Yes we can! Speech by Green Party Co-leader James Shaw

Published: Thu 3 Sep 2015 12:46 PM
Yes we can! A plan for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions -
Speech by Green Party Co-leader James Shaw
Thursday 3 September, 12.30PM
It’s been said that the human mind is not a terribly logical place.
Most of us, given the choice of either facing up to a terrifying truth, or conveniently avoiding it, will choose to avoid it. That doesn’t make us bad, or even particularly weak.
It just makes us human.
I accept that.
But I also think it’s true that when it comes to really crucial moments, like when people rushed in to the rubble to help those hurt in the Canterbury quakes, we can muster the courage to face our fears and act.
This willingness to rise to the challenge when it really counts also makes us human.
We're all here today because we understand that climate change is not just the biggest issue of our time. It is the biggest issue of all time.
The question facing New Zealand is - will we conveniently avoid the terrifying truth of climate change - and it is, let’s face it, terrifying - or will we muster the best of our humanity, face our fears and act on it.
Our world is warming.
Two degrees and a metre of sea level rise are already locked in - we’re past the point of being able to do anything about that.
Last year was the warmest in recorded history. And the ten warmest years on record have all been since 1998.
Coastlines, in places like Haumoana in Hawke’s Bay are disappearing. Previously fertile pastures are drying up, one in 100 year floods are happening every year in places like Dunedin and Whanganui, and species are falling into extinction every day.
This is now. It’s what happens next that’s really scary.
It is easy to feel utterly powerless in the face of this; to be so overwhelmed by the enormity of the threat posed by climate change that all we can do is block our ears, cover our eyes, and hope that it all goes away.
Which is pretty much how we are being encouraged to feel by the National Government.
But the good news is, we have the power, and the ability to do something about it.
We can act now to protect our future, and save our environment and the way of life that we love.
What’s required is for New Zealand to play its part in the collective global effort to reduce our carbon emissions and make the changes needed to live within our economic and our environmental means.
In December, governments across the world will gather in Paris to negotiate a global climate agreement.
New Zealand will be asked what we as a nation are willing to do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Our answer to that question will define us.
Sadly, the National Government has chosen to set one of the weakest and most embarrassing provisional targets that any country will take to Paris.
We were reminded of this just this week when Climate Tracker slammed New Zealand and Australia for pledging some of the poorest targets in the world.
While others, such as the European Union, are pledging targets of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, our Government has pledged a miserable 11 percent target.
To put that into perspective - if every country did as poorly as our Government proposes, we would set in train a cascade of inevitable events that would change the face of our planet and which many scientists believe is doubtful humans would even survive.
Yet still the Prime Minister says it’s too hard, we can’t do our fair share to protect the climate.
Well, the Green Party says, yes we can!
And we’re going to show you how!
I’m here today to explain a new climate plan that demonstrates how possible it really is to set an ambitious emissions reduction target – one that New Zealanders can be proud of.
Our plan shows what can be done if politicians can muster the will to do it.
This plan removes what the Government says is the big roadblock to action on the climate - agriculture.
In it we show how, even with a five year lead in time for the farming industry, New Zealand can reduce its emissions by a respectable 40 percent by 2030.
Crucially, what this shows is that agriculture is not the block to achieving a responsible climate target – the block is a lack of political will.
Our challenge to the Government is to muster that will.
Because the time for excuses is over.
The climate can’t wait for politicians to stop squabbling.
We can do our fair share.
We can protect the environment that we love.
And yes, we can have a climate target we can be proud of, and this is a plan to get us there.
If we’re talking about what we can do, it pays to ask what people want us to do.
A recent survey shows that a huge majority – 87 percent of New Zealanders – are concerned about climate change.
By far, the majority of people who submitted to the Government consultation on a climate target wanted a 40 percent climate target.
That’s not surprising really. We are not the sort of people who like being freeloaders.
We’re also people who have a deep appreciation for the big things worth saving, our magnificent rivers, our beaches and coastlines, our mountains, pristine glaciers, our birds
We’re also good neighbours.
I think it hurts us to see our Pacific Island neighbours pleading for action from the UN, as their coral reefs and precious ecosystems are threatened by increasing temperatures and acidification of the ocean.
Pasifika people are facing the very real prospect of losing their entire homelands to sea level rise through no fault of their own. It’s not an option to ignore them.
We Kiwis also take quite a bit of pleasure in the little things like coffee, beer and chocolate – all of which are under threat due to the weather impacts of climate change.
These things too, are worth saving. Especially coffee.
I think the Prime Minister should have asked what we were prepared to fight for before he decided it wasn’t worth fighting for anything.
Because us New Zealanders have a history of punching above our weight.
Imagine someone trying to tell Kate Shepherd there was no point in fighting for New Zealand women to get the vote because every other woman in the world was still going to be denied it.
Try telling David Lange there was no point in taking a stand on nuclear power because the United States and Russia were still going to have nuclear weapons, or telling Sir Ed he needn’t bother trying to climb Mount Everest because it was probably going to be too hard.
New Zealanders did these great things because it was the right thing to do, and because they could. And in so doing they showed the world what was possible.
There is huge benefit in being first, in being out front, in leading in the green economic revolution.
As preeminent British economist Lord Stern has made clear: those that seize the opportunities of a sustainable economy first, will get the largest share of the benefits.
The longer we delay the more we pay.
The question is, can we lead the world and leverage off New Zealand’s clean green image, off our expertise in renewables, off our pastoral nous to lead a modern clean revolution?
Well, we say yes we can.
The thing that keeps coming up, and which continues to be used as a roadblock to climate action in New Zealand is agriculture.
Agriculture produces 50 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions and as such, is political sore point politicians have so far failed to solve.
Whether it’s farmers driving tractors up the steps of Parliament to protest the so called fart tax, or the National Party gutting the Emissions Trading Scheme, agriculture keeps being used as the reason for inaction.
But as the world warms, the notion of continuing to do nothing must no longer be an option.
We need to get the roadblock that is agriculture out of the way.
So we have.
I want to be really clear about this. The Green Party is absolutely committed to agriculture, along with all other sectors, eventually doing its fair share.
Our preference would be to incentivise climate-friendly farming by putting a charge on dairy emissions at $12.50 per tonne – that’s equivalent to only an eight cents per kilogram of milk solids. To put that in context, milk solids lost 77 cents per kilogram this year, and the price can fluctuate by as much as 20 cents on any given day.
But, given the situation facing farmers at the moment, and the desperate need for a lasting cross party agreement on emissions reduction, the Green Party is announcing today we’d accept a five year transition period for agriculture, if National commits to taking a bolder, more respectable 40 percent off 1990 levels target to Paris this December.
That is the quid pro quo. A significantly slower entry for agriculture in exchange for an achievable, 40 percent target.
This is a genuine constructive offer to get the ball rolling on real climate action.
Our point is, agriculture is not the block to achieving a responsible climate target, as we are so often told by the National Government. The block is the lack of political will.
I’m sick of hearing from the National Government about how powerless we are.
This week, the Prime Minister told us there’s no point in taking in a few hundred more refugees, because that won’t solve the crisis facing millions fleeing Syria and elsewhere.
The Prime Minster uses the same offensive logic about climate change. We’re only 0.2 percent of the world’s population - anything we do isn’t going to solve climate change, so, why bother?
Such logic is deeply undermining of the majority of us who like to think we are more generous, more compassionate, and more responsible than that.
It’s also a deeply flawed logic.
It ignores the scientific, and moral truth that everybody’s actions matter.
Importantly, the Prime Minister’s constant use of the “New Zealand is irrelevant” argument belies the role we have as a global influencer.
A recent publication of a global soft power index in The Economist shows New Zealand scoring well on our "ability to coax and persuade".
Victoria University’s Professor Ralph Chapman, who I think is here today, wrote recently about how this means “we are not irrelevant when it comes to diplomacy, or in our capacity to act as a global conscience”.
But, he warned, influence cuts both ways.
He wrote that “a fundamental danger posed by New Zealand's policy stance on climate change is that our inaction will add to a sense of global powerlessness in the face of climate change, perpetuating indecisiveness at precisely the moment when it is most critical to act.”
By meeting the challenge of climate change, we can protect what we love and transform our economy and society for the better.
This is about modernising New Zealand’s economy – encouraging investment in long term sustainable jobs in industries that are growing, not just in industries that are in their twilight years.
Later today, I’m going with our energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes to inspect a solar installation on a family home.
When I talk to people about going solar, it’s not just the idea of helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions that motivates them to install a solar panel on their roof. It’s money. And it’s freedom.
People like the idea of having power created on their own roofs. They like having more money to spend on other stuff instead of paying huge power bills. They like the feeling of being free and independent of big power companies.
Solar is going off. It’s grown by 435 percent in the past two years[i].
And it’s happening despite the Government.
Imagine the jobs that could be created, the energy and money that could be saved, if instead of spending the time and money backing polluters, the Government backed Kiwis to achieve their own energy freedom instead!
All we ever hear from the Government are the costs associated with doing something to stop climate change.
Today, the Green Party revealed the Government has been hiding the true cost of action.
The Government has not been straight with New Zealanders
It’s been hiding the true costs of taking meaningful action, and has used phoney numbers to try to make action look more expensive than it is.
It produced one set of costings for public consumption and kept another set for itself. Guess which set made it look like taking action was more expensive?
The reality is that inaction is hugely expensive.
In the UK, the Stern Review found that the economic impacts arising from uncontrolled climate change could lead to as much as a 20 percent reduction in GDP per person.
Globally, the cost of the damage that we will experience if we don’t take action has been estimated at $20 trillion[ii].
Here at home, Treasury has estimated that if New Zealand continues on its current trajectory of increasing net emissions, and misses a 5 percent reduction target it’ll cost us up to $35 billion.
Climate change may seem like an abstract scientific problem; the reality is that it hurts our economy and it hurts our people.
And it is the most vulnerable that it hurts the most.
In effect climate change exacerbates existing inequality.
Be it our next of kin in low lying Pacific nations, or those starving from the impacts of climate change on their food supply, climate change unfairly targets the least well off the most.
It also hurts workers.
Already we are seeing job losses in heavy polluting industries while the Government stands on the side-lines with their hands in their pockets.
West Coast miners have been dumped in the dole queue because the Government failed to see that the fossil fuel industries were winding down, and didn’t have a plan to replace those jobs.
There is much that can be done to ensure a just and fair transition to a low carbon economy, but it will require action from a government that actually cares.
If we think smarter, we can answer the threat of climate change and inequality in tandem.
You may have noticed a familiar ring to the name of this paper. Yep, we borrowed it from President Obama.
They say plagiarism isn’t plagiarism if it’s got a footnote, so that was my footnote right there.
Yes we can, was Obama’s call to action to those who were burdened by the lie of the impossible for too long.
Recently he’s reenergised the ‘yes we can’ refrain to call for action on climate.
President Obama has an action plan to loosen America’s addiction to fossil fuels.
Yes, unlike our Government, he’s got a climate plan.
At the core of the Obama plan is jobs. Lots of them.
The US solar industry has added jobs ten times faster than the rest of its economy in the past year, and now employs twice as many Americans as coal mining.
In 2011, the global market for clean technologies was valued at more than $NZ5.8 trillion.
Investing in clean technology is sustainable, long lasting and jobs rich.
The estimated potential market share of the global green economy available to New Zealand is up to $22 billion each year.
Why wouldn’t we want a slice of that?
New Zealand can be leaders in clean tech. It’s a perfect fit with our clean green brand.
It continues to amaze me that the Government’s been so reluctant to back it.
Now I’ve been Co-leader of the Green Party for three months.
In my inaugural speech as Co-leader I called for all political parties to work together and build a common cause on climate change.
You might remember John Key’s response. To paraphrase: “No.”
I still believe New Zealanders want their politicians to work together, and act in the common interest. I am genuinely convinced that people are turned off by the endless political Punch and Judy show.
When it comes to the huge threat posed by climate change it is absolutely essential that we do all we can, not as little as is possible.
The Prime Minister says we can’t have a proper climate target, well this plan shows he is wrong.
Just this week Barack Obama gave a rousing speech on climate change declaring that any leader who didn’t take the threat seriously wasn’t fit for office.
Its time for John Key to switch his focus from doing as little as possible, to doing all that is possible.
Tacking climate change requires leadership. But it will take effort from all of us. It won’t be easy but we can do it.
We’ve shown today that there is room for common ground.
Can we take a respectable target to Paris - one that we can be proud of?
Yes, we can.
Can we overcome the inertia of a Government with no ambition, no ideas, and no plan.
Yes, we can
Here’s a plan. Have this one.
This 100 percent copyright free, yours to keep climate plan shows the Green Party is absolutely committed to action and challenges the Government to do the same.
The ball is in the Government’s court now. I suggest we all demand they start playing.
[i] Electricity Authority, data from - Installed distributed generation trends data set

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