Red Alert

Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

NZ and the disarmament agenda – where are we?

Posted by on December 19th, 2013

The nuclear disarmament agenda has been gathering pace internationally in 2013 but our government has been ignoring, or just missing, every opportunity to do anything to advance it.

We had a great statement on it read at the UNGA recently by our disarmament ambassador, but that was despite Murray McCully, not because of him. She has been withdrawn from Geneva and sent back to Wellington, and the poor sole rep in Geneva is left there defending our interests and trying to advance the agenda without any instructions from government in Wellington.

The humanitarian rationale for non-proliferation and dismantling of nuclear weapons is gaining traction internationally. The impact of even one nuclear bomb being detonated (they are so much more powerful now than in 1945) will have catastrophic implications for the global environment and climate, food production and security, economics and politics, that winding back our collective arsenals and decommissioning nuclear warhead production is the only sensible way forward.

There are more or less 17,270 nuclear weapons in the world right now, of which 4,400 are on high alert, or ready to be used immediately. $1.75 trillion USD is spent annually on military expansion. Just 9 countries spend $100billion USD per annum, that is nearly $300million USD daily, on nuclear weapons. Just imagine what we could do if……

NZ had an opportunity to assist Obama and the US in his ambitious programme for the de-escalation of this threat to humanity, but John Key only saw it as a photo op. What a waste. It’s time he moved over and let someone who actually cares about NZ’s role in the world take over. David Cunliffe will do nicely.


Moving on to the next challenge

Posted by on February 25th, 2013

I have enjoyed the Health portfolio. It is huge and arguably, it takes longer than one year to get around and establish networks. I have been doing that in the past year and I am grateful to all those who were prepared to engage intelligently and repeatedly with me. I have been pleased to stick up for diabetics in the disastrous changeover to the Care Sens blood glucose meters. It was a mistake and should be rescinded. It affects the way people manage their diabetes and directly impacts their well being, especially for Type 1 diabetics.

I have also made a running on the increase in prescription charges, changes to pharmacists’ contracts with the DHBs, and the burden of implementation of changes falling on local pharmacies. This sector is in chaos and Tony Ryall continues to pretend that there is nothing to see here. Shelves full of uncollected prescriptions would say otherwise. If people can’t afford medicines, and some clearly can’t, we are only going to see additional hospitalisations further town the track.  This isn’t rocket science – just medical science.

But now I take up a new challenge with the Environment portfolio.  And there are challenges aplenty.  We would all love our myth of being 100% pure to become fact again but we need aggressive leadership in this area if that is ever to happen. From our waterways to our air quality, and much more besides, there is much to do to restore our natural environment and to protect it for future generations.  I look forward to that challenge.

Thanks again to all you good health folk for working with me over the last year.  Keep up the good work!


New Year Hangover brought to you by the letters N.A.T….

Posted by on January 1st, 2013

If you thought that your hangover was starting to fade, National has made New Year’s Day a cracker for short sighted, unfair and just plain dumb policies to come into force.

- Prescription Charges Up. Today is the day prescriptions rise from $3 to $5. Might not seem much from the comfort of Tony Ryall’s viewpoint, but a trip to a pharmacy in any low income area will tell you a different story. Many people struggle to pay for their medicine now, let alone with the price increase. Maryan Street has covered it really well here. Unfair, and just plain wrong.

- Student Allowances Abolished for Postgrads. I have covered this a few times on Red Alert, but from today no postgraduate student will be eligible for allowances. Shortsighted, and likely to drive many bright hopes overseas. And so unfair to those in the middle of programmes who had no warning of this from National. Like my constituent who simply can’t afford to complete her Clinical Psychology qualification because even using a student loan she is $75 a week down in “income” and can’t afford to look after her daughter on that. Shame.

- No more Kyoto. From today the government has abandoned our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in favour of our own “voluntary” commitments. We used to be respected in the world for our work on climate change, but National has systematically undermined that through changes to ETS and now this. Our reputation with small island states will take a major hit. We are now seen as not only not a leader, but not even doing our fair share.

In fairness today also marks another increase in tax on tobacco. Labour supports this, as the international evidence shows price is one of the most successful ways of stopping people smoking. But it has to go along with access to other treatments to help people kick their addiction.

So, its Happy New Year from National. But actually I am feeling really positive today. 2013 will be the year we see New Zealanders come together to find a fairer, more hopeful and compassionate future for our country. That is Labour’s way and that is our goal.


National 100% dirty on the environment and the economy

Posted by on November 15th, 2012

This month the National Government pulled New Zealand out of the Kyoto II negotiations to tackle climate change. With John Key’s blessing, the Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser put our country squarely in the fringe group of the world’s big polluters. How can National expect the developing world to commit to targets for curbing emissions when they won’t show good faith by doing the same?

Everyone can see the National Party are lost in a time warp on economics and the environment. In National’s twilight every problem can be ignored just as long as their mates can milk more cows and burn more coal, and especially if everyone else can be kept quiet. That’s why National abolished democracy in Canterbury: they’re so consumed with protecting their failed ideologies from the facts that they can’t even tolerate Cantabrians having a voice to say our rivers shouldn’t be making kids sick.

Today the Pure Advantage clean-tech group of business leaders issued their second landmark report on the multi-trillion opportunity in clean-tech and renewable energy.

The report comes with detailed analysis from some of the world’s leading economists and climate scientists. It’s a must read for anyone with an interest in turning around New Zealand’s economic decline.

Pure Advantage’s contribution proves what most New Zealanders instinctively know: the economy and the environment are two sides of the same coin. Protecting our environment not only doesn’t have to harm our economy – it can be the best thing for it.

Earlier this year, when Pure Advantage launched their first report, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce responded with an insulting attack on the trustees which include Sir George Fistonich, Rob Fyfe, Chris Liddell, Phillip Mills, Jeremy Moon, Rob Morrison, Geoff Ross, Justine Smythe, Mark Solomon, Sir Stephen Tindall, Joan Withers and Duncan Stewart.

But today Bill English was trotted out to do the government’s dirty work.

The Finance Minister had hours of advanced warning that I would be grilling the government about Pure Advantage: my question was on written notice.

But in all that time English didn’t even bother to read the report. It’s a 100% dirty disgrace.

In the coming days National MPs will spout all the usual nonsense and deny and demean science and sustainable economic growth, and may abuse the Pure Advantage team some more (unless they’ve learned from their earlier foot-in-mouth outbreak).

But the facts are clear. This government took New Zealand out of the international effort to stop climate change and they’ve just set a new record for unemployment too. National have no credibility on either the environment or the economy.

The only way New Zealand will have a clean, green, clever and growing economy is if Kiwis clean the National Party out of our Parliament come election time.


I seek leave to make a personal explanation …..

Posted by on July 30th, 2012

I see I am getting a bit of gyp from critics in the blogosphere whose latest fantasy is that I lack an environmental ethic.

Their mistake is they think that a healthy environment stands in opposition to a healthy economy.

I don’t rise to the bait too often, but on this occasion I will bite and lay out my record.

Some of these critics should do their homework.

I am 52 years of age. I tramp, ski, and swim in rivers and the sea. I have been fighting for environmental causes most of my life.

As a lawyer I fought for conservation orders that now protect many of the south island’s rivers including the Mataura, the Buller, the Ahuriri, the Greenstone, the Dart, the Lochy, the von, and the Kawarau. 

I am still active in river protection. This year I am appearing pro-bono as an expert witness on energy policy in support of the Fish and Game application to protect the Nevis river from damming.

As Minister of Energy I halted the decline in renewable electricity as a % of total generation, set an objective of 90% renewables by 2025 and put in place a myriad of initiatives to achieve that end. That objective has survived the change to National, and good progress is being made towards it. Together with Jeanette Fitzsimons, I also promulgated the most ambitious energy efficiency and conservation strategy we had ever had, and played a strong hand in the design and funding of the insulation retrofit programme that National continued with.

As Minister of Energy I added substantially to the lands protected from mining by extending schedule 4 protection to all parts of national parks not then protected, including Kahurangi.

As Minister of Land Information I revamped tenure review, helped form a number of conservation parks, including the Otiake Park in the Hawkduns, stopped tenure review around lakes and rebalanced the relationship between the Crown and lessees. National has reversed some of those changes.

As Acting Minister for the Environment I unblocked the national policy statement on freshwater quality. Trevor Mallard continued this work culminating in the very good NPS proposed by Judge Shepherd et al, which was then neutered by National.

As Minister of Climate Change I successfully legislated to price greenhouse gases in all sectors of the economy covering the 6 main gases covered by the Kyoto protocol. New Zealand remains the only country in the world to have achieved that. I was named Environmentalist of the year in 2008 by the Listener for that and other initiatives.
Changes by National and a loss of momentum internationally collapsing the price of carbon have undermined it, but the architecture remains sound. It is Labour’s policy to bring agriculture in to the ETS.

While in government I read about set nets causing the deaths of Hector’s and Maui dolphins. After confirming with Chris Carter that this was intend a serious problem I approached Helen Clark who, with Jim Anderton’s help, vastly expanded the areas where set nets were banned.

I have had high profile run-ins with proponents of lignite developments, including Solid Energy’s Don Elder.
As Labour’s then spokesperson for conservation, I helped lead Labour’s successful campaign against National’s plans to allow mining in schedule 4 National parks, Coromandel, Great Barrier Island etc. For those with a sense of humour, my Christmas interchange with Gerry Brownlee on the issue, in which Gerry starred, remains the most watched clip from parliament.  http://inthehouse.co.nz/node/912

I have spoken often on the need to better protect our albatross and petrels from being killed as by-catch. Similarly, I am a defender of lowland wetlands against reclamation, and against degradation caused by intensification of nearby land use.

I have been a defender of the RMA, while wanting to improve its reputation by addressing some of its arcane and hard to defend processes.

I am happy to stand on my record on environmental matters.

Which is why it annoyed me to be told I am out to lunch on mining issues.

Having a clean environment means making sure we use our natural resources responsibly. It doesn’t mean we stop using all of them.

That’s why, outside of schedule 4 areas, mining applications can and should be considered case by case.

As I said when interviewed, there is legitimate public concern about deep sea drilling arising from the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe and the limitations of New Zealand’s response to the Rena shipwreck. We must ensure that world’s best practice is followed and that the safety devices needed in the event of mishap are available and can be deployed. Even then, it may be that the deepest of wells are too risky and ought not to proceed.

In terms of lignite, I reiterated that Labour believes its use as an energy source using current technology is a dirty greenhouse gas intensive practice. We are also unconvinced it is economic, especially if environmental consequences are included, and have said government money should be  spent on renewables instead.

Our position on developments in the EEZ is that RMA type principles should apply. We sit between the Greens (who would ban most development activities) and National, whose EEZ legislation, while initially supported by the Greens, is inadequate.

We can develop our resources responsibly and make responsible decisions for our future – and a sustainable economy requires it.


Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.


Renewable energy – we can do better

Posted by on August 31st, 2011

Yesterday the National government released their much anticipated Energy Strategy. The first draft that was released for consultation was pretty poor, and the final version is even worse.

While they claim they are still committed to the goal of having 90 percent of our electricity generated from renewable sources, most of their actual plan heads in the other direction.

We have an abundance of renewable energy sources in New Zealand. We could be world leaders in renewable energy. Instead the National government want to focus on extracting more fossil fuels like gas and oil.

It’s a short-sighted approach that does nothing to insulate us from the inevitable price increases that are on the way, not to mention the damage it will do to our environment.

National trumpets the fact that the amount of electricity we’ve generated in the last few years from renewable sources has increased, never mind the fact that it’s rained quite a bit. What happens when we get another dry year? We need more wind, more solar, more local generation, and more of a focus on energy efficiency.

It’s great that the National government have at least said they agree with the 90% renewable target put in place under the last Labour government, but we need to do a lot better if we’re going to meet it.


Generation Zero

Posted by on July 21st, 2011

Catching up on emails I noted one from a new advocacy group, launched this week, Generation Zero www.generationzero.org.nz.  

I would have thought it deserved some media coverage but despite a cute photo op outside Parliament, it looks like this only appears to date on their Facebook page.

Good on them for putting the effort into getting up the website. Generation Zero are calling for zero carbon emissions by 2050 and binding targets en route.  NZ’s current goal? 50%. of 1990 levels. On current tracking we have about as much chance of reaching that as our 2020 commitment of reducing to 10 or 20 percent below 1990 emission levels. (In fact we are increasing.)  Across the ditch, Julia Gilliard’s carbon tax has set a 80% reduction target. And Britain’s Tory government has a similar goal. In fact there, it’s bipartisan.

Yet Gillard’s plan is going down like a bucket of sick under the constant attacks of Tony Abbott (who bowled former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull because he tried to back Labor’s earlier wider-ranging, less subsidising ETS.)

Generation Zero’s guru is James Hansen, who visited here recently. I’m currently reading the book he has devoted to his grandchildren – effectively Generation Zero.

As Australia illustrates, the politics and potential outcomes of this debate are horrible. Attempts to encourage/require change from our carbon-fueled lifestyles are politically fraught; not doing so puts the very existence of Generation Zero – and their grandchilren – at extreme risk.

If you want examples of our own Julia or Tony choices, look to the differences between Labour and National on agriculture in the ETS or whether lignite mining in Southland should proceed.   


Every bugger will agree

Posted by on June 2nd, 2011

For those who don’t know, Joe Hockey is an Australian (conservative) Opposition frontbencher. He has appealed for “unity” amongst his colleagues around their views on climate change which are clearly disperate. Look to the New Zealand govt benches to see how “unified” their views are on climate change!

Come back home John Clarke


One Tory PM serious about climate change

Posted by on May 24th, 2011

John Key attacking our reinstatement of agriculture in the ETS to fund R +D is predictable enough for a former?  climate change doubter.

But contrast him saying agriculture can only come in when others bring it in with his good friend, British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week, the Conservative government unveiled the UK’s fourth carbon budget, announcing it wanted to be the “greenest government  ever” http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn11_41/pn11_41.aspx  , positioning the UK as a leading player in the global low-carbon economy, creating significant new industries and jobs.

The UK is now on  course to cut emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2027 (the National Government’s target is 20 percent by 2020.) And it vows to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050 (National’s target 50% by 2050.)

This from an economy once built on coal and heavily reliant on North Sea oil. The point is that the Brits are committing to make changes to the difficult to tackle sectors of its economy and focussing on a low carbon economy and high-tech future. 

David Cameron is effectively making a mockery of John Key’s promise of the National Government being “fast followers” in responding to climate change. The Conservatives in the UK have laid out an actual plan on how they hope to transition to a green economy.  Meanwhile we are stuck with a government that has no real idea, no real plan, and continues to kick the climate change can down the road for the next generation to deal with.

John Key says he’s been in touch with David Cameron every week by phone or text since meeting in 2009. You have to wonder if he ever questions Cameron’s commitment to address climate change or  is that just reserved for domestic politics?


Reducing emissions just a “fad”

Posted by on February 16th, 2011

Oh dear, Finance Minister Bill English rather gave the game away on Morning Report this morning when quizzed about the buying the Beamers  Pressed by Geoff Robinson about buying BMWs over say, Aus-assembled Fords or Holdens, Mr English said:”I think it shows that being driven by a fad, which at the time was to have lower carbon emissions….turned out more expensive than they expected” http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport

A fad? Little wonder Colin James wrote last month that Change Minister Nick Smith is not getting the traction he needs in Cabinet to put the environment at least alongside the economy in priorities. “ Most ministers think: the environment or the economy. Smith, though abundantly intelligent and energetic, is not one of the inner cabinet core, where economic growth is king.” http://www.colinjames.co.nz/Dominion/Dominion_2011/Dominion_11Jan24.htm

Bill English’s slip today is another illustration of that.  What he and the inner Cabinet don’t  get is that pushing economic growth at the expense of the environment puts at risk our very economic base. We trade on our ‘clean, green’ reputation – continuing to treat that like a fad exposes us to our trade competitors.

And BTW, English also said this today on Morning Report that he didn’t think a Government “in the current recession” would chose to buy anything more than plain, vanilla cars. Is that a technical slip?


Post # 5 from Cancun: Groser the Censor

Posted by on December 8th, 2010

COP16

I was going to use this post to give a general update on progress here, and to respond to one commenter’s request for a summary of the general position taken by China in the negotiations to date.  I thought it would also be useful to talk about the position of other key nations or blocs, although no single country is as important on the climate issue as the US , which is why I devoted the entirety of post #4 to America.  But all that will have to wait, perhaps until tomorrow, except to say that things are chugging along.  Expectations for a deal are so low that ironically, the best outcome will be things ending not with a bang (ie superpower walkout – threat receded; Japanese now apparently unwilling to support the US in such a move), but a whimper (series of low-level technical agreements which will hopefully enable some further progress at COP17 next year in Durban).

Instead, I am going to respond to a NZ Herald report today - http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10692830 – of a tetchy reply from our Climate Negotiations Minister, Tim Groser, to my criticism of his dogged insistence that New Zealand should remain a member of the US-led “Umbrella Group” in climate negotiations.  Groser says that “no-one has seen much of me” at the talks, that I have breached a convention not to criticise the Government while overseas, and that I am wrong about the policy.

If the first point were a simple personal attack then I would do what I normally do in politics – yawn and ignore it.  But I think it’s actually quite revealing about how out-of -touch a minister – even one whose ego leads him (unwisely) to blur the line between the political and the diplomatic – can get at talks like these.  I’ve been here since last Monday when the talks began.  Groser got here on Wednesday.  As in Copenhagen last year,  I am not a member of the official NZ delegation, and I paid my own way to get here.  Like last year, I’ve been spending a lot of my time at the venue where most of the NGOs are based (“Cancun Messe”) – or at ‘side events’ put on off-site around Cancun by various expert interested groups or by countries with a particular perspective to put forward.  Groser’s been at the Moon Palace (I kid you not – it is really called that), the resort where the national delegations are conducting the actual talks.  I get a  bus here  (pictured) and back every day from my hotel, or to the side events.  There is always a lively discussion on the buses of the issues.  Not sure of the level of majesty (or silence) in which Groser is daily conveyed.

(more…)


Sometimes, the planets align…..

Posted by on November 4th, 2010

I met Hillary Rodham Clinton today. Two weeks ago, in Washington, I met  Melanne Verveer, Hillary Clinton’s appointee to a new position reporting to her: Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. I was attending a conference, or seminar really – there were only a dozen of us  from nine different countries – to look at some of those irritating issues of no significance compared with guns and bombs and things, like human trafficking, women’s rights as human rights, getting women to participate in peace talks in the world’s hotspots, maternal and child health, the disproportionate effect of climate change on women, etc  etc.

Then I went to New York. There the UN Security Council was discussing Resolution 1325. I can see your eyes glazing over already! That is a ten year old resolution of the UN calling for action on women’s engagement with security and peace. Like having women at peace negotiating tables in the world’s hotspots.

I mean, how can you negotiate peace in the Congo or Afghanistan or Burma without having some of the victims of rape as a weapon of war being engaged in reconciliation processes? Hillary Clinton made a statement with Ban Ki-Moon (UN Sec Gen) about Resolution 1325 and then went on to make a joint statement a few days later with the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs on the same theme before they headed off to a conference on it in Denmark.

So I knew what I wanted to talk to SOS Clinton about: how NZ could work more efficiently and effectively with the US in the Pacific on issues like encouraging women to participate in decision-making, elected or otherwise, how to improve maternal and child health, how we could combat HIV and AIDS which are epidemic in the Pacific, how we could build an enduring peace in our difficult areas. So I did.

You know what she said? “This is music to my ears.” I knew it would be.


“Kickstarting” the biofuels industry

Posted by on September 29th, 2010

Yesterday Pansy Wong put out a press statement lauding the National government’s move to “kickstart New Zealand’s fledgling biodiesel industry”. Coincidentally, I’ve been visiting biofuel companies over the past few weeks and they’ve been telling me that the policies of the current National government are doing the opposite – they feel like the rug is being pulled from under them.

Before the last election the Labour government put in place a biofuels sales obligation. It would have required fuel retailers to mix a small amount of biofuels into their blends, thus guaranteeing a market for biofuel producers and ensuring the development of the fledgling industry, whilst at the same time also reducing our carbon emissions from transport.

For reasons known only to them, National repealed the sales obligation as soon as it took office and replaced it with a subsidy scheme for biodiesel. It was an odd move for a government that claims it wants to cut government spending – the sales obligation wouldn’t have cost the government anything, it would have put the cost back onto the oil industry, unlike their subsidy.

Biofuel producers I’ve spoken to have all said the same thing, as soon as the sales obligation was removed the oil companies walked away.Their slick marketing may try to convince us they care about sustainability and the environment, but in reality the mighty dollar rules.

The biofuel sales obligation wasn’t perfect, and I think companion legislation ensuring the sustainability of the feedstock (the material the biofuels are made from) was also needed. But recent history has shown that left to its own devices without any sort of government regulation, the oil industry has no intention of supporting biofuels. Gerry Brownlee’s biodiesel grants scheme has been a flop. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.


Innovation in Alicetown

Posted by on September 1st, 2010

David Shearer is encouraging Labour MPs to focus on innovative businesses.

Dazza and I went to see a Green Diesel group in Alicetown. Great business with  chance of making it big. Good experience in international oil. Into recyling.

Most important is the ability to massively reduce pollution from diesel – and to use their fascinating testing system to prove the results.

The first bus company or owner of service station chain that gets into this will win big.


Minister Boscawen, meet Mr. Boscawen

Posted by on August 19th, 2010

Today in the House, I questioned the new Minister of Consumer Affairs on his past record.

A quirk of Parliamentary procedure is that during Question Time, a Minister is not response for comments that they have made as an MP.

In the case of Mr Boscawen, his comments as a ACT MP run countercurrent to the position of his new colleagues in cabinet.

I guess that Minister Boscawen and Mr Boscawen should meet some time and figure out who is ‘right’ on the costs of climate change.

Today in the House, I questioned the new Minister of Consumer Affairs on his past record.

Environmental Reporting Bill

Posted by on August 5th, 2010

This morning I’ve introduced a new Environmental Reporting Bill into the ballot. The Bill does two things. It requires the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to produce a comprehensive report on the state of the environment at least every 5 years. It also gives the Commissioner the power to establish a standardised set of indicators to assess the state of the environment on a regular basis.

A recent report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found that the quality of data currently available on the state of our environment is patchy at best. Establising a standardised set of indicators will help to remedy this problem. It will also improve the quality of the 5-yearly report the Commissioner will produce.

Improving the quality of information available on the state of our environment has never been more important. We now place a much greater focus on the impact of our actions on the environment. Assessing the effectiveness of our policy responses to issues like climate change will rely on the availability of quality, objective information.

Giving responsibility for establishing what data is to be collected to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment brings some independence to that process. I think it’s really important that the public can have confidence that the data presented has been selected and collected free from any form of political interference and manipulation.

There are still some logistical and resourcing issues to sort out. The Commissioner currently doesn’t have the resources to do this job effectively, so no doubt that will be the topic of some discussion should the Bill make it as far as a Select Committee. Should it be drawn from the ballot I’m hopefully my parliamentary colleagues will at least support the First Reading so that we can have that debate.


Energy from waste

Posted by on July 26th, 2010

I’ve posted several times about the fledgling New Zealand biofuels industry and how I think the current National government have pulled the rug out from under it. In comments people have often raised concern about the potential for biofuels to create other problems such as food shortages. That’s one of the reasons I’m so keen to see a lot more biofuel development that uses waste product as its feedstock.

But the use of waste to produce energy isn’t limited to biofuels. The Dominion Post had an interesting little story today on its Small Business page about Peter Yealands from Yealands Estate. He’s going to be using prunings from his vineyard to provide energy. This will save 22,000 tonnes of LPG and $80,000 during the vintage. EECA has backed the project with a 40 percent ($200k) subsidy.

The prunings will be burned in two boilers with modified doors that are being imported from the US. They burn clean, releasing no smoke and leaving only about 10kg of ash at the end of each bale. That ash will be mixed with mulch made from the rest of the prunings and put back on the land (only about 10% of the prunings will be burned).

This is the kind of energy innovation we should be encouraging a lot more of. Good to see EECA getting behind it. The question now should be – how do we get more of it?


A future for biofuels?

Posted by on July 24th, 2010

In the House on Thursday I questioned Gerry Brownlee on his disastrous Biodiesel Grants Scheme. Only about $230,000 of the $36 million set aside for the scheme has been taken up. Five companies have signed up, but no new companies have joined since July last year. It’s a long way short of Brownlee’s promise to create 240 new jobs and ensure that biofuels play a big part in our ‘energy mix’ of the future.

Brownlee chose to blame the industry for the scheme’s lack of success, despite the fact that he was warned from the very beginning it wouldn’t work. One of his first actions as Minister was to remove the biofuel sales obligation that was put in place by the previous Labour government. That would have generated sufficient demand for the biofuels industry to develop sustainably without the need for government subsidies.

Brownlee’s approach as Minister appears to be to ignore all the evidence about what actually works, only listen to the advice of those he agrees with, and then find someone else to blame when things go wrong. But I guess that’s what we should expect from the guy who thinks New Zealand’s future prosperity depends on digging up our National Parks and exporting them.


Aspiration needs more than lip service

Posted by on June 9th, 2010

Gerry Brownlee is quoted in this week’s Listener saying that the government remains committed to an ‘aspirational goal’ of having 90% of New Zealand’s electricity generated from renewable sources by 2025. He states “What people don’t get is that this is a 15-year target and why would you be anything other than aspirational if you’re looking out 15 years?”

Unfortunately, this approach has become quite typical within the National government. Their approach seems to be: Identify a goal you think most people will agree with and then adopt an ‘aspirational’ target to be met at some very distant point in the future, by which time you’ll be long gone and nobody will be able to hold you to account for it. Then just continue on as you were before, or in Brownlee’s case, push policies that actually go in the other direction.

It’s hard to square Brownlee’s commitment to renewable energy with his passion for hydrocarbons. He seems to have made it his personal mission to find every ounce of coal, gas and oil in and around New Zealand and ensure that it’s extracted. In the case of gas at least, which is difficult to transport, that becomes economically more attractive to explorers when they know they have a growing domestic market – in other words, more gas-fired power plants.

I agree that we should be aiming for at least 90% of our electricity to come from renewable sources, but I think we need to do more than mumble ‘aspirational’ platitudes. My Electricity (Renewable Preference) Bill would prevent further non-renewable power plants unless they were essential for security of supply. That’s a firm step in the right direction. The next step is to look at how we promote the up-take of renewable, particularly on a more localised, smaller scale.