By Bridget Gourlay
Global warming is a scientific theory that has only became widely accepted in the last decade. Whether or not it’s man-made is still being debated by some, but the United Nations, the heads of state of most countries and all major New Zealand political parties other than ACT, believe it is and want to stop its potentially detrimental effects.
The thorny issue of how to tackle it is what’s coming under fire at the moment.
Emissions trading is a financial, market-based approach to global warming that introduces a price on greenhouse gas emissions to provide an incentive for people to reduce them.
The former Labour Government originally designed an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for New Zealand in 2008, but the current National Government amended and watered it down. It will come into place on July 1.
So if climate change is real, why shouldn’t we have an ETS?
Firstly, and most importantly, say ETS opponents, is because Australia and the United States are not coming to the party.
Despite Kevin Rudd and Barak Obama previously campaigning for and having good track records on environmental issues and carbon trading, neither leader has been able to get the support to turn ETS legislation into law.
So without Australia and the USA backing an ETS, there are fears New Zealand’s efforts, (as a small country, we are not a major polluter) will just be a drop in the bucket.
Then there is the financial equation. ACT spokesperson John Boscawen says the economy will suffer and it’s Kiwi families who will be hit in the wallet.
He calculates the cost of electricity will increase five percent from July 1, 2010 and extra four cents of tax per litre will be added to petrol, which will go up to eight cents in 2013.
So why should the government push this through then?
Problems never get solved if everybody waits for others to act. Proponents say New Zealand needs to play its part in tackling a crucial issue that might affect us in a myriad of ways.
If global warming continues, our native ecosystems could be invaded by exotic species and there is the risk of drought and the spreading of pests and diseases in agriculture. Rising sea levels will increase the risk of erosion and saltwater intrusion, and snowlines and glaciers are expected to retreat and change water flows in major South Island rivers.
New Zealand has a ‘clean and green’ image, which is traded on commercially – to attract tourists to our country and to sell our agricultural products – and politically in international diplomacy. Not being seen to tackle climate change could put a dent in our 100% Pure brand.
Minister of Environment Dr Nick Smith also points out that backing out now would be too late.
“There would be real instability and uncertainty in deferring the emission trading scheme’s introduction at this late stage. I have been contacted by a number of businesses who are making substantial investments or have entered into significant contracts that would be severely disadvantaged by change.”
And even if Australia and the USA are stalling now, other countries are still behind climate change solutions.
“Claims that New Zealand is the first in the world to have an ETS is incorrect. Three quarters of countries facing Kyoto commitments, 29 out of 38, already have an ETS,” Dr Smith adds.
The National Government has scheduled a review of the ETS for 2011.