New Adopt a Negotiator: Where’s New Zealand’s climate plan? And who’s counting what?

New Zealand should have submitted its plan for shaking itself off its carbon addiction on Tuesday. It didn’t. Instead, our Government started to sell off new oil drilling rights on Monday and tried to cut down environmental reporting standards on Wednesday.

2015 marks the beginning of the end of the age of fossil fuels. Our major trading partners know it, and countries from Russia* to Gabon are fronting up with their Intended Nationally Determined Commitments, their national climate plans to take them through the 2020s.

Ports of Auckland

But while the rest of the world is fronting up with plans to attract new, low carbon investment and pump up renewable industries, Aotearoa New Zealand instead ties its fortunes ever tighter to the carbon bubble.

Last weekend, Sky City Casino hosted the ‘Advantage New Zealand Petroleum Summit’. A week before that, divestment campaigners from 350 Aotearoa had released helium-filled black balloons – metaphorical carbon bubbles – within the ANZ Bank head office, in protest of the Bank’s Petroleum Summit funding. Outside the Summit, thousands of New Zealanders banged drums, pots and pans, pledging to drive Statoil out of from New Zealand, as they had sent off Anadarko before it.


Within the back-slapping bravado of the Petroleum Summit, their message fell on deaf ears. Energy Minister Simon Bridges admitted that the protestors “have a real point“, but blithely declared that the world would need more oil – even though existing owned oil reserves are enough to blow through our carbon budget five times over. In the week that the Anglican Church’s global environmental leaders called on more churches to divest, New Zealand’s Government flogged off another 429,298 square kilometres for oil exploration in another Block Offer. We are opening another seven areas for oil exploration, despite dropping oil prices. There is a bitter irony in New Zealand soliciting more oil exploration from Norwegian giant Statoil in the wake of Norway’s own Sovereign Wealth Fund divesting itself from investments in 22 oil companies.

The whole world urgently needs to stop looking for more oil and start moving to clean energy. … This is the sound of the future, and oil is not part of it. – Steve Abel, Greenpeace New Zealand

More paradoxically still, the day before we were supposed to file our emissions reduction plan with the United Nations, Statistics New Zealand released a set of new Environmental Reporting Standards that take New Zealand far, far into the Twilight Zone. Within a month of Cyclone Pam ripping a deadly trail through our Pacific neighbours, New Zealand’s Government Ministers have decided that we should only measure extreme weather by counting the number of lightning strikes to hit the country. We aren’t counting cyclones or droughts, but lightning strikes. We’re tracking the air pollution from Kiwis heating their homes and driving to work, but not from New Zealand’s dairy farms, aluminium smelters, oil refineries and steel mills. Worse still, no attempt is even made to track New Zealand’s carbon emissions.

Even weirder is how Statistics New Zealand plans to track the impacts of climate change:

Statistics New Zealand's measures of climate change impacts
At least we’re tracking what climate change does to milk production!

Topically, in the wake of the Petroleum Summit, the Ministers have directed Statistics New Zealand to keep track of “Discharges to the marine environment”. Trouble is, while that sounds like we plan to keep a record of oil spills, we don’t. Instead, we plan to count only marine debris and exclude any other discharge into the oceans.

When we were supposed to be filing our plan to get us to a low carbon economy, our Ministers instead decided to just stop keeping track of most of the key indicators of just how carbon intensive our economy is, and of just what it’s doing to us.

New Zealanders have made their voices loud and clear. We want a just transition to a safe climate future. We want a forward-thinking, smart, clean economy. Justifiably, we are proud of our history of innovation. The people of Aotearoa want an economy that faces up to the future. We know what we want our country to look like in the 2020s, and that future is tantalisingly close.

Yet our Government now has no plan to get us there. We have snuck past the first deadline for filing our plan for a transition to a low-carbon economy, guiltily glancing over our shoulders. Even now, after the deadline for filing the thing – when Europe has not only consulted with its public, but written, finalised and filed an ambitious plan – our Government hasn’t even opened up its long-promised consultation.

* Admittedly parts of Russia’s national climate plan look more like some sort of surrealist performance art than a genuine plan. But that’s Putin’s Russia for you. And at least Russia’s plan, you know, exists.