Thursday, 21 July 2011

My speech from a debate on the Emissions Trading Scheme

Here is my speech I gave last night in a debate at Vic University about the Emissions Trading Scheme. I like to think I won, so below are my convincing arguments so you can judge for yourself!

Tena koutou katoa.

My name is Zachary Dorner, and I'm proud to be standing before you as the Green@Vic candidate, campaigning for the Party Vote for the Green Party this election year. It's great to see Environment Week rolled out for another year – something I had the pleasure of doing last year when I was Environmental Officer. It’s great to see what an excellent job Haley's done this year. Thanks to VUWSA for organising this important debate about an issue close to my heart.

Emissions trading schemes are a bit like Weetbix. Many people find them bland, they have a complicated structure with many layers, and unless you sweeten them up (and add some milk) they are hard to swallow.
If you add too many sweeteners to Weetbix, and too much milk, you get a sickening mess, and you lose all nutritional value of the Weetbix. And that’s what John Key did as soon as he got into power. He added billions of dollars worth of subsidies (sweetners) to our biggest polluters, put too much milk on the New Zealand economy and environment, and left tax payers to foot most of the bill. No nutritional value, no environmental or economic benefit, just a big, sickening, soggy mess. John Key’s ETS was a failure from the start.

The Green Party has a plan for a smart green economy that works for everyone – the people, the environment and our future.
Although the evidence is all around us, and there’s a near consensus of climate scientist on climate change, that it is real and caused by humans, some people still need convincing. Last year was the warmest year on record – roughly equal to 2005 and 1998. And record temperatures continue. If that’s not enough for year, here’s what the NZ Herald said last Saturday (16 July):

It began with the China floods in May last year, coinciding, in June, with widespread fires and drought in Russia, coinciding with record breaking monsoon flooding in Pakistan that killed 1,500 people and left 20 million homeless. That was followed by a "once-in-a- century" drought in the Amazon - except that the last once-in-a-century event in the region happened just five years before.

In December a million hectares of Colombia was underwater. Sri Lanka had its heaviest rains for 100 years. The Philippines had four weeks of sustained rain in January, Brazil had catastrophic mudslides killing 600 people and then Queensland was inundated - the flood waters covering an area larger than Germany and France combined.

In April the mighty Mississippi and Missouri rivers swelled to record levels causing spillways to be opened and mass evacuations, followed by one of the largest tornado outbreaks in American history. Meanwhile a nine-month drought continues to parch Texas and Oklahoma and China evacuated some 500,000 people in June from floods along the Yangtze River following the worst drought in 50 years.
New Zealand meanwhile has experienced record temperatures, record flooding in Whakatane, and a host of unusual weather conditions, including two tornados – one deadly one in Auckland, and one on the Kapiti coast.

As predicted, climate change is bringing unstable weather, and a climate in which it is harder to grow our food - already raising global food prices - and harder to plan for the future. A future our generation is meant to inherit.

In order to deal with this issue, a research levy on agriculture emissions was proposed in 2003, later ditched due to lobbying from farmers against what they called the “fart tax” (though everyone knows most emissions come from cow’s burps). Then a carbon tax was proposed, and ditched around 2006. This was followed by the release of Al Gore's movie about climate change, which promptly convinced the then Labour Government that something needed to be done – so they constructed a hideously complex ETS instead, which was passed in 2008, with the help of the Greens and NZ First.

We had strong reservations about it, but with just 6 MPs, we had limited sway and felt it was important to get a price on carbon – though not without improving the scheme as much as we could before supporting it, including a billion dollars into a home insulation scheme. It was a start.

Enter John Key's National Government. Ignoring old bowls of soggy Weetbix laying around the Ministry for the Environment, as soon as he got into power, he trashed the ETS. He halved the price on carbon, took the cap out of the “cap and trade” system, and added in billions of dollars of subsidies to our largest polluters, which are allocated via a non-transparent process. Polluters will not pay their full and fair share for their pollution until around 2084 under the scheme. Not very smart when you’re borrowing $300 million a week.

Any emissions reductions achieved in the short run will be negligible – possibly around only 0.7% below business as usual by the end of next year, by which time we should have done a lot more. What the science tells us, is that developing countries need to cut emissions by 25 to 40%, below 1990 levels, by 2020 - which we are already over 20% above in NZ. Arguing with the science of environmental limits is like arguing with an oncoming bus – the laws of physic will win every time.

Meanwhile, an ETS, especially one as weak as the current one we have in place, needs other measures to be in place to ensure emission reductions. John Key instead has decided to commit nearly $10 billion to build just seven new motorways over the next three years, increase our mining on conservation land (yes, he's still planning to do that, just not as bad as originally planned), drill for oil in our deep oceans with little or no regulation to prepare us for an oil spill, and allow some of our best farmland in Southland to be mined for lignite, the most dirty form of dirty coal.

So clearly John Key does not care about the environment, does not care about our generation, and he certainly does not care about our most valuable asset – our clean green brand in our beautiful country.
Luckily we have the Green Party in Parliament – the Party with the best understanding of the economic and environmental situation we find ourselves in. Whether we care or we don't, New Zealand's clean green brand is worth a lot of money. Further, the global economy is going green, with or without us.

The green economic wave is coming, could be worth $6 trillion annually globally already and we can either let it swamp us, or ride it from our prime position. As the new business group Pure Advantage points out, we risk loosing this prime position – slipping from number one in the international Environmental Performance Index, to number 15 last year in the space of just 5 years. The Green Party has a plan for a smart green economy that works for everyone, that will reverse this decline.

In terms of climate change, the Green Party’s current policy is to improve the ETS, though our first preference has always been a carbon charge, recycled into income tax reductions. This goes along with our plan for ecological tax reform – to tax bads, like carbon emissions, and reduce taxes on goods, like income.

We would improve the ETS by putting a cap on emissions, and make sure we cover taxpayer liabilities under international agreements like Kyoto as fast as possible. We will also put a cap on how many international credits can be purchased, so emissions reductions are at home, like Australia is planning. This is important to ensure we move towards a smart, green economy here in New Zealand, rather than paying others to do it for us in their countries.

And of course we need to look at the resilience of our entire economy, to make sure we are the full package – the real deal. So the Green Party will transfer money from motorways into better, faster and smarter public transport, to make sure New Zealanders have choice in how they get around, and that they don’t bear the brunt of rising petrol prices. We will protect our most treasured places, and ensure any mining done is not going to wreck our beautiful country, or our climate. We would clean up our waterways. And we would use our public assets (rather than selling them) to partner with private industry, to develop clean tech and green tech, such as Whispertech’s current partnership with publicly owned Meridian Energy.

By taking these important steps, and having an economic vision for New Zealand, we will transform our economy into a smart green economy. We will be playing to our Pure Advantage and we will be setting ourselves up for future prosperity with a quality of life that we can be proud of.

John Key’s ETS was a failure from the start, and so is his lack of economic vision. Only a Party Vote for the Green Party will ensure a we create smart green economy that works for everyone, so we have a future worth looking forward to.