom, and to achieve what? The NZ government by themself can do little to affect global warming rates, and NACT have shown no inclination to even try.

      Maybe you should re-read the title of this post Gosman, it almost seems made just for you.

  5. Agriculture generates 47% of our greenhouse gases. National MP and Taranaki farmer Shane Ardern at the wheel of his tractor Myrtle demonstrated the farming sector’s disdain for acknowledging any responsibility. Externalising environmental damage and change to other taxpayers amounts to a subsidy I would have thought.

  6. Even tho New Zealand might not make a significant impact on global climate change. The world sees New Zealanders as leaders in the pro-environmental changes policy area. I think if we do not continue to research the impact New Zealand is having on the atmosphere, why will any other countries. It is becoming more obvious that the human race are the biggest and most influential impactors on the earth, but we must remember to try and leave as little negative imprint as we can so that it is still enjoyable for generations to come. No one in their right mind will disagree with that.

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