Jeanette Fitzsimons wrote this post as she worked on her submission to the Government’s just-completed climate change target consultation process.

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Like hundreds of New Zealanders I went to one of the Government’s consultation meetings (Hamilton, where there were 70 people) on what our climate change target should be in Paris this year. Now I’m wresting with their Discussion Document as I write my submission to the process.

The document suggests we should do “our fair share” – hardly a goal anyone could disagree with – until you read the caveat “in light of our unique national circumstances”. There follows a pathetic list of excuses for why we should do much less than others – a list of special pleadings crying poor me and arguing we are disadvantaged. I am embarrassed that these arguments are being made in our name in international meetings so let’s look at whether they have any merit.

It is hard for us to reduce emissions because we have a lot of agriculture where there aren’t easy options and we supply food to the rest of the world which is important

We have chosen to make our living with dairy farming, and must take responsibility for the consequences. It’s not as though the rest of the world would starve without our dairy products. Most of it now is infant formula, replacing superior breast milk in China so that mothers can go straight back to work. Dairy products are luxury foods. Lower intensity farming with better management of wet soils and use of breeds that emit less methane could at least reduce those emissions.

While we are held accountable for our food exports, we have outsourced most of our manufacturing to China and other places, and considerable industrial emissions with it. We consume those products but are not accountable for their emissions.

Government also persists in supporting conversion of forests to dairy farms by its own LandCorp, showing they are not serious about stopping agricultural emissions growing.

It is hard because most of our electricity is already renewable

True we have less scope in electricity than most countries, but we still have some. The old, highly inefficient and polluting Huntly power station, which often runs on coal, could be closed without hardship because there are already enough wind and geothermal power plants consented, but not built because demand is not growing, to replace its output 3-5 times over.

More importantly, electricity is only a small part of our total energy. Our transport emissions are huge because our road transport is highly inefficient. We are virtually the only OECD country without fuel economy standards for vehicles, (new or used) entering the country. As a result our light vehicle fleet has an average efficiency of around 10 L/100km. Yet my 10 year old Honda Jazz, a 5 seater with capacious luggage space, uses less than half that, partly because of the vehicle, but also because I know how to drive. It cost less than most cars of its class.

Refusing to set standards condemns low and middle income people, who can never afford a new car so never have choice, to the gas guzzlers someone else has decided to buy 10 years previously. These people will never afford electric cars – at least not for 20 years or more. This is an obvious example of how climate action would save, rather than cost, households money.

It is hard because our population has increased faster than many other countries

Well, who made that decision? Immigration policy has deliberately targeted an increased population. It is not natural increase, but is entirely within our control and we have to take responsibility for it. We cannot accept the extra wealth of a larger population then expect to be excused from counting their greenhouse emissions.

It is hard because plantation forestry is entering the harvesting phase of the cycle and we will lose carbon stored in trees

NZ argued in 1997 for a “forest sinks” approach knowing that we would need to do nothing to meet our first Kyoto period target because of trees that were already in the ground or about to be planted. We therefore allowed our emissions to grow, knowing we would still be in credit from these “offsets” at the end of KP1. Now that we have entered the harvesting part of the cycle we have withdrawn from the second Kyoto period, where we would have been in deficit, and are still arguing to carry over the credits from trees planted in KP1, without accounting in any way for the loss of that carbon in harvesting! It is breathtaking hypocrisy, and shows what a scam “forest sinks” from production forests actually are. It’s time we faced up to it as a nation.

While our per capita greenhouse gas emissions are close to the highest in the world, our per capita carbon dioxide emissions are lower than some countries, which excuses us

It is true that carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, but we don’t actually have any haloes there either. The countries with which we compare ourselves on carbon dioxide are the US and Australia, both extremely high emitters with industrial economies, from which we import some of the output. Our carbon dioxide emissions are not low on a world scale, even though we import most of our industrial goods – partly because our transport is so bad.

All these excuses for doing less than our share are hypocritical and self-serving, created by a government that wants to do nothing. These “circumstances” are of our own making and the result of policies which could be changed. The basis for our fair share should be total per capita emissions, compared both with other countries (where we need first to get down from our current 17 to the global average of 8) and with the eventual allowable emissions dictated by climate science, which is only 2 tonnes per person if we want to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees.