Does he stand by his statement that “There is a growing sense of urgency among governments … that action needs to be taken now” on climate change; if so, why will the Government not consider putting in place price-based measures across the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before 2012?
Yes. The full quote from my speech on Friday is: “There is a growing sense of urgency among governments and—more recently—citizens that action needs to be taken now”. Growing public support has reached such a level that even climate change naysayer Dr Don Brash has decided his party needs a belated makeover on this issue. In respect of price-based issues, we have already signalled price-based measures for electricity generation for before 2012, and we will be advancing detailed options in respect of those measures with the New Zealand Energy Strategy.
If there is such a sense of urgency, why is a State-owned enterprise pursuing the commissioning of the proposed Marsden B coal-fired power station, which is projected to emit some 1.8 to 2.17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year?
Mighty River Power has pursued a Resource Management Act consent; it has not pursued the commissioning or the re-commissioning of that station. I am aware that Mighty River Power is awaiting the New Zealand Energy Strategy and our proposals in respect of carbon pricing in electricity.
Has the Minister received any reports on a growing consensus on the need to act on climate change?
Yes, I most certainly have received a report that National has had a change of heart on climate change, and I suppose it is better late than never. National now says it supports a “cap and trade” scheme to limit emissions in electricity generation. It says it is interested in joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate—something the Government is already advancing. National has expressed support for biofuels, building code, and vehicle efficiency measures. These are all Labour-led Government policies. I suppose it was predictable that National would finally want a bob each way, and we hope its votes will now match its new rhetoric.
Does the Minister accept that his Government’s greenhouse gas policies have failed, as since 1999 coal-fired electricity generation has trebled; major renewable energy projects, like the Aqua and Dobson projects, have been rejected, but new coal, gas, and oil projects—like those at the Marsden B, Huntly ep3, and Whirinaki facilities—have been approved; and when New Zealand emissions have grown at four times the rate of the United States’ and three times the rate of Australia’s; and, if that is not failure, can he explain what failure might be?
New Zealand has not built any coal-fired power stations for a long, long time, connected to the grid. I am glad that member is starting to care about climate change. Since last Friday, I have heard his party variously described as the “Donny come-latlies” or “Climate change fair-weather friends”. None the less, I welcome support for climate change policies and think the sincerity of National’s position really will only be shown by its position in votes in the House.
Does he believe that the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, whilst aiding New Zealand to meet its climate change goals, will also have wider benefits such as improving water quality and stabilising erosion-prone land—both issues that United Future is currently working closely with the Government on?
I do, and I thank the member and other parties for their support on that bill. It is true that many of the wide range of initiatives that we have with climate change benefits also have other substantial benefits. They achieve things that we would want to do anyway, like improving water quality, improving soil conservation, reducing New Zealanders’ electricity bills, and reducing how much they have to pay when they fill up their car at the petrol pump.
Is the Minister genuine about his concern expressed on Friday that, unless the Government changes its policy, transport emissions will increase by 45 percent over the next 25 years; if so, would he now like to retract his rather emphatically made statement to me during a select committee hearing that “there is no connection between roading and climate change.”?
I do not remember making that statement in quite those terms. I do agree—because I have produced and released the document that shows it—that under current policy settings, if we do nothing to change the way in which we go about our lives in New Zealand, transport-related greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 45 percent over the next 25 years, and this Government should not, and will not, let that happen. The measures that are required to achieve change will be a combination of changing fuel sources, to the likes of biofuels and plug-in hybrids, in the future, as well as measures to improve the efficiency of the vehicle fleet, in addition to the sixfold increase already that we have had in public transport funding.
What in the National Party’s announcement last week is different from the Labour-led Government’s climate change policy already under way?
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would be delighted to answer, as Minister, questions on National’s climate change policy.
I would be happy to seek the leave of the House to table those proposals, given that the Government has so few.
The question asked what the differences were between that policy and Labour Party policy. That must be within the Standing Orders.
What in previous announcements has been different from this Labour-led Government’s climate change policy that is already under way?
I struggled to find points of new significance in recent announcements, but I did see that National has been calling for a new international negotiation for a post-2012 agreement. It shows that National obviously wants to go and sit in a room and negotiate by itself, because negotiations for post-2012 involving all of the world’s major emitters and New Zealand have been under way for some time. It is actually run by the UN, I say to Dr Smith, which works in a big building in New York, if he wants to go and check.
Will this Government adopt National’s constructive proposal to “cap and trade” electricity greenhouse emissions now, so as to give an incentive for renewable energy and for forest planting, given the very strong support that this proposal has received from electricity generators, from foresters, and from environmentalists; and how is it possible for him to say that last week’s announcements proposed nothing new, when this is a very significant proposal to address climate change?
Far from being very new and significant, it is but a variant and a narrower version of the carbon tax that National previously opposed. Furthermore, when we announced at the end of last year that we were not proposing to proceed with a broad-based carbon tax, we specifically announced that we were considering the likes of a “cap and trade” scheme in the electricity generation. As I said in response to an earlier question, detailed proposals in respect of that will be released in the next month in the New Zealand Energy Strategy.
Does the Minister agree that any domestic “cap and trade” system will be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions only if the cap is set low and rapidly sinks to the 1990 levels we have committed to under the Kyoto Protocol, and it has to be sufficiently broad to include transport, electricity generation, and agriculture?
The Government has not actually made up its mind as to how broad future price-based measures ought to be, post-2012. There are some difficult issues there. National has already made up its mind. National says it should exempt completely its mates in agriculture. We at least have an open mind on the issue. In respect of how low the cap should be, in my opinion it is most important that we curb the marginal growth in emissions. That is the first and easiest step that we should take.
Will the Minister confirm that carbon taxes were effectively stopped by New Zealand First in its confidence and supply agreement with the Government, the premise being that New Zealanders are already taxed enough, and that given the right guidance the vast majority of them care enough about the environment to work willingly towards addressing greenhouse gas problems?
It is correct that New Zealand First and, indeed, United Future both had as requirements in their agreements with the Government that we review the carbon tax.
Further to his expressed concern about increasing carbon emissions from transport, does he agree that electrifying the remaining sections of the main trunk rail line and encouraging as much freight as possible, as well as passengers, to use it would be one practical way of reducing our transport-related carbon emissions as well as our dependence on oil; if so, will he be encouraging his Government to do this as part of its climate change strategy; if not, why not?
I agree that if that area of rail was electrified it would reduce carbon emissions. That is not to say that it is the most cost-effective carbon-reducing measure that could be taken and I am sure those decisions will be made by the relevant Minister, taking into account climate change considerations.