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Kennedy Graham's speech on the Paris climate talks




Dr Kennedy Graham: "The Hon Nick Smith and I, I think, are the only two members to have attended the 1992 Rio conference that produced the original framework convention. Mr Smith has just advanced—I am not sure that our paths have converged too much in the intervening 23 years, but hope springs eternal. I invite the Hon Nick Smith to reflect on green policy over the next few years.

The Government does need to take on board green policies. Mr Smith advanced the usual claims about New Zealand’s initiatives in global climate change. Unerringly his Government focuses on what other countries should be doing, while New Zealand’s emissions continue to increase.

I will be on the plane in a few hours’ time, heading to Paris. I am looking forward to interacting with the Hon Simon Bridges and Tim Groser and others in a constructive way, but it will be constructive criticism that we will be bringing to bear on this Government’s policy.

Let us remember that the Paris agreement will not, in fact, be the first global agreement, which is how it is being described. That was in 1992.

The Rio convention called for emissions to stabilise, to prevent dangerous climate change. It has taken 23 years for all Governments to agree to submit national targets. We should all be ashamed that it has taken this long. In 1990 annual global emissions were 38 billion tonnes. Today they are 53 billion tonnes. Had we stabilised by, say, 2000 or even if the developed world had stabilised, as the Rio convention had called for, we would be safe, below the 2 degrees.

The Paris agreement will succeed in being the first protocol of Rio to require a commitment from all parties to cut or limit emissions. But that should have occurred in Copenhagen, 6 years ago. Back then, global emissions were 49 billion tonnes—4 billion tonnes less than today. We keep losing precious time, taunting the gods.

The main problem that will come out of Paris is the ponderous formality of the peer review mechanism—the so-called global stocktake. This will commence only after the Paris agreement has entered into force—in fact, not until 2022. That is too late. It must start in 2016.

Peer reviews will not do it. I have had experience with international peer reviews, having defended the New Zealand aid programme in Paris, before the OECD, two decades ago. That year, our official development assistance was 0.28 percent of gross national income. What is it today? It is 0.28 percent.

A peer review of inadequate voluntary targets that starts several years after the scientists say global emissions are meant to peak virtually guarantees failure to stay under the 2 degrees threshold. Meanwhile, our Prime Minister has told an unsuspecting world that “while New Zealand’s emissions are small on a global scale, we are determined to make a strong contribution.” 
It clearly depends on what we mean by “strong”. Our current emission projections for 2030 will make a strong contribution to a 3.5 degree world, which is described by the World Bank as catastrophic.

Mr Key reminded the world that “New Zealand faces unique domestic challenges in reducing emissions.” So, of course, does every other country. That is why we have the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Part of the unique New Zealand challenge is that we are one of the highest per capita emitters in the world, and we bear disproportionate responsibility for historical emissions. The Prime Minister does not include this in his structured world view of climate policy. “Our emissions trading scheme”—he then said—“remains our key policy tool in reducing emissions.” Those present were too courteous to laugh, but the fact is that emissions have soared, not reduced, under the emissions trading scheme since he took office 7 years ago.

The Prime Minister rounded off his contribution by concluding that “New Zealand is determined to play its part and make a real difference.” That, too, is an epic statement.

I wonder whether anyone has whispered to the Prime Minister what percentage reduction might be required of New Zealand, to play its part in sharing the global carbon budget for a 2 degree world. That is closer to 70 percent—70 percent, not 11 percent.

May Paris be a success, but let us not delude ourselves over the magnitude of this challenge."