Kennedy Graham’s general debate speech on climate change, New Zealand, and COP19

On Friday I leave for Warsaw for the 19th annual meeting of the climate negotiations. I was at Earth Summit back in 1992, where all this kicked off. I was at the 16th meeting in Copenhagen and the 18th at Doha last year.

It has been 20 years of struggle to save the planet from dangerous climate change. How have we done? The answer is not well, and the truth is that we are proving to be inadequate to the task.

The objective of the framework convention is stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. That year, the level of global omissions was 38 billion tonnes. Today it is 50 billion tonnes, one third higher than when we undertook to reduce the level.

The UN says that to stay under the 2 degree threshold of a dangerous climate, we must reduce global emissions to 44 billion tonnes by 2020. Business as usual will see an increase to 56 billion. Our voluntary pledges will keep us also way above the target.

The recent fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has four scenarios out to 2100. Only one, requiring a radical mitigation pathway, will keep us below the 2-degree threshold. The other three project a mean temperature rise of 2.6 degrees, 3 degrees, or 4.5 degrees.

Global warming to date has been a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius. We see around us the extreme weather events associated with 0.8 degrees—the forest fires in Russia and Australia, and the severe storms in America and the Philippines.

If this is what 0.8 does, imagine what 3 and 4.8 will do. Yet 4.5 is business as usual.

Can we imagine what this will be? Why are we not factoring in the magnitude of this threat in our political discourse? Well, the people who are suffering from 0.8 are doing just that.

The Philippines chief delegate at Warsaw had a few comments: “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. This climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here, in Warsaw. We cannot sit and stay helpless, staring at this international climate stalemate. It is time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.”

So Warsaw next week will test whether we manage to get negotiations for a global agreement back on track, following the train wreck of Copenhagen—whether we actually agree, as an international community, to reduce global emissions from 50 billion tonnes to 44 billion tonnes by 2020, just 6 years away.

If we do not, then very simply, we shall be committing our children to a catastrophic future.

How are we doing, down here in New Zealand? Are we doing our fair share in this unprecedented and titanic task?

New Zealand has the worst emissions record of all OECD countries. Our net emissions have grown from 32 million tonnes back in 1992, when we signed the convention and said we would start reducing, to 57 million tonnes today, a 78 percent increase.

In 2020 they will be 70 million tonnes, and in 2028 it will be 96 million tonnes. Does this bother our Prime Minister? No. When queried on the projected emissions he offers a relaxed view of the future. Science, he says, will be “our friend” when it comes to climate change.

Science could “quite possibly solve the problem of our agricultural emissions”, and besides, New Zealanders, he graciously observes, do not wish to change. “I have never been of the view that people are going to dramatically change their lifestyle. They are not going to stop eating protein. They are not going to stop wanting New Zealand to produce that protein, but science can actually help us.”

It is wilful negligence of this kind that will earn us, once again, the fossil awards at Warsaw.

This will enable climate Minister, Tim Groser, to jeer at the global civil society, as he did in Doha, on the grounds that they are unrealistic idealists who cannot perceive the real world for what it is.

Truth is, the real world is what the scientists, those friends of the Prime Minister, are describing it to be—catastrophic climate change in the course of this century, if we continue business as usual in the manner his Government, for incomprehensible reasons, wishes it to be.

11/16/2013 – 12:50


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