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  • By Lindsay Jeffs

Waiheke needs to take action now!

According to the New Zealand Productivity Commission “Time is running out.

Unlike other issues, climate change is a ‘one-shot’ problem with no luxury of ‘coming back’ to the political system for a re-try. The problem will, at some point, be too acute, have had too much impact, or be too late to reverse.”

This comment sets the tone of the Commission’s Low –emissions economy final report published last week which had the task to “identify options for how New Zealand could reduce its domestic GHG (greenhouse gas emissions) through a transition to a lower emissions future, while at the same time continuing to grow incomes and wellbeing.”

The report acknowledges that if New Zealand is to meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement the country’s economy by 2050 will be very different and require major changes to how businesses, households, industries and communities operate.

So what has been recommended? Three major changes are suggested:

  • a transition from fossil fuels to electricity and other low emissions fuels across the economy achieved largely by a rapid switch of the light vehicle fleet from fossil fuels to electric.

  • changes to the structure and methods of agricultural production including an expansion of horticulture and cropping plus an increased use of innovative low-emission farm practices.

  • substantial afforestation (between 1.3 and 2.8 million hectares) over the next 30 years on land predominately used currently for sheep and beef farming to offset remaining emissions

To enable such changes the Commission’s report argues that Parliament needs to pass the Zero Climate Bill due to be introduced to House in October 2018, and establish an independent expert advisory body - the Climate Change Commission – to monitor and report the level of emission reductions required to meet agreed emissions budgets and targets.

In addition, the Commission argues that it is essential to establish an emissions pricing system that will enable people and firms to measure and pay the full cost of their emissions which in turn will encourage a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

This recommendation is controversial given the history of Emission Trading Schemes around the world and in New Zealand. Such schemes have been largely ineffective or absolute failures as they became tools for speculation and market manipulation.

Three substantial weaknesses in the Commission’s report are firstly, its failure to recommend controlling the amount of irrigated dairying especially given the state of New Zealand’s rivers and waterways.

Secondly, the lack of consideration of the lack of role of the marine environment in absorbing carbon despite the fact that New Zealand is an island nation with a long coastline and has the third largest Economic Exclusion Zone. The world’s oceans trap more than 90% of the excess heat generated by greenhouse gas emissions.

The capacity of the oceans, including areas such as the Hauraki Gulf to continue to soak up carbon dioxide is being threatened due to rising sea temperatures, overfishing, fertiliser, chemical and sediment runoff, plastic dumping and fossil fuel spills, yet the Commission fails to discuss these issues.

Thirdly, the failure to consider the impact of individual lifestyle (especially international travel) and dietary choice given that these two factors normally account for the majority of an individual’s carbon emissions.

The ETS, dairying, marine and lifestyle issues illustrate an underlying bias in the Commission’s report. It is inclined to accept that the market place, based on the current economic order, can continue to operate in the future without addressing such fundamental issues as unrestrained economic growth; overconsumption; distorting industry subsidies; high emissions industrial agriculture; the car culture; a trading system and tourism sector that insists geographical distance does not matter; a regressive taxation system; growing social inequalities; poor planning regulations; short-sighted behaviour by people, firms, organisations and government; and people’s reluctance to change how they live, work, shop, play and eat until the moment of crisis.

For Waiheke residents the New Zealand Productivity Commission’s Low-emission report is a timely reminder that procrastination around the issue of climate change, will only decrease the existing opportunities to capture the economic, social, health, environmental and cultural benefits of a low carbon economy and reduce future options of mitigating associated risks resulting in a much more costly adjustment process.

So what can we do as Waikeans?

Firstly, decide to adopt the recommendation to quickly switch our light vehicle fleet to electric. Travel on Waiheke is ideally suited for the use of electric vehicles (cars, scooters and bikes) given that travel distances are short. Also, with the nation’s second highest fuel price there is a real economic incentive for people to shift from gas guzzling vehicles.

Secondly, strongly support community tree planting activities on the island and efforts to save coastal wetlands. This is especially important given the ability of wetlands to sequester carbon and their ability to reduce the impact of coastal erosion. Auckland Council needs to pass regulations banning all wetland reclamations and pursue a policy of restoring coastal wetlands.

Thirdly, as residents living on an island in the middle of a maritime park, insist that the marine environment be given equal weight to land use issues and that opportunities for marine permaculture be considered.

Fourthly, analysis how our individual, household and business lifestyle choices affect our carbon footprint and what actions we can take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Calculate your carbon footprint -and then act to help. make Waiheke Carbon Neutral

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