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Climate Change Response Amendment Bill — In Committee


Climate Change Response Amendment Bill

In Committee

Part 1 Amendments to principal Act

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) : If we ever needed a bill before the Committee to show the mess we have in respect of climate change policy, then the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill is it. This afternoon in Parliament I tabled New Zealand’s forestry planting figures and they show an appalling track record from this Government. What we know is that for the first time in 50 years New Zealand has net deforestation—that is, in 2005, for the first time under the stewardship of the last 12 Prime Ministers, we had net deforestation. More trees had been cut down in New Zealand than had been planted. This trend has occurred in each and every year that this Government has been in office. We have gone from having an average of 60,000 hectares of new forest right through the 1990s, to a period during which there has been a complete collapse in the numbers of trees planted. I note that the Minister of Forestry is in the Chamber. I would like to know from him why his Government has presided over such a plummet in confidence in the forestry sector. If we look across the Tasman to Australia, we see substantial planting of new forests—tens of thousands of hectares’ worth. While Australia’s graph is going up, New Zealand’s is going down.

That should worry every New Zealander, for three reasons. The first is that forests absorb carbon. It is one of the best contributions we can make to solving the problem of climate change. The reason New Zealand is in such a pickle over the Kyoto Protocol is the collapse in the planting of trees. The second reason is this: we have huge areas—about 800,000 hectares—of highly eroding hill country, for which our best hope is to plant trees. We know from the recent Manawatū floods the consequence of the huge soil erosion that occurs when we do not bind those soils with sensible forestry. The third reason we should be concerned about those plummets in the levels of our forestry is our economy. The forestry industry is New Zealand’s fourth-biggest export earner, and there is a collapse in confidence in that industry. That is bad news for jobs; that is bad news for exports.

In this bill the Government states that it will give recognition for indigenous forest plantings that are permanent forest sinks. I say to the Committee that that is a good thing, but it is a very small contributor to solving the overall problem. What is particularly bizarre about this bill is that the Government is saying it will give carbon recognition only if the forest is useless. If people want to harvest the trees, then they will be denied any recognition for the carbon absorption done by those trees. If there was ever a dumb policy, this is it. It is like saying that we want people to plant trees as long as they are not planted for any useful reason. Well, that, to National, seems quite bizarre.

So National supports the proper recognition of indigenous forests, but if people believe that that is an answer to New Zealand’s appalling greenhouse gas emission figures, then they are kidding themselves. We need a far more substantive package than this one. What appals me is that when National challenged the Prime Minister on her conference speech, she said that New Zealand would become carbon neutral. Well, what a fantasy! We have a set of figures from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nairobi taking place right now that show that New Zealand is doing worse on greenhouse gas emissions than almost any other country. I have heard the Prime Minister and the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues bag George Bush and the United States. They have been damning of John Howard and the Australian Government. Well, let us look at the figures. New Zealand’s emissions, according to the figures released today, have gone up by far more than emissions in the United States and Australia have.

DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) : I am delighted to take a call on Part 1 of the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill. It sets out the amendments that the Government seeks to make to the principal Act, in order that our country can face the most significant challenge of our time, which the Opposition is finally waking up to.

It is very interesting to follow Dr Nick Smith’s contribution, because in recent times he has talked about wanting to take a great bipartisan stand on this issue. Was that speech not a great example of bipartisanship? He criticised every initiative the Government has taken to date, he criticised the personalities of the Ministers involved, he said the Government was not doing enough, and he bagged our own country in relation to the United States and Australia—and this is the great example we have today of bipartisanship! This is a very interesting way for the National Party to behave.

It was interesting that Nick Smith said that the National Party, despite all these things, would be supporting Part 1. He started off by saying that National wanted to be bipartisan, he bagged all of Part 1, then he got to the end of his speech and said National would support the bill because he was now a Bluegreen.

It was interesting to note that when the bill was read for the first time in the House the putative leader of the National Party, John Key, said, with regard to the clauses in Part 1, that he was rising on behalf of the National Party “to give the good news to the people of New Zealand—that is, the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill is a load of rubbish and the National Party will not be supporting it, for very, very good reasons indeed.” John Key, the member for Helensville, who is prancing around at the moment and getting ready to take over the National Party leadership, came to the House and said National would be opposing Part 1 because it was a load of rubbish.

Then the expert on rubbish, Dr Smith, criticised the Government’s policies, said he wanted to be bipartisan, then said he would vote in support of Part 1. It is pretty clear that the National Party’s approach on climate change is all over the place.

The clauses we are implementing in Part 1 came under direct attack by the National Party during the election campaign. National members went around belittling climate change by linking it to only the Kyoto agreement. They made jokes about Kyoto the whole time. They ridiculed and made puerile and infantile remarks about the so-called “fart tax”, which was a scientific research response to try to cope with the fact that half of our emissions happen to come from animals—which is obviously not the animals’ fault, but we have to try to do what we can in our own country.

Once that topic was dropped, National members went around saying they also opposed the carbon tax. So every single climate change initiative that has come before Parliament has been opposed by the National Party. It has ridiculed these initiatives and said the problems do not exist. But all of a sudden a few National members saw a movie made by Al Gore, and now they are great converts to the theory of climate change. I am sure that such thinkers and luminaries as Mark Blumsky went to the late screening at Rialto, came out as absolute converts to the theory of climate change, and said we have to do something about it.

I pick up on one point that Dr Smith made when he was demeaning our country in relation to Australia and the United States. The fact is that New Zealand’s emissions are lower, in total, than in those two countries, and on a per person basis, and on a per unit of GDP basis. New Zealand’s emissions are lower. Why the National Party persists in trying to criticise us in relation to the two countries of the developed world who have not signed the Kyoto Protocol is an absolute mystery to me. The reality is that even if we were not implementing the changes in this bill—and I am glad we are implementing clauses 3 to 29 of Part 1—New Zealand has a much better chance of meeting our 1990 emission levels than Australia does. This country is doing very well in regard to our response to climate change, and I pick up on the member’s points on forestry—

Eric Roy: Oh, baloney!

DARREN HUGHES: The member for Invercargill has not proposed one single climate change response policy. He has opposed all the things the Labour Government has wanted to do. National put out a brochure in the last couple of weeks, and it wants to be congratulated on being the great thinkers on climate change. Where has National been? National members have been absolutely nowhere on these issues, apart from opposing them and making jokes out of them. But all of a sudden they have decided that something should be done, even though they are not quite sure what.

R Doug Woolerton: They have only just got Ian Ewen-Street on board; give them a chance.

DARREN HUGHES: The great success of Ian Ewen-Street, he having gone from defecting and scabbing on the Green Party to going over to the Nats, is that he has managed to put out a brochure about climate change. National members want us to congratulate them and say they have now invented environmental awareness. According to National Party members we do not need Part 1, because they are now the guardians—the kaitiaki. Those members cannot use Māori words, so that is a slight difficulty, but if they did use Māori words they would be the kaitiaki of the environment.

This is just an absolute joke. There are also references in Part 1 to the permanent forest sinks initiative, which the Minister will no doubt want to comment on as we move through the debate on Part 1. But I thought it would be useful to put on record that the Government and parties that have been awake to these issues for a long time will be supporting Part 1 of the bill, and will do so with pride.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) : The National Party, in the context of the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill, has every right to question the sincerity of the Government’s statements about New Zealand becoming a carbon neutral country. Helen Clark made some grand statements in a speech to the Labour Party conference, and we have put the motivation behind, and the sincerity of, those remarks to the test. Here are a few simple facts.

Despite the fact that the Labour Government made a substantial show of signing the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand has had the biggest increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the OECD—not the second-biggest increase, nor a bit bigger increase than that of Australia or the UK; in fact, the rate of our increase in carbon dioxide emissions is three times that of Australia and twice that of the US. That is why we are questioning Helen Clark’s motivation in suddenly signing up to an unachievable emissions target—New Zealand has the biggest single increase in emissions of carbon dioxide in the OECD.

Helen Clark has also overseen the biggest fall in energy from renewable sources in the OECD in the last 7 years. It now appears that if Labour has a policy to achieve something, the opposite of that happens. Labour had a policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions or to hold them to their 1990 levels, yet those emissions went up faster than the rate of increase in any other country. It had an energy policy aimed at focusing on renewable energy, and it got exactly the opposite result of that. It is not that Labour had no chance to make decisions that would have made a difference. The Labour Government turned down the Dobson dam proposal, which would have been a source of significant renewable energy. Instead it built an oil-fired power station, funded by the Government and decided on by the Government, at Whirinaki. Those were exactly the wrong decisions to make.

I know that the Greens are sitting here asking themselves the same questions that National is asking, because Labour has now tried to shackle the Greens to Labour’s greenhouse emissions policies and Jeanette Fitzsimons must know that the chances of that approach coming to anything meaningful are zero. When we look at the track record of this Government, we see that if it has an environmental policy to do with climate change, the opposite happens of what it sets out to achieve.

National is supporting this bill, because it is one of the very few initiatives that make some sense, but it has come as too little, too late. It is a very, very small measure—too little, too late—and has come after Helen Clark has managed to achieve something that no other New Zealand Government has managed to achieve in my lifetime, which is that more trees have been chopped down than were planted. No one else has achieved that. But the forestry industry has been telling this Government, for the last 7 years, that its policies would have that effect. So that is another one. The Labour Party set out with a policy to encourage carbon sinks, and ended up with less afforestation than any other country in the OECD. The problem with these shortcomings in the policy is that they are such major shortcomings that people do not believe they are shortcomings. People cannot believe that a Government that professes to have any kind of environmental target could have made such a bad job of achieving it. But that is exactly what the Labour Party has achieved.

I tell the member for Otaki that the document that National has put out on environmental policy is attracting the attention of every single opinion leader and activist on the environment in New Zealand. People are showing up on wet, cold Tuesday nights in empty church halls to talk about it, because they have had enough of going along to Labour Government - funded talkfests where Labour members go on and go with the latest fashionable words from the Ministry for the Environment, yet nothing happens. That is why they are going along to Nick Smith’s public meetings all over the country, in their hundreds. They know that National’s environmental policy is a sincere and practical policy.

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues) : Firstly, I thank sincerely the National Party for its indication that it will support this bill, and also the other parties, including the Greens, the Māori Party, and United Future, that have been staunch throughout the passage of this bill that it is worthwhile legislation to adopt. It is surprising that this support from National was not shown earlier, because the bill is substantially unchanged from the form in which it went to the Commerce Committee. A few amendments were made by the committee and we agree they are sensible. The Government is promoting a Supplementary Order Paper, which will be considered at this stage, but essentially the bill is unchanged.

I will respond to a couple of comments made by the Hon Bill English that were, with respect, exaggerations. He said that the greenhouse gas emissions growth in New Zealand is higher than in any other OECD country. I am reading from figure 4 of the latest United Nations advanced version on national greenhouse gas inventory data for the period 1990-2004. In respect of greenhouse gas emissions, without land-use change-related emissions, it shows that Australia’s emissions increased at a higher rate than New Zealand’s; and that was the same for Ireland, Canada, and Portugal—

Eric Roy: Gross or percentage terms?

Hon DAVID PARKER: In percentage terms and, as well, in gross terms. Mr English’s assertion was, with respect, incorrect. In terms of New Zealand’s increases in emissions, it is true that our emissions have grown since 1990 and we need to do better to reduce our emissions. It is also true that Government policies around wind power have brought forward wind power development in a way that would not have otherwise occurred, and but for that successful policy, New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions would be higher.

It is also true that forest planting rates have decreased. What is not true is to say that they have decreased most under our watch. The greatest decreases in rates of planting occurred during the period of the previous National Government. This is not a good thing, but it would not be fair to blame National for that. It is a consequence of the changing economics of forestry compared with competing land uses, so that the relative value of the land that could have been put into forestry was higher for farmers to use for other agricultural purposes. So they did.

Having said that, it is true that we want to encourage more afforestation, because, of course, trees have the joint benefit of sequestering carbon and avoiding increases in agricultural emissions that occur if the land is used for agricultural purposes. The Government agrees there is a desirability to encourage more afforestation, and this bill is an important step in that process by devolving carbon credits to permanent forest sinks, so that those landowners have the benefit of the carbon credits that can accrue from the sequestration of carbon in those forests—be they exotic or indigenous forest.

ERIC ROY (National—Invercargill) : I am excited about having an opportunity to participate in the debate on the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill, and I say we do note the changes to the bill that took place in the Commerce Committee. In concert with my colleagues Nick Smith and Bill English, I want to affirm National’s position. We consider this bill to be too late and too little. But National is supporting it, because we see climate change as an issue that we have no option but to be involved with addressing.

I will digress for a minute. In September I was travelling in the United States—a privately funded trip, looking at national park management and a few other things—and when going through Colorado I saw a billboard on the end of a barn. I thought it was quite stark and startling. It was just a few lines, and if I can remember it, it went something like this:

Remember me as Dustbowl Dick

To mechanize, I missed no trick

Burning hedges, felling trees

I bared the landscape by degrees

And thus I earned both cash and fame

Until the mighty whirlwind came.

One fatal blow and I was bust

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

I thought to myself: “Labour Party!”. At a time when we should have been planting trees to sequester carbon, that verse typifies exactly what was happening.

It was the intention that trees would be planted. But I say to the Minister that it takes more than talking about the need to plant trees—one has to actually do things. I pick up some of the elements of what the Minister said about changing land uses, competing values, and all of those things. That is why it is so important that we get the detail right and that the messages are correct. When I saw that verse on the end of the shed, I thought of Landcorp—the Government’s own farmer and the biggest farmer in New Zealand—purchasing 25,000 hectares of forest land, cutting the trees down, and converting the land to dairying. I thought about the sorts of mixed messages this Government is giving.

If the Government is really serious about doing things that are not just placebos—actually doing things that will work—it needs to make some hard decisions and give some very, very clear indications of what it wants, by making the hard decisions for its own organisations. It is absolutely important that we get everything right around forestry. We support the fact that there will be opportunities for individuals to own credits. That is one element of it. But if forestry is to compete with other land uses and we are to see land planted in trees in New Zealand, then a number of other things have to happen in the infrastructural line.

I am aware of at least three large wood processors that are looking at securing an opportunity to process logs in New Zealand. One of the reasons why tree planting has reduced is simply that the returns are not there. On the one hand there is a recognition that we need to increase the value of forestry so that it competes with other land uses, yet on the other hand the three major processors that I am aware of will not sign up in New Zealand. That is because of the difficulty, under the Resource Management Act, in getting their factories set up, and because they cannot secure the long-term electric power contracts they need in order to commit themselves to operating here. Planting trees is one thing, but actually dealing realistically with sustainable electricity is another very, very important element. This Government has presided over not only the reduction in tree planting but also the non-matching of the electricity needs of the sector with the supply by sustainable means—and I am referring specifically to the Dobson and Project Aqua hydroelectricity projects.

It is a matter of fact and a matter of record that we have not kept pace with need. If we want landowners to plant trees, they simply have to have the opportunity to match the returns from forestry with those created by other land uses. That is critical. Just passing this bill will not fix the problem. A number of other elements come into the equation. Trees are important as a means of sequestering carbon. That bit of information has been around since I first started to get interested in the subject in the late 1980s. The member for Otaki says I have had a change of heart, but I say that in my own particular case this issue has concerned me for almost 20 years. [Interruption] Well, that is what I say. But I am part of the problem. I was planting trees on a regular basis, and I stopped doing so. I stopped planting trees for all sorts of reasons.

Hon Parekura Horomia: You’ve made too much money!

ERIC ROY: No, I have not sold any trees yet. I planted them for a whole lot of other reasons.

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) : I rise to strongly support this Climate Change Response Amendment Bill. In supporting it, I say that I strongly disagree with the National members’ versions of what we have done. Eric Roy said that climate change is an issue that we have no option but to be involved with. What johnny-come-latelys and jill-come-latelys—not in Mr Roy’s individual case, but as regards the National Party as a whole. National’s policy is really a climate change makeover. It is consistent with the Bluegreens’ deliberate makeover to attract green votes since green issues have become the fashion. National members are the fair-weather friends of climate change.

Let me give some examples from the speeches we heard today. Dr Nick Smith attacked Government members for their work to lower New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. He said: “You’re not doing enough! You should be out there doing this, this, and this!”. Dr Smith does not recognise that it is a step-by-step process. National belatedly supported the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, which does two things: firstly, it makes sure that trees get planted; and, secondly, it ensures that those trees are planted in areas prone to erosion. That is the thing about environmental politics. One is never curing one thing by itself; one is actually hitting a number of different issues at the same time.

Then Bill English spoke, misquoting and getting the facts wrong—as was ably pointed out by the Minister in the chair, David Parker—about our growth in emissions and how it compares with that of other countries. It is very interesting to note that the growth in emissions that is occurring, or is about to, in middle European States is very much to do with the change in energy production in those States. Emissions went down when those changes occurred, but they are now growing again because of those States’ growing economies.

With that comes the issue of transport. Again, here is something interesting. I have been listening to Dr Smith talk about the Bluegreens’ document, and he never mentions public transport. He never mentions investment in rail. His Government, of course, sold New Zealand Rail and took away from us the ability to make sure all our freight did not go by road. National members do not mention that. There they go again, saying that we must lower our emissions, but they look only at certain parts—the very thing they accuse the Government of.

The other thing that National members go on about all the time—which really gets my goat—is Project Aqua. What they say about Project Aqua goes against the people in that particular valley. They say to valley residents that they must give up their rights to irrigation for viticulture, to the life in the river, and to a whole lot of other aspects that that water can be used for, because the value of that water is only in providing hydroelectric power. What this Government did—and what I was responsible for—was to make sure there was an interrogative process that valued the conservation of the river, the use of irrigation, and the lowering of the amount of water that could be taken out in places like the Hakataramea. We actually looked after the river. If we had gone down the line of creating hydroelectric power regardless of anything else, then we would have solved one wrong to create another. One does not do that in environmental policy. One actually tries to manage the entire planet, not play off one section against another.

My last point—in terms of National members saying that the Government does not back up its words—is to remind members about Lake Taupō. That lake will be in decline unless we do something about the land use around it. The forestry people who have said that they are not planting and need to plant are the same people who came to me as Minister and asked for so many millions of dollars—it was a high number—to compensate them for not shifting the land use from forests, which they wanted to cut down, to dairying. Dairying would make them more money, they said, but the Government did not want dairying around the Lake Taupō catchment. Sometimes I doubt whether the credentials of these people are green, or even blue-green. Sometimes their credentials relate not to whether they ought to plant trees but to whether they ought to make money. The people who are complaining now that the economics are not right for them to go into forestry are the same people who asked for money—money that was to be used for other purposes—to turn forestry land in the catchment around Lake Taupō into dairy farms.

The last comment I make around the issue of what we are doing is that we have been backing up our words. We have invested $81 million in managing the Taupō area in order to make it feasible to plant trees and to make other use of the land. That same walking of the talk, which National denies we have done, allowed us to encourage wind energy in New Zealand.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) : I think members should pause for a moment to acknowledge a rare moment of consensus, where virtually every party in the House is supporting an initiative to reduce climate change emissions. I feel the need particularly to draw attention to it because anyone who is listening on the radio would easily believe that the House was totally at loggerheads. We have heard nothing but the language of attack and denigration across the Chamber, so perhaps it needs pointing out to listeners out there that the House is in agreement that the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative in this Climate Change Response Amendment Bill ought to go ahead.

The Greens particularly support the initiative because it does, as Marian Hobbs said, address a number of environmental issues at the same time. Not only does it have the potential to increase our carbon storage; it has the potential to reduce erosion from steep hill country, to reduce flooding, to improve water quality downstream, and to provide more habitat for native species, particularly when native species are planted in those permanent forests. But I have also to agree with Eric Roy’s concern, and ask whether we are perhaps taking one step forward with this bill, and five steps backwards with the work that the Government’s own State-owned enterprise Landcorp is doing in converting existing forests to livestock farming in the central North Island.

This morning I attended the Federated Farmers conference, where I was invited to speak on Charlie Pederson’s latest initiative on farmers and water quality. The Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister were there, as well. One of the questions they were asked by one of the farmers was: “Why is it then, if climate change is so important, that we’re allowing a State agency to clear forest and replace it with livestock farming, where not only do you lose the carbon sink in the forest, but you create the extra carbon emissions from the methane from the animals, and nitrogen runoff at the same time?”. The Minister of Agriculture replied: “Landcorp is not making the policy decision. It doesn’t own the land. It’s simply carrying this out on contract for somebody else, and this is its core business.”

So we have a Government agency whose core business is converting forests to farmland. I have to admit that it sounds a little bit like: “Well, Your Honour, I didn’t commission the assassination, I didn’t pay for it, I simply carried it out on contract.” I do not think His Honour would be very impressed with that kind of excuse. We have to take a whole-of-Government approach to climate change issues, otherwise all the good work that goes into an initiative like the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative can be undone, at least in terms of the carbon storage, very quickly by another arm of Government removing forests and increasing livestock farming.

If the forest is on the wrong land and that land ought to be used for farming, then let that conversion be accompanied by an obligation to increase forest areas somewhere else on more suitable land. We cannot simply leave this to the market in the day when log prices are low and dairy prices are high. We will never get on top of our climate change emissions unless we intervene in that process that is happening.

JACQUI DEAN (National—Otago) : We will support this Climate Change Response Amendment Bill. In fact, it is the only initiative from the Government on climate change that remotely makes any sense, but still, as we have observed, the bill needs some change through the Committee stage.

The Government needs to take some responsibility for the 7 years in which it has been the Government. Although the Government is very good at talking the talk just now, using its “get out of jail free” card to take the heat off some other issues, with regards to carbon neutrality, I think that in order for a country to have any confidence in this Government we need to have a look at its track record over the past 7 years on climate change. It is so easy to claim the moral high ground over climate change, and it is so easy to talk about people being johnny-come-latelys to the issue. But what I see happening in this Chamber, and what I think we need to do, is something more about climate change than just highfalutin words, which we have heard a lot of.

Let us have a look at what the Government has achieved on climate change policy in its past 7 years as the Government,.

Lindsay Tisch: Absolutely nothing.

JACQUI DEAN: Well, not quite nothing, because we signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. In the past 7 years we have signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol was going to save the world. There were lots of conferences about it, and it was going to save the world from our 0.4 percent of emissions, which is what New Zealand contributes to greenhouse gases. It was also going to make us a bundle. How much was signing up to Kyoto going to make us? It was $500 million. In fact, it was going to be fantastic. It was going to be New Zealand’s contribution to global warming. The problem is that the Government made a slight miscalculation and it turns out that instead of making a bundle and saving the world with the Kyoto Protocol, it is costing us a bundle. How much is it costing us?

Mark Blumsky: $500 million.

JACQUI DEAN: What? $500 million is what it has cost! Far from saving the world, far from saving our 0.4 percent of carbon emissions, it is costing us money and achieving nothing.

What else has the Government attempted to do in the 7 years it has been the Government? The Government brought in the carbon tax, which it figured out eventually was not going to work. Then the Government brought in the “fart tax”, which it figured out eventually was not going to work. But then we had the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy. How much did it take the Government to figure out that it was not going to work? That is right. It took the Government $100 million of taxpayers’ money to show that it was not going to work. So, for people who are listening, this is the Government’s track record, in its 7 years, on climate change policy because it is a world leader, or so it would have us think.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has described the Government as operating in a climate change vacuum. What was the Government’s response to that charge? Well, in the second reading of this bill Steve Chadwick, when challenged about a lack of climate change policy, said: “Just wait. It’s coming.” Well, it did. It came at the Labour Party conference, and it was the Prime Minister who said: “We are going to be carbon neutral.” Fantastic! I ask the Prime Minister how we will do that without ruining the economy of New Zealand.

OK, so what has National been doing? Because we have a full 2 years before the next election, and we know that we will be the next Government, we have produced A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand. Do members know what? It has been so well received that it is embarrassing. National knows where New Zealand should go with climate change policy. We know where we should go, and we have a policy. We have proposals for tradable emissions permits to manage New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions, and that is where we acknowledge we must take a longer-term view of the environment.

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues) : I must respond to the allegation that the only climate change - related initiative the Government has that makes any sense is the permanent forest sinks initiative. Until I heard that, I thought we had support from National for some of the other sensible measures we have under way, such as improvements to the building code so as to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. Another recent initiative is to incorporate a minimum mandatory percentage of biofuels to be incorporated in transport fuels, which is another very significant policy.

The policy the Greens are leading on, through Jeanette Fitzsimons, is solar hot water heating initiatives. Improvements to the national energy system through the rewriting of the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, as well as the New Zealand Energy Strategy, will be out by the end of the year.

The other two points I would make are that once again there was exaggeration from the member who just took her seat. She made reference to the fact, with some pride, that they knocked over the so-called “fart tax”, and said that it was about $100 million. What a load of nonsense! It was never over $100 million. It was about a research levy so that the agricultural community could play its part in contributing to the research effort that is needed to find more efficient ways of agriculture that also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

R Doug Woolerton: She wouldn’t know that!

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, the member is quite right. The reality is that that research has been going on. It has been funded in part by the Government, and funded partly through the industry groups that have come to the table and recognised that there is a problem to be addressed.

The other remark I would make is in respect of the so-called cost of the Kyoto Protocol. It is not yet clear what New Zealand’s balance will be during the first commitment period of Kyoto.

Jacqui Dean: It might be more.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, I suppose that is possible. I am pretty confident it will be less than currently projected. The second point to make there is about the borax poured on the Kyoto Protocol by those members. The Kyoto Protocol remains the most effective international instrument to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This country is proud that it is part of the mainstream response in the world to reduce emissions. Yes, there is a moderate cost to reducing emissions, but that cost does not arise from the Kyoto Protocol. If members on the National Party benches actually think about it, they will be forced to acknowledge that it costs more to do something different tomorrow than it does to just continue what we did yesterday. Implicitly, at its most simple level, the climate change response requires us to reduce emissions. It requires us to, tomorrow, do something different from that which we did yesterday.

That does imply some cost. The cost arises from reducing emissions—from doing something different tomorrow from that which we did yesterday. It does not arise from the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is but a way to measure that cost. The cost arises from doing something tomorrow in order to reduce emissions.

The final point to make in respect of that is the nickel and diming that we hear from National Party members, yet again today, on Kyoto. It shows they still have not got the most simple of messages that has been so clearly articulated by Sir Nicholas Stern in the last week. He is the former chief economist to the World Bank. He was commissioned by the United Kingdom Government to look at the costs of climate change—not the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the costs of climate change if we do not reduce emissions.

He found what we all know intuitively: that the costs of not reducing greenhouse gas emissions are far higher than doing something about it. Those costs are potentially dire. They are measured not just in economic terms—and the economic costs would be very high and are scary—but perhaps even more concerning are the security issues that arise when one has millions of people on the move as a consequence of their not being able to live where they currently live because patterns of food production change or sea levels rise. They do not have to rise a lot in order to pollute aquifers, particularly in low-lying Pacific Islands; but also in other areas such as Bangladesh, a relatively low increase in sea level, a relatively small increase in sea level, can have a lot of people on the move. Sir Nicholas Stern has shown that the costs of not doing anything are far higher than the cost of responses.

MARK BLUMSKY (National) : While I have this opportunity, I thought I would draw this document to the attention of my colleague on the Government side of the House, the Hon Marian Hobbs. She raised this document in her speech and actually questioned whether transport was mentioned in it. Now that she has sat down, if she studies the document I am sure she will get some inspiration when she reads pages 5, 8, 9, and 25. The document will give her great inspiration and guidance on transport and associated benefits.

It is nice to have this chance to speak in support of Part 1 of the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill. What is interesting is that this bill came via the Commerce Committee, so I am therefore unaware of the quality, quantity, and content of the submissions that came through the select committee process, apart from having read the report back. However, I am on the Local Government and Environment Committee and have heard and read hundreds of submissions on a number of bills, and in particular on the Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill. Through the submissions made during that select committee process, I became aware of a very loud, clear message. It was not my message. It was a message from the hundreds of submissions we had on, in particular, the Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill.

The message that came from the submitters in a totally unanimous message was that the Government has not done a lot in the past with regard to climate change. Those are not my words; they are the words of hundreds of submitters to the select committee. Submitters said the Government could not be proud of its lack of activity on climate change, and asked when and where the Government was going to show some leadership on climate change. Again, those are not my words; they are the words of submitters on the Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill. I am absolutely sure that if I had sat on the committee that considered the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill and had managed to trawl through the submissions on it, I would have had exactly the same message given to me on that bill.

In speaking to Part 1, I take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague Nick Smith on his recently released Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand. I tell members that his leadership and his proactive work in getting a comprehensive discussion document out for debate has, in fact, been the leadership that has forced the Government’s hand, with the Prime Minister, just recently, starting to preach from her throne about the importance of climate change in her vision for New Zealand. She said in her speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference that the climate change crisis requires comprehensive strategies. I thought the word “crisis” was an interesting one for her to use, so I thought I would take the chance to have a quiet look at the definition of the word “crisis”. The dictionary definition of that word states: “an unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs involving an impending, abrupt, or decisive change”.

Well, the abrupt change that the Prime Minister was obviously referring to when she talked about the unstable condition that creates a crisis must have been the shift in the polls. That would be the crisis. All the polling has the Government falling further and further down in the popularity stakes. Action was needed and a new topic had to be found to talk about, so the Prime Minister chose the climate change debate as her new topic of the year. It cannot possibly be that climate change was the crisis, even though she was talking about climate change, because her Government has been in office for 7 years. If climate change had been the crisis, then her Government would undoubtedly have addressed it a lot more aggressively, with a much higher priority a lot earlier on, than it is doing now. As my colleagues on the Opposition side of the Chamber have alluded to, there is not a heck of a lot to show for the Labour Government’s 7 years in office.

NATHAN GUY (National) : It is good to take a call on the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill we have in front of us this afternoon. I think the important thing to realise is that the Government had signalled in the past that it would steal credits from landowners, and now this bill puts that right.

New Part 3B, “Mechanism allowing landowners to access value created by Kyoto Protocol of carbon sequestration on land through establishment of forest sink covenants”, is really important. I think the real crux of this issue is to encourage enough plantings to happen in New Zealand. When one looks at what has happened with our forestry plantings over the last year, we see that we were planting 8,000 hectares of Pinus radiata, but that that has dropped now to about 1,000 hectares. The forestry industry is up in arms. It does not know, from the signals this Government has been sending over the last couple of years, exactly where the Kyoto Protocol is heading around the trading of these credits. I believe this bill addresses that—thankfully—and that is a good thing.

The other day when I launched A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand on our family farm north of Levin, it was interesting to see the number of people who turned up in support of that document. In the debate this afternoon, I heard someone call this document a brochure. Actually, it is 30 pages of an extremely comprehensive—

Hon Member: That was “Mr Otaki”.

NATHAN GUY: Was it? It was the member from Otaki, who has the slimmest majority in the whole of New Zealand. It will be interesting for him that the publicity—

Darren Hughes: There were 20 people at your stupid meeting!

NATHAN GUY: There were actually 40 who turned up. This is the front page of the local paper, which the member from Otaki struggles to get on now, because we have neutralised it. This is the sort of publicity we get up in Horowhenua-Kapiti. People turned up because they wanted to engage in our blue-green vision for New Zealand and not be turned off by the failed policies of this Government over the last few years.

In particular, let us talk about the “fart tax”. I rallied with my rural neighbours when Mr Hodgson would not listen to what the rural community was saying. It was saying that under research and development, the rural community is already paying a commodity levy. People did not want to be taxed twice. Then this Government decided it would move on—not with a carrot, but by hitting people around with a big stick—with the carbon tax. Fortunately, some of the minority parties who decided to jump into bed with this Government managed to make them see reason, common sense prevailed, and that was dropped.

What is fundamentally important is that this legislation will signal to members of the rural community—particularly on areas of hill country prone to erosion—that if they plant a tree, they will own the carbon credits. The landowner will own the carbon credits instead of the Government stealing them. So I think that is fundamentally a good thing. Some of the nursery growers who turned up on our property the other day were concerned about the signal that this Government is sending. They are unsure whether to grow seedlings of Pinus radiata, move into more poplar poles, or get into more natives.

Darren Hughes: How many of the 20 said that? Four of the 20, or three of the 20?

NATHAN GUY: The fundamental thing is that the member for Otaki has the slimmest majority in the whole of New Zealand. That is what he needs to learn. So although the Government side of the House can spout on, the climate has changed in Otaki, and the growing emissions under this Government’s watch has gone up four times faster than in the United States.

We have heard the Stern report that the Minister has just talked about, and the findings coming out of Nairobi at the moment. But in essence, people want to have less stick and more carrot. People need to be led with these changes and the changes need to be long term. People do not want Governments to say: “You shall do this, you need to do that.”; people need encouragement. That is why National’s A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand signals pretty boldly—with $1 billion over a 10 year time frame—how it will sort out the environmental practices where this Government, I believe, has been negligent.

  • The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 67 in the name of the Hon David Parker to Part 1 be agreed to.
  • Amendments agreed to.
  • Part 1 as amended agreed to.

Part 2 Amendments to other Acts

ERIC ROY (National—Invercargill) : Part 2 of the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill is the part that makes some amendments to a number of Acts, particularly the Forests Act 1949, and inserts some new provisions. One outlines just what a forest sink covenant is, and the regulating powers in relation to that. So this part is perhaps a little more technical, but National is again going to support this particular part because, again, it moves us into a position where we have a mechanism whereby ownership can be recognised individually. We see that as a crucial part of moving forward.

I will reflect on the relationship of this part to the bill as a whole. The bill is a Climate Change Response Amendment Bill. Principally it deals with issues surrounding forestry and carbon sinks. It is interesting to note in this debate this afternoon, in the Committee stage of this bill, that most of the contributions from the Government side—and there have not been many of them—have criticised National. Government members have not stood up and said: “This is our bill. We are proud of it. This is the blueprint that will take us forward because …”. We have not had that.

When I addressed Part 1, I made the point that this has to be more comprehensive than just dealing with the forest issue. Climate change is a complex issue, and if this is the Government’s response to the issue, I have to say that it is missing out. We have had the Minister, the Hon David Parker, say a little bit about working with the Greens, and we have talked about the sequestration through forestry in these carbon sinks. Well, it is much more complex than that. Can we just talk a little bit about the part that carbon sinks will play. It is good that the legislation identifies and has an interpretation of what carbon sinks are, how they are set up, the regulating powers, and all of that. It is good to have those outlined so that we have some understanding about that. But in reality, when our country is the worst-performing country in the OECD—

Hon David Parker: It’s not.

ERIC ROY: It is very close to it, I say to the Minister. He might say it is not, but today in Nairobi a paper was tabled that stated that it was. Let us not get into the semantics of whether we are the worst or the second-worst; we are bad; our performance is bad in terms of proportionality of the greenhouse gases we emit. We have to look at New Zealand as a land mass and ask whether carbon sinks are the future. Yes, they are part of it, but what part will they play? We have very little land now that can actually be identified as probably being a preferable forest option. Yes, there are probably a couple of hundred thousand acres in the Manawatū–Wanganui area that need to be set aside into forestry, and maybe there is a wee bit up the East Coast. But when we are performing so badly, we could plant the whole of New Zealand out in trees, and the sequestration of that might bring us to our 1990 levels, which is what we promised to do under Kyoto.

But when we have the total land mass of New Zealand in trees, what do we do then? For a start, what do we do for exports? So, yes, trees are important and we need to encourage people to plant trees for all sorts of reasons besides the sequestration. But simply to present us with this bill as a blueprint for the way forward is very, very short of the other things that need to take place.

I note that in some of the debate we have had around this, speakers have said that trees are important. Yet we have had a number of Government speakers stand up to say that agriculture is the evil and causes about 50 percent of the greenhouse gases produced in New Zealand. Is it? I invite the Minister to take a call and explain to us why sequestration into trees that are consumed is good, but sequestration of carbon into grass that is consumed is bad and causes huge problems out there in terms of New Zealand’s profile in the world as a greenhouse gas emitter. It seems to me that we cannot rely on the science with trees and then discredit it on the grass, because the trees, by and large, are consumed—

DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) : I seek leave of the Committee to table an extract from the Horowhenua-Kapiti Chronicle of Friday, 3 November, which reports that 20 people attended the National Party environmental policy launch, not 40 people as claimed by Mr Guy in his speech.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

JACQUI DEAN (National—Otago) : I rise to speak to Part 2 of the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill, which makes amendments to certain other Acts of Parliament that are affected by this bill. They are the Forests Act of 1949, the Land Transfer Act of 1952, and various other Acts. This bill, and this part of the bill, deals with issues to do with forestry, carbon sequestration, and carbon sinks.

It is interesting to note—if I talk about forestry for a moment—that throughout the 1990s in New Zealand an average of 60,000 hectares of new forests were planted each year. Actually, I remember it very well, particularly the Kāingaroa Forest in the middle of the North Island, which was in full planting mode earlier than that but was in full production in the 1990s—if my memory serves me right. Forestry was a big industry with a lot of confidence, and a big export earner for New Zealand. What do we have now, after 7 years of this Labour Government? We have close to zero forest plantings. That is not exactly a fine record for the Government in terms of affecting climate change.

Why should we care about the amount of forest being planted? Well, I think there are several reasons that we should care about the level of forestry investment. The most obvious reason is that forests are the greatest absorbers of carbon, and planting forests is the best thing we can do for climate change in New Zealand. I think we must always remember—and I think the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues has quite forgotten—that we did not create the problem of climate change in the world, as we produce only 0.4 percent of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, and we are certainly not the answer to the problem. However, we can make a contribution to solving it, which we are all doing by supporting this bill. And National does support this bill, but with some amendments, because we believe that environment policy should last for longer than the term of any Government.

I reflect that Nick Smith wrote to the Minister back in January this year—am I right, or was it December last year—offering a bipartisan approach on the issue of climate change. National members have not had an answer to that letter, but here we stand in the Chamber today, supporting the Minister’s bill on climate change. At least National is prepared to work in a bipartisan way on climate change.

Why else should we care about forestry planting in New Zealand? We should care because vast areas of eroding hill country, mostly in the North Island, desperately need to be planted in trees. But we need incentives to plant forests on that eroding land. Why else should we care? We should care because the forest industry is our fourth-biggest export industry. Well, it was, until the current Government’s policies shut down the forest export industry, and caused a huge loss of confidence within that industry.

This Climate Change Response Amendment Bill goes part of the way—and we do support it—but it must be said that climate change response is a little more complicated than sequestering carbon in forestry. Carbon sequestration is very important, but is that it for the Government’s climate change policy? The Prime Minister last week, in her “get out of jail free” card conference speech tried to turn the agenda from some of the unpalatable issues that Labour has been faced with, and talked about carbon neutrality, which is a very worthy aim—very, very highfalutin. How are we going to do it, though, when all we have on the books is a Climate Change Response Amendment Bill that deals with carbon sequestration? We know that it goes part of the way, and we support it, but, gee, I say to the Minister that there has to be an awful lot more from him. Has he read National’s A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand? I can tell him that it is very good, and it has been so well received that it has actually been embarrassing. You know, it is very embarrassing, because—

Eric Roy: Printed on recycled paper.

JACQUI DEAN: Yes, with natural vegetable dye inks. People would think that this party came from the greener end of the spectrum. Well, in fact we do. National takes the environment very, very seriously. I myself was a member of—and some of the older members in this Committee will remember it—Ecology Action.

COLIN KING (National—Kaikoura) : It is very interesting to listen to the debate that is taking place in the Chamber at the moment, and I acknowledge the comments from the Greens about this Parliament being a Parliament that agrees with things. However, this is also a very good opportunity to rub the Government’s nose in it, around the saying “Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.”

R Doug Woolerton: Where did you learn that?

COLIN KING: I tell the member that I did not learn it from listening to him.

The Kyoto Protocol has been around for a long time, in the sense that it was there and it was waiting to be progressed and developed. When we in the National Party said that we would wait until our trading partners signed it, so that we would not totally disadvantage ourselves, that was very wise. When we look at the bill we see that today we have another change—a change for the better—whereby those who have the opportunity to commit to supporting and developing carbon sinks will be able to do so. There was a rush to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and, if I remember matters, the Minister’s comment at the time was that National would burn a $200 million cheque. Again, Minister Hodgson was wrong, and in actual fact the countries that have not signed up to it—in particular, our neighbour Australia—have been more successful over the ensuing years than this tired Labour Government has been.

Let us go back to the “fart tax”, because at that time I was on the board of Meat and Wool New Zealand. It was very interesting to try to get the message through to the then Minister, Pete Hodgson, that all the science was being done. But that was not the angle he was coming from; he saw that measure as a chance for him to win the debate in the public arena, to be able to screw farmers for a second time, and to be seen to be the one who was doing the utmost to live up to our Kyoto obligations. The Government was not only proposing to rob people of the credits for forestry but was going to reinvent the research and development work on ruminant controls and methane emissions.

Jacqui Dean: Poor cows.

COLIN KING: Poor cows and poor farmers! Farmers struggle under the burdens of the Resource Management Act and all the other regulations that this Government puts up. So it is good to see that, at the end of it all, a bit of common sense is starting to show through.

There were 7 long years of nothing. It is interesting to see the Minister scribbling away there with his pen. He will take me to task on that, but he must be prepared to, because at the end of the day when we look at Project Aqua—again—from the rural perspective, we see that the Government did not have in place the necessary framework so that we could work through to a logical, a coherent, and an acceptable situation. I reiterate the saying “Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.”

We have 8 million cattle and 40 million sheep in New Zealand, and when we look at the issues around climate change, we see that, effectively, they concern agriculture in the south, and industry, cars, and electricity generation in the north. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all solution, and on that basis, when I look at our recent release A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand

The CHAIRPERSON (Ann Hartley): The member needs to come back to Part 2.

COLIN KING: I tell members that it took a fair amount of consideration for the Government to appreciate just how important the forestry side of it all is. This part amends the Forests Act by inserting new Part 3B, which talks about carbon sequestration. That is quite significant, because Marlborough has a very interesting group of primary producers who are hugely concerned about the failure of the Government’s policy in terms of promoting agriculture and forestry. Some areas in that region do erode quite noticeably. On that basis we need to reinforce the issues around climate change.

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues) : I will respond to a few of the statements that have been made today—

R Doug Woolerton: You’ll be going for a week!

Hon DAVID PARKER: That is right. Correcting some of the errors that have been mentioned in the few speeches we have heard from the National Party on just this part will take some time.

First of all, Eric Roy said that the Labour members of the Committee had said that agriculture is the evil supplier of 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. I have been here during the whole debate, and that has not been said. It is true that agriculture does account for 50 percent of New Zealand’s emissions, but that does not make it evil. I have never said that; neither has this Government. It does mean that progress is needed in the agricultural sector, as it is in other sectors.

The second point I would make is about the repeated claims to environmental responsibility on the part of the National Party. The self-praise its members heap upon A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand can be judged from the statement made by the last speaker when he once again attacked the Resource Management Act. That Act is the central piece of legislation that protects environmental sustainability in New Zealand. People cannot say they are in favour of environmental sustainability when they attack that Act.

This part of the bill, in terms of the contribution it will make to sustainability, encourages the afforestation of areas of land, especially those that are of marginal value and prone to erosion. The benefits from the afforestation of those areas include improved water quality as a consequence of reduced erosion. This bill will make a difference. All parties in this Chamber, it now appears, agree that this is sensible legislation, and I think that is progress. It is one step along the difficult road that New Zealand and the world have to take in order to remediate greenhouse gas emissions.

In terms of the suggestion made by the member that New Zealand did not create the problem, although it is true that we did not create the problem on our own, we have created it more than most countries. New Zealand’s rate of emissions on a per capita basis is higher than most countries’ rate. We cannot fix the problem on our own, but we should be part of the fix. How are we part of the fix? This bill is an example of that. It will see increased afforestation through the measures regarding permanent forest sinks that will sequester carbon and therefore reduce the world’s problems relating to greenhouse gas emissions.

MARK BLUMSKY (National) : I will follow on from the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues and just say there is some real merit in what the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill is doing in establishing the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative. We should applaud that initiative as a whole, as members are doing today.

Part 2 relates specifically to setting up the development of the tools that will allow landowners to access the value of the carbon sequestration on land by the establishment of the forest sink covenants. I referred to the Hansard debate on the second reading of this bill, and I will quote from Jeanette Fitzsimons’ speech, in which she said: “I have met a number of forestry companies that are just waiting for this bill to go through in order to take up the commercial opportunities that it offers. Some of them want to plant native production forests with continuous canopy; that is something that we badly need.” When we get signals like that because of the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, then that has to be good. As the Minister alluded to, the ability to plant farmland and countryside that is prone to dramatic devastation caused by erosion or flooding is encouraging in terms of starting to put that right.

One of the good things about getting involved in these debates in Parliament is that one actually does a little bit of reading and learns something. I have to say that I did not know a lot about carbon sequestering. I now know a hell of a lot more, and I thought I would share with the Committee how highly effective forestry is in delivering on that. When we read the figures, we realise how important it is that we move forward on this and arrest the decline in forestry by planting a lot more trees. For example, I did not know that a cubic metre of wood contains 250 kilograms of carbon, while a cubic metre of air contains 0.17 grams of carbon. That means that a cubic metre of wood contains the same amount of carbon as 1.4 million cubic metres of air.

Rodney Hide: Are you sure?

MARK BLUMSKY: I suggest to the member that we have to be pretty happy that the trees are doing their job. Photosynthesis and the trees’ ability to lay down wood, which is cellulose and lignin, act as a powerful concentrator of carbon from the atmosphere in a fixed form. That has to be good for New Zealand, for sure. So now that we understand the power of a tree to suck so much carbon out of the air, we have to be very concerned that our afforestation rates, which historically were very powerful—up to 40,000 hectares a year—have fallen sharply over the last 5 years. In 1994 we had 100,000 hectares and last year we had 6,000 hectares. We do have to be concerned at that impact, and National therefore—as the Committee is doing—fully supports this initiative in setting up the sink.

The Commerce Committee received a submission from the Farm Forestry Association; it talked about the three possible drivers for decreasing plantation rates. Two of them, I thought, were quite relevant: that future returns on plantings are not sufficient to encourage planting, and that new investors who might have established new forests may have been discouraged by negative press regarding the forestry industry. I suggest that this bill is putting forward positive press. It is encouraging plantation opportunities within the forestry industry so that the sector can move forward, and we have to be very pleased with that.

So I am supportive, as is the rest of this side of the Committee, of what this bill is doing. As I have alluded, Part 2 is the mechanism that gives the opportunity for the sink to be established. We have to be pleased, understanding as we do—and as I have just shared with my colleagues here—the power of a tree and how much carbon it can take out of the air.

  • The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 67 in the name of the Hon David Parker to Part 2 be agreed to.
  • Amendments agreed to.
  • Part 2 as amended agreed to.

Clauses 1 and 2

ERIC ROY (National—Invercargill) : As this debate draws to a conclusion in terms of the Committee stage, it is probably fitting to note that about now, at Flemington in Melbourne, horses are lining up and the nations of Australia and New Zealand may well not be listening to this debate. The matter we are debating is absolutely crucial in respect of our future responsibilities on this planet, and we do take those seriously.

I want to address an issue we have raised a couple of times, which is that this legislation is really very narrow. Firstly, in looking at the title and commencement clauses, I say to the Minister in the chair, the Hon David Parker, that the process continues to give us mixed messages. This bill went to the Commerce Committee some considerable time ago. It was rushed relatively quickly through the select committee, then it sat on the Order Paper for 15 months. I have to ask, if this is a crucial piece of business that the Government wants to enact, why the lethargy in the process? I will be very interested in the response of the Minister in the chair, the Hon David Parker, as to why the bill has been sitting on the Order Paper for so long.

I also commend the Minister for saying that agriculture was not evil. We know that it is not evil, but the Minister did not respond to the point I raised about the scientific element of that argument. As my colleague Mark Blumsky said, if photosynthesis locks up carbon in trees, why does it not work with other plant material, such as grass? The science around where one gets the 49 percent figure for good farming activity in New Zealand is an issue that is degrading us in the eyes of the world. Whenever Labour members say that we are the worst contributors in the world in terms of agriculture, and that the figure is 49 percent or 50 percent, I want them to get to the science behind that comment to find out exactly where those figures come from, because I cannot find them. I have challenged officials at the select committee and I have challenged the Minister before on those figures. I have challenged anybody who makes that statement and asked them to give us the detail and the science of where those figures come from. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that in a minute, and I may want to respond again, depending on how he responds, as it is an important point.

Our team on this side of the Chamber has been clear that, yes, we support this, but it is a minuscule element of what we need to do to address the problem. We do not support the Kyoto Protocol in its current form, but that does not mean to say that as a party we are not concerned about climate change. We do not support Kyoto because we do not see it fixing the problem. I will address that point quickly because I do not want it to be misunderstood.

The 1990 model of category 1 countries will make so little difference to climate change that it is virtually immeasurable. It may make a 2 percent to 4 percent difference in delaying the 100-year result—that is about what the scientists say. But in actual fact it will not do that, because those countries that are category 2 and category 3 continue to grow at an astronomical rate. When I read that in China alone a new thermal power station is commissioned every week, and in the last decade it has commissioned, I think, 14 aluminium smelters, then one has to say: “Well, hang on, if we and the countries in category 1 tidy up our act, we actually are not solving the problem.”

So this is not about a placebo. This is not about saying: “Yeah, we really care about planet Earth, and climate change is real so we will just sign up to something that is not going to work.” It is actually much more important than that. Yes, it is about us taking our responsibility, and being engaged in a process that will mitigate the problem—that will actually solve it. Carbon sequestration in trees is a very, very small part of that. While we may have a semantic debate over the figures that are produced today in Nairobi about whether New Zealand is the worst, nearly the worst, or even halfway down, our response has been to rely on thermal electricity when we have sustainables that we could be advancing. I commend the Minister as we have done some stuff on wind turbines, but it is minuscule in terms of our power needs.

I have just a few more points. I raised earlier in the debate the point that if we are going to rely on carbon sinks, then it is more than just fixing up the registry about who owns the carbon. I am not planting trees simply because the returns are not there; the returns are not there because the processing is not there; the processors are not there because of the Resource Management Act and because no processor can now get a long-term contract on electricity. Those are issues that we have to address. We have to address the electricity issue in a sustainable way, and if we really believe that sequestration and trees are the answer, then we have to deal with those.

This bill falls short of doing that. Maybe it is not the vehicle to fix those things, but I say to the Minister that I want to hear how he will address those things as well, because they are crucial.

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues) : The member who just took his seat, Mr Roy, asked why it has taken so long to pass this legislation. The answer is that it is because it has taken time to build a consensus. It has taken time to build a consensus not just in this Parliament but outside of it. This legislation was ridiculed by his party when it was first called. It was ridiculed at first reading. It was ridiculed by his party at the Commerce Committee. It is substantially unchanged. It has always been very good legislation since it was first promoted by the Hon Pete Hodgson. He was ridiculed for his support of it. The member’s party still ridicules Kyoto, despite its being the most effective policy instrument that there is yet in the world to moderate greenhouse gas emissions.

The reason that this legislation has taken time to progress is that it was necessary to build a consensus outside of this place, outside of Parliament, in New Zealand. Through our own efforts, but also with the assistance of a bit of luck and the likes of An Inconvenient Truth raising people’s consciousness of climate change issues, that consensus within the community has now been reached. As a consequence of that, we are seeing support for this bill that did not exist before, from parties such as the member’s. The only thing that has changed in the intervening period is not this legislation—

Eric Roy: It’s changed quite a bit.

Hon DAVID PARKER: No it has not; it is public support. It is public awareness that the issue of climate change is serious and that the very large number of small steps that need to be taken to address climate change ought to be taken, and this is one of them.

MARK BLUMSKY (National) : It is nice to have this opportunity to follow the Minister in the chair, the Hon David Parker, because I think it is important to put a little bit of fact around the lovely story he was telling us. I have here the Government bill that was reported back from the Commerce Committee. I want to put on record the view of Opposition members on the Commerce Committee. The Opposition members’ view was from New Zealand First, New Zealand National, and ACT New Zealand, and they stated: “Opposition members oppose this bill on the grounds that New Zealand should not be implementing the Kyoto Protocol ahead of our major trading partners.”

That is exactly the reason for the position that was taken by members on this side of the Chamber during the select committee process. So for the Minister to make up a wonderful story with assumptions and presumptions that it was a lot more than that is wrong. It is important to note that our opposition was based on the fact that there was a discussion about writing cheques to Russia, which Kyoto would have enabled, and on the fact that our major trading partners were not signing up, and, therefore, why should we?

I think the Committee is very clear from our talking on the title that we are very supportive of the bill and the work it is trying to do. I think there is some embarrassment from the Government—or there bloody well should be—about the fact that the bill entered the House in 2005 and it is nearly 2007. It is a tragedy that half of the members who sat on that committee are not here now to be part of this process. I suggest that we need urgent action for sure, but at least we are getting there now, and that is important.

National supports the bill. We believe that it provides a sensible system of tradable emission permits, which is important for New Zealand and where we will need to go in the future.

JACQUI DEAN (National—Otago) : National does support this Climate Change Response Amendment Bill, and I note that my colleague Mark Blumsky has just clarified National’s position throughout the select committee consideration of this bill. I think it is worth restating that although this bill goes some way towards addressing climate change, climate change response is a little more complicated than sequestering carbon through forestry plantation.

It is also worth noting again that in the 1990s we had something like 60,000 hectares of forest planting per annum and a robust export industry for forestry, yet in this Government’s tenure of 7 long years, forestry planting has dwindled to practically nothing. So I think it is worth noting that sequestration is very important, but I would ask whether that is it for the Government’s policy on climate change—a bill that was regarded to be so unimportant that it sat at the bottom of the Order Paper for 15 long months, and that for its select committee process had four members who are no longer in Parliament. We have to wonder how urgently this Government actually views climate change.

The Prime Minister talks about carbon neutrality because, of course, climate change is terribly fashionable at the moment. It is also terribly convenient for the Government because it thinks it gives it an opportunity to “get out of jail” and to get out of some tight political corners of its own making. But I think the Government’s own record on climate over the past 7 years shows that it is tracking backwards in dealing with climate change issues. Although I have mentioned that the amount of forestry planting being done has gone backwards, there are also some other indicators of this Government’s poor record on climate change.

Although the Minister in the chair, David Parker, has some lofty words about how we have some consensus, I also note that Nick Smith, National’s environment spokesman and an excellent colleague of mine, wrote to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues, offering to work in a more consensual manner. So far he is still waiting for a reply—some 7, 8, or 9 months after he wrote the letter. National recognises that climate change policy needs to last longer than the term of any Government, which is why we are supporting this bill. It is the only initiative from the Government that remotely makes any sense. Of course, as has been mentioned several times throughout this debate—but I think it is worth mentioning again—there is also National’s excellent blue-green vision for the future, which has been embarrassingly well received in meetings up and down the country.

Eric Roy: They mentioned it at their conference.

JACQUI DEAN: It was mentioned at the Labour Party conference—well, there we are. National’s A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand environment discussion paper featured largely at the Labour Party conference, at which the Prime Minister talked about carbon neutrality.

So let us look at the Government’s record, because talk is fine but we should really look at the record. In the time of this Government—7 years—we have had a threefold increase in power produced from coal. I say to the Minister that I am looking forward to seeing a policy for the generation of energy, as is much of the generating sector in New Zealand. It is interesting, is it not, that when the Minister was a local MP, he not only blocked Project Aqua but sat very firmly on the fence of Project Aqua. During the last 7 years we have had the Government blocking the Hobson hydro power scheme—a renewable power scheme—over on the West Coast. At the same time we have had the Marsden B refinery go from petrol to coal, which is a mighty step backwards and is a record that would be hard to be proud of. And, of course, the Government has commissioned the Whirinaki power plant, which is an oil-fired power plant.

Last week I was at a lunch in Ōāmaru, my home town, at Gillies foundry. Gillies foundry has been a major manufacturing company in Ōāmaru for probably a number of years—up to a hundred, I suspect. At the relaunch of this company, which the Minister of Energy attended, the manager of the new Gillies manufacturing plant commented that it had a bright future in manufacturing for irrigation and other initiatives. The company’s main concern was competition with China, and that concern was several fold. One concern was that China could produce manufactured items such as pipes, valves, and various other items much more cheaply and could import them into New Zealand cheaper than the factory in Ōāmaru could produce them. The manager’s major concern with competition with China was that China is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. I would love the Minister to tell the Committee how the Kyoto Protocol can be a good policy for the future of New Zealand when we are having to compete and trade with non - Kyoto Protocol signatory partners.

Our commitment to climate change needs to be more than carbon sequestration. We support this bill—with amendment—because it makes some sensible changes on carbon sequestration, but we must also make an honest attempt to reduce carbon emissions. Sequestering carbon emissions through forestry is fine, but we must make an honest attempt to reduce carbon emissions, and I do not see anything in the Government’s plans to address that issue. However, it is addressed in National’s blue-green vision for the future.

The answer to reducing carbon emissions does not lie in clobbering farmers. It does not lie in clobbering our export industries. I say to the Minister that we need to remember that we are, in fact, global citizens. We cannot shut ourselves off from the rest of the world and smugly think that carbon neutrality will do the deal, because it will not. I would like to know how the Government plans for us to aim for carbon neutrality without stuffing up our economy, because I fear that that is what it means. Thank you, Mr Chairperson.

  • Clause 1 agreed to.
  • Clause 2 agreed to.
  • Bill to be reported with amendment presently.