Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews Amy Adams

Published: Sun 24 Jun 2012 01:09 PM
Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews Amy Adams
Environment Minister Amy Adams says there’s been “some” progress from Rio, but probably not as much as they’d like in some areas.
On the WWF report into New Zealand’s failure: “It’s fairly one-sided… some of the information in there is wrong.”
Adams says New Zealand received accolades at the conference for the work we’ve done with our fisheries system, with our management of natural resources and with our emissions trading scheme.
Admits New Zealand has had an increase in emissions, but is playing it down: “But actually considerably less than the rest of the world has seen and over a time of significant population growth.”
Adams believes we can build more roads, have more cows and drill more, “They’re sustainable as long as we’re doing them in a way that’s environmentally responsible.”
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Q + A
GREG The biggest meeting the United Nations has ever held, the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has finished. Activist and actor Lucy Lawless was there, alongside high-profile celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney, Penelope Cruz and Jude Law.  We’ll get her assessment soon, but first Shane Taurima spoke with Conservation Minister Amy Adams before she left Rio.  Wellington schoolgirl Brittany Trilford had stood before world leaders and asked them to do the right thing for her children and her grandchildren.  And Shane started by asking the Minister whether those world leaders had listened.
AMY ADAMS – Environment Minister
            Well, first of all, let me say that I think Brittany did an amazing job up there.  For a young New Zealander to be on that world stage speaking so clearly and so passionately, it was really a proud moment for all New Zealanders here.  She had a pretty strong message to the conference, and I think, you know, she had a clear message she wanted to deliver.  The reality is, of course, with these things that there’s never going to be a single conference that simply solves these problems for all time.  The conference has certainly made some progress.  Maybe not as much as we might like in some areas, but, look, it’s a step forward, and I would rather see all countries moving in the right direction than a complete breakdown of talks, and certainly to see consensus in the outcome document that we have can only be regarded as a good thing.
SHANE But it appears at home here that little has been achieved when we hear that Greenpeace has described the conference as an ‘epic failure’.  Nick Clegg says he’s disappointed, but you’re saying that progress is being made.  Who is right?
AMY Well, I mean, I have my view; they have theirs.  The feeling here amongst most of the delegations is that, look, it’s modest, but it’s progress.  And, you know, I don’t want to oversell it, but you can’t escape the fact that we have made some gains in some of the areas that certainly are important to New Zealand, particularly around oceans management. We’re very pleased to see that.  We would have liked to see perhaps some stronger language on fossil fuel subsidy reform, which New Zealand has been very widely commended for here for our strong leadership position on.  But even in that regard, the fact that there is now text in a UN consensus document talking about the need to be considering and thinking about fossil fuel subsidy reform, it is a step in the right direction.  And these issues – it’s about playing a long game.
SHANE You were urging other countries at the summit to cut their subsidies for fossil fuels.  Why is that?
AMY Well, fossil fuel subsidy reform is something that New Zealand, as I said, has been spearheading, and we’re spearheading it because there’s around US$400 billion to US$600 billion every year that goes into subsidising fossil fuels. Now, that money could be far better spent often on better-achieving sustainable development programmes.  There are some countries now who are spending more on fossil fuel subsidies than they spend on health or education.  But the really important thing is that if we were to remove fossil fuel subsidies over time, we could see 10% of global emissions wiped out of our environment.  Now, New Zealand is a pretty small player.  We know that our own emissions are only 0.02%, so what we do at home will make a small difference – very little difference – but we have to do it.  But if we can encourage that sort of worldwide change and have an impact on removing up to 10% of global emissions, that’s when we start to make a real difference in the world.  New Zealand has been leading it.  We have been supported by a large number of like-minded countries.  And while the battle is a long way from won, we’ve made some progress here, and it’s a battle that we will continue to fight.
SHANE I just wonder, though, if our position is a bit rich, coming from a country that wants to dramatically increase its exports of fossil fuels.
AMY No, I don’t think so.  I mean, we’re very clear that we have a pricing mechanism around the use of fossil fuels.  This is not about banning oil.  We’re certainly not saying that the world should give up fossil fuels. What we are saying is that we shouldn’t distort the market, and by doing that, what we are— if you’re distorting the market and subsidising fossil fuels, then what you are doing is putting up real barriers to the transition to renewable energy.  So we’re encouraging moves to renewables, and the best way we can do that is to remove the subsidies for fossil fuels.
SHANE What about our own position and our own record?  Because the World Wildlife Fund report, as an example, says we’ve failed – greenhouse gas emissions are up, more species are being lost and rivers are dirtier than ever.
AMY Well, I mean, I’ve made my comments around that report, but my view is that it’s fairly one-sided.  It picks and chooses how it reports.  Some of the information in there is wrong, some is outdated.  But I think the important thing is to put New Zealand’s position in the international context.  I’ll be absolutely up front that I think New Zealand doesn’t claim to have solved all the problems.  We still have work to do, particularly around freshwater management.  But what I think you can’t escape is that, actually, we have made incredible progress.  And the number of times New Zealand has received accolades here for the work we’ve done with our fisheries system, with our management of natural resources and with our emissions trading scheme, which let’s not forget is the first in the world – anywhere in the world – to cover all sectors and all gases.  That’s a tremendous achievement.  Yes, we have had an increase in emissions, but actually considerably less than the rest of the world has seen and over a time of significant population growth.  So these are difficult issues.  No one’s pretending that we’ve got them solved.
SHANE But another recent report, the Pure Advantage report, says your government doesn’t have a good record.  We used to lead the way with our environmental policies, we slipped to seventh in 2008 when your government took over, and we’re now at 14th.  Hardly a good record.
AMY Well, actually, I think what the Pure Advantage report is broadly talking about is the need to embrace the greening of our economy, and we agree with that.  You know, we commissioned our own green growth advisory group to look at the ways the government can actively pursue green growth, and we’ve been talking a lot about the fact that we have to be as focused on how we grow as on how much we grow.  And my government certainly endorses that, and we’re taking the recommendations of our green growth advisory report very seriously and working through them now.
SHANE I wonder about our commitment to a green economy when your government is all about more roads, more cows and more drilling.
AMY What my government is all about, Shane, is more economic growth, more jobs, better opportunities for New Zealanders. And, actually, the outcome document here in Rio that we’re talking about, if you read through it from end to end, is as much about the need for countries to be economically growing, to be providing jobs, to be looking for opportunities, to be developing their opportunities, to be providing income and social services.  And, actually, the point is made repeatedly here in Rio and repeatedly in the outcome document that it can no more be the economy at the expense of the environment as it can be the environment at the expense of the economy.  We’ve been very clear that we’re seeking a balance between strong economic growth and sustainable management of our resources, and that’s the path that we’re very firmly committed to.
SHANE So how do you achieve that, though, and practice in reality?
AMY I think in reality there’s any number of steps that have to be taken.  There isn’t a magic bullet in this space. There’s not a single thing or things that we can do.  What I think it is is working with each sector to encourage them to change behaviours, to look to be more sustainable.
SHANE But doesn’t it go back to the point, though, that we’re talking about more roads, more cows, more drilling?
AMY Well, if we want to have growth, we need to see more opportunities developed, and I make no apology for that, but what we do want to see is that done in a way that’s sustainable.  Right now— I mean, you talk a lot about roads.  Right now, roads are how we get our goods around the country; they’re how we get our goods to market.  They’re a necessary part of our environment and our economy.  And I think, certainly, when you look at the vast majority of all transport, people or cargo, it’s done by roads, and that’s certainly a part of the growth strategy.  It’s not the whole of the growth strategy, but building the infrastructure to support growth is a necessary way forward.  What we do have to do is make sure that when we’re carrying out that growth, we’re considering and wherever possible mitigating, remedying or avoiding adverse effects on the environment.
SHANE But how are all those things sustainable?  When we talk about more roads, more cows, more drilling, how are those things sustainable?
AMY They’re sustainable as long as we’re doing them in a way that’s environmentally responsible.
SHANE Which is?
AMY And considers the finite resources that we have available to us and make sensible decisions.  Well, that depends on the resource that you’re talking about.  I mean, if you’re talking about the freshwater resource, for example, in the South Island that I’m very familiar with, if we use it carefully, it is very sustainable and perpetually renewing.  What we have to do is ensure we’re not overusing it.
SHANE And there we shall leave it.  Minister, thank you very much for your time.  We do appreciate it.
AMY You’re welcome.

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