It seems that, for all the hot air he has released on the subject, the Prime Minister still doesn’t know how to talk about climate change with any credibility.
Speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Paris, Key condemned countries that are “calling for emissions reductions on one hand while subsidising emissions on the other.”
What Key refused to acknowledge is that his own government is actually calling for carbon reductions while subsidising polluters. Under the government’s emissions trading scheme, a carbon market meant to create ‘incentives’ to reduce emissions, our biggest polluters are effectively excluded from paying for their carbon emissions.
This exception works like a subsidy in all but name. Recent research out of the World Bank ranked New Zealand’s carbon market as one of the least effective in the world (in part, I would argue, because it’s riddled with exceptions).
Yet not only is our biggest polluter excluded from our primary carbon reduction scheme, the government is also putting pressure on state owned enterprises to lift their return to the government which, in KiwiRail’s case, could lead to a return to fossil fuels.
KiwiRail is currently considering downgrading its fleet on the North Island Main Trunk Line from an electric fleet to a diesel-powered one. While the rest of the world is transitioning to clean energy, KiwiRail is considering a downgrade.
Diesel power isn’t the future, it’s the past, and we’re returning there because the government is starving our rail infrastructure of capital investment.
Instead of developing a smart, low carbon transport system the government’s backwards policy is forcing KiwiRail to make poor short-term decisions to save a few bucks, but it will just end up costing us a fortune in the long run.
For these reasons it’s difficult to see how Key can grandstand in Paris while his government is failing to reduce carbon emissions at home. After so many failures in international forums it’s arguably more important to focus on implementing good domestic policy as opposed to new international machinery.
In the meantime the public, bewildered by disconnect between rhetoric and reality, sits on its hands as politicians shout at each other at cross-purposes. Arguably this is precisely what the government wants: a confused public that has the impression its government is doing something to combat climate change while, in reality, the politicians can continue doing exactly the opposite.