Why Labour’s Red has a deeper tinge of Green on climate change



I recently did a political panel on environmental issues at the Glass Packaging Forum AGM. The National representative Maggie Barry got herself into quite a state of excitement regarding Labour and Green Party climate change policies declaring that our difference in opinion over the preferred mechanism for pricing carbon – a trading scheme versus a tax – showed that it would be “impossible” for Labour and the Greens to work together.

I asked her how she felt her Government’s climate change policy would align with Colin Craig’s. I suspect there are a number in her caucus who are privately hoping it does.

The Greens carbon tax announcement did reignite debate on climate change which is most welcome. I have however been bemused by the surprise from some quarters at Labour’s response to it  – that we have our own policy in this area and our policy remains the same despite a potential coalition partner taking a different view. The Greens have proposed a credible alternative for pricing carbon but our preference remains, as it has been since we enacted it in 2008, an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Hardly earth-shattering stuff.

The more important point is that Labour and the Greens both want to see action on climate change. We both want to put in place a comprehensive climate strategy in which pricing carbon is but one aspect (albeit a very important one). Differing over which mechanism we would prefer to price carbon does not in any way derail the bigger picture.

Labour’s ETS was working as intended before National began its systematic gutting of the scheme in 2009. It was never given the opportunity to do what it was intended to do as the world’s first all-sectors all-gases trading scheme. Labour believes it can work again.

Labour shares the same concerns as the Greens regarding the exploitation of loopholes in the ETS that have gone completely unchecked by the National Government. As an example I have a member’s bill in the ballot to restrict the flood of cheap international units which have allowed the carbon price to collapse and devastate our carbon forestry sector. I put the same amendment up during the last ETS reform bill and we nearly got it across the line until Peter Dunne decided not to support the restriction. These loopholes are there not because the ETS is fundamentally flawed  but because National has allowed them to remain. We would close these loopholes as a matter of priority. And as with any tax there would also be potential loopholes with a carbon tax.

I am the only MP who has sat on every ETS select committee since the original bill in 2008. There was one issue on which advocates and opponents alike spoke with one voice – the need for certainty and stability. There are not many areas in climate change policy where we manage to achieve relatively broad agreement across the political spectrum but pricing carbon via an ETS was one. It is still the preference of the two largest political parties. While I appreciate that in practice the support from National is nothing more than lip service you still don’t throw away bipartisan support lightly.

Labour will, as a priority, begin the transition away from an economy heavily reliant on fossil fuels with ever-increasing gross greenhouse gas emissions to one that is based on clean energy, green technology, and is low-carbon.

We have a window of opportunity in a world seeking low-carbon solutions to leverage our natural strengths by supporting and promoting the renewable energy and low-carbon expertise that exists in New Zealand. Instead we are currently being overtaken by other countries that also see these opportunities and are actively pursuing them.

The National party seems to think that serious climate change policy, or indeed any policy that protects the environment, is some kind of luxury we cannot afford. They could not be more wrong. Transitioning away from our reliance on fossil fuels to a low-carbon future is not a “nice to have”. This is about future-proofing our economy.

Labour does not believe it is fair for future generations to be burdened with the environmental and economic debt of National’s complete inaction on climate change and post-election we look forward to working with like-minded parties who want to see urgent action on climate change and a transition to a clean energy future.


  1. Using a free market trading solution to solve a problem created by an free market system was never going to end well.

    We need something either more radically simple, or completely outside the box.

    Such a shame Labour is sitting in that box of neo-liberalism. They’re so far down in that box they don’t even seem to realise they’re in it anymore.

  2. Climate change is the biggest threat to our survival.
    We just can’t go on living like this
    We need to think of the children.
    We need to take action on climate change!
    Billions of tonnes of global warming pollution are spewing into the atmosphere every second like an open sewer
    We need to transition to a low carbon economy

    Did I miss any?

    • “Billions of tonnes of global warming pollution are spewing into the atmosphere every second like an open sewer”…..
      No it’s not, not at that rate.

    • Having followed some of Andys other comments on this subject, I feel there’s a strong possibility that (s)he is being facetious.

      • Go to the top of the class

        It just goes to show that you can gather support for “the cause” by endlessly repeating tired old mantras that have no content or meaning

        • Hey Man, @ He-Man Andys,
          I look forward to you refuting Lara’s arguments on “her” July 8, 2014 at 11:34 am post.

          • yeah, because every person is either right or left wing, and those who are right wing must disagree and refute everything said by those who are left wing


            perhaps its not necessary to refute my arguments, perhaps just possibly some of them may have merit and could be agreed on by both left and right

            nah. as you were.

            • Sure, I can refute some of your arguments. You say

              I’ve looked at records of CO2 in our environment which can be found in deep ice cores, and I’ve looked at temperature records from the Moana Loa observatory in Hawaii.

              (1) Moana Loa does not have a temperature record. It shows the level of CO2 in the atmosphere

              (2) The ice cores, at least the Vostok ones, show CO2 increasing after temperature, which is just the outgassing that we see when we heat water

              This is not to say that CO2 should not theoretically cause some amount of warming. Most people agree with that. The questions is, how much, and the simple answer is that we don’t know

              • “(1) Moana Loa does not have a temperature record. It shows the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.”
                Really Andys? I couldn’t believe the weather station would not be recording a simple observation like temperature. Even I use to record wet and dry temperatures from thermometers in a Stevenson screen.
                This site shows they do keep a record…
                I would agree though that they are most well known for the infamous Keeling Curve which, to my knowledge, is still climbing upwards.
                If “the simple answer is that we don’t know” surely it makes sense err on the side of caution.

                • We record “global temperatures” using a grid of weather stations across the globe. These are both surface and satellite (for example, HadCrut4)

                  To my knowledge, Moana Loa is the only measurement of CO2 that is used.

                  That is the point I was trying to make

                  • I thought that was your point,Andys, but if you’re going to make blalantly incorrect statements I can resist messin’ wit ya.

            • Perhaps you didn’t pick up on my tone, Lara, or know that Andys and I have form; I was challenging him to attempt refuting some of the very good points I thought you made.
              Unfortunately there’s so many variables in climate change predictions that it’s easy for many to dispute it’s existence, especially if they have a vested interest in doing so. To use a vast generalisation, I would suggest that we on the “left” are more concerned with our planet’s future while those on the “right” are more interested in individualistic, short term gains.
              Personally I wouldn’t place Andys in the “right” camp, I suspect he’s a highly intelligent chap who enjoys being mischievous and challenging any notions we have that he considers preconceived.
              I’m still waiting to see if he’ll tackle your, and Robert Atack’s, thoughts on exponential growth. “Gosman” thinks all’s well because ALL political parties are in favour of economical growth, while “MIKE @ NZ” seems to think technological advances will reduce emissions. Perhaps I should be holding my breath!

              • You’re right, I didn’t pick up on your tone and was not aware of the history of you and Andys.

                Thanks. Now I know.

                I do tend to take these issues rather seriously, but thats because I care SO much about our environment and I really do think I am onto something of a big solution for both environmental and economic problems in a restructure of how our money works.

              • I’m not aware that exponential growth even exists. Certainly not in NZ

                The Asian countries are growing rapidly, but I presume that growth will tail off at some stage

                • Bugger, I thought by now Lara may have taken this one!
                  My understanding is that any growth that is expressed as a percentage is, by definition, exponential.
                  From Wikipedia …”Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of the value of a mathematical function is proportional to the function’s current value.”
                  The rough figure Lara used in the example on her post was correct. i.e. 70, divided by the percentage of rate of growth, yields the time elapsed before double the resources that are required to maintain said growth.
                  Here’s more video you may have time to watch…

                  • Thanks. As it happens, I have a degree in Maths, but I appreciate a little help every now and then.

                    I had no idea NZ was growing exponentially. I must be in the wrong job as my pay hasn’t changed in 5 years

  3. Not sure if Lara knows what she is talking about though. The Green’s carbon tax + tax cuts proposal is probably more market-based / neoliberal than Labour’s ETS.

    Also don’t think there is anything substantial lying behind the call for something “completely outside the box” – as if that was a good basis to decide whether a policy is a good idea.

    Both a carbon tax and an ETS are legitimate ideas. Done properly they are both tools that can help us transition NZ away from carbon reliance. But they require long-term political commitment. Labour’s emphasis on trying to put something in place that will survive election cycles is a good one.

    The key for Labour and the Greens is not just to put something in place when they form a Government – but to do it in a way that brings NZers with them and makes it impossible for National to reverse.

    Good stuff from Moana.

    • Actually I do know what I’m talking about in regards to trading. I am an analyst and trader.

      The problem of pollution in our environment is a consequence of our economic system. We discount the future. There is every reason for companies and indeed individuals to pollute the environment because there is no monetary cost to doing so, and in fact it saves companies money by not having pollution controls in place because they don’t have to spend money on reducing or treating their pollution.

      Its a typical tragedy of the commons scenario.

      To have an ETS scheme where “credits” are “traded” is using the same mechanisms of our market to try and control or fix a problem created by the market. I see the results of trading every day, I analyse those results and profit from them. The ability to “trade” in something which you have no real interesting in owning, buying or holding, may well allow the “market” to find a value, but it also leads to wild price swings which have nothing to do with underlying value and everything to do with speculation; fear and greed. To try and fix a huge environmental problem by introducing something which is made open for trade allows fear, greed and speculation to enter the picture. Which seems kinda crazy when you’re trying to fix our biggest environmental threat.

      I recall when the ETS idea was implemented predicting that it would not end well, and it would not solve the problem.

      I also have a BSc so I have some clue as to how climate change works. I understand the physics and chemistry of that group of gasses called greenhouse gasses. I’ve looked at records of CO2 in our environment which can be found in deep ice cores, and I’ve looked at temperature records from the Moana Loa observatory in Hawaii. I’m as sure as I can be that increasing concentrations of CO2 and other gasses which absorb and hold energy (in a way that other gasses like O2 don’t) will increase the energy held in our atmosphere, which will lead to higher temperatures (which the temperature record shows is happening) and higher energy weather patterns.

      I’m not buying any coastal property in a hurry.

      Finally, as a result of the credit crunch and in line with my job as a market analyst I have done a lot of work figuring out why we have boom / bust economic cycles. I have concluded it is the result of the structure of our economy, which is underpinned by how our money itself works. The majority of our money is created by private banks as interest bearing debt. That interest is charged as a % means in order for it to be paid plus principal we need to increase the money supply. Particularly as the principal is repaid that money effectively ceases to exist. So we require ever expanding debt, and we require constant growth. Which in a finite space is impossible. Growth, even a “low” growth rate of say 2% is exponential, a 2% growth rate has a doubling time of only 35 years. Growth at any % rate is exponential, not arithmetic.

      I have concluded that we need to restructure how our money works. An interest free demurrage currency would be an elegant solution. It would solve the problem of requiring perpetual growth, and it would solve the problem of discounting the future.

      If you’re interested I’ll provide links, but please do not state that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I do, and these things are things I think and read a helluva lot about.

  4. The shift towards action on climate change is welcome.

    Whether the mechanism is tax or trading or something else needs to follow the declaration and ratification of a clearly enunciated goal for GHG reduction (like Costa Rica – carbon neutral by 2021). Then it will become clear which mechanisms will be appropriate to achieve that hard and fast goal.

    To me, one of the obvious issues with the ETS is that it’s as vague as the “aspirational” goals it’s supposed to be working to and its efficacy is an unknown.

    Sadly, but realistically, the first date to set is when we will stop growing our GHG emissions – let alone get on with reduction.

    Set the zero GHG emission growth date and we’ll know that Labour means business.

  5. Labour will, as a priority, begin the transition away from an economy heavily reliant on fossil fuels with ever-increasing gross greenhouse gas emissions to one that is based on clean energy, green technology, and is low-carbon.

    Could someone please tell me how Kiwi Saver factors into all this environment saving BS?
    You can’t have growth based anything on a finite planet.

  6. ‘Labour’s ETS was working as intended’

    Yes indeed it was. It was intended to work as a financial scam that avoided all the basic issues relating to emissions and climate chaos, and allowed speculators and financiers to profit from planetary meltdown, and allowed emissions to continue rising.

    ‘seeking low-carbon solutions to leverage our natural strengths by supporting and promoting the renewable energy and low-carbon expertise that exists in New Zealand.’ What a load of BS. There is no such thing as low-carbon expertise, and anyone who thinks running anything remotely resembling present arrangements using ‘renewable energy’ clearly hasn’t got a clue.

    This kind of nonsense is exactly why we have no faith in Labour, because it is still a business-as-usual run by money-lenders and corporations party.

    Not content with the current level of climate chaos -disrupted jet streams, unprecedented droughts, torrential rains, mayhem, death and destruction across the globe -Labour wants more. Indeed, Labour wants the Earth to be largely (or completely) uninhabitable by mid-century -and has the plans to prove it!

    And industrial economy and a living planet are mutually exclusive concepts.

  7. I agree that the difference between Labour and the Greens on climate change is one of which tool(s) to use, rather than one of attitude or intent. I am sure the parties would be able to come to an arrangement after the election about what exactly to do in this respect. No major issue here, and good on Moana for this well-written piece.

    IMHO the crunch issue would however be what to do about the incredibly polluting energy source known as coal. If the intent is to significantly reduce carbon emissions (both within NZ and outside NZ powered by NZ-extracted coal) then I presume that Labour’s policy would be to immediately close down all coal mines in NZ (both state-owned and otherwise) and liquidate Solid Energy.

    This would have significant carbon emissions reduction benefits, and also financial benefits, as Solid Energy has required well-publicised Government bailouts just to keep going.

    But such a move would of course affect employment on the West Coast. Would the union wing of the Labour Party oppose this? The proof, as they say, would be in the pudding.

      • I think thats okay.

        We all have to pay the cost of environmental damage somehow. If we don’t pay for it in money we’ll pay for it in environmental deterioration eventually.

        No species can continue to overpopulate and pollute its environment and expect there to be no consequence.

        • That’s fine, but it is not exactly a vote winner.
          Especially if it turns out, in 20 years time perhaps, that CO2 has little or no effect on the climate

  8. Tuna said;
    The key for Labour and the Greens is not just to put something in place when they form a Government – but to do it in a way that brings NZers with them and makes it impossible for National to reverse. Good stuff from Moana.
    Lara said the coast is not where to be owning property,

    Both are very right, we need to reverse this reckless National path we are now going down. I live in Gisborne, where Moana does and spent last summer out at the beach in the caravan at Pouawa beach and have done every several years since 2005.
    Every year we see the whole entire beachfront eroding and higher seas and more severe weather events now eroding away our pristine white sandy beaches between a metre and two meters every year we go there, till next season there will be perhaps the last time we all six hundred campers can do this.
    The weather and climate is changing and just go to the beach and witness it as we do.

    As for targeting greenhouse emissions, transport causes between 40 to 50% of all greenhouse emissions using Ministry of Environment and NIWA statistics.

    Truck transport emissions are increasing dramatically as truck volumes of road freight take now the 80% of the entire transport of our freight, and this is being increased by Government policy.

    Trucks use 5 to 9 times fuel than rail to move one tonne one km, and emits 100 times the CO2 greenhouse emissions, so use more rail is a good place to start.

    But guess what? The Government has now closed the rail service from Gisborne to Napier and now that revenue has been lost it(as it was beginning to increase in freight before a washout) it now may force a closure of rail from Napier to Palmerston North, leaving the whole east coast with only a dirty polluting road freight policy.

    Of course if Labour gets to take over Government they will have to reinstate the rail service again as part of their commitment to the ETS scheme. We hope they get in before national dismantles the rail lines.

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