Winston Peters is too astute a politician to be oblivious to the outcome in what Opposition parties across the Tasman labelled the “climate change election”. Almost certainly, when he spoke in the debate of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill on Tuesday afternoon, he was thinking of how the Australian Federal Labor Party lost the “unloseable” election simply because it campaigned so hard on what voters assessed as too demanding, and too costly, measures to combat global warming.
How else to explain his rambling defence of NZ First’s support for the bill? It was, almost word by word, as if he could feel support for NZ First in the rural regions evaporating.
He started by asking why the House was having the debate. His answer: because the previous National government had signed up to the Paris Agreement.
He went on to say the bill fulfills NZ First’s agreement with Labour to establish a Climate Change Commission, “but one that does not resemble the statutory or arbitrary or final powers of the Reserve Bank”\,
He drew attention to the process where the Climate Change Commission will provide the free allocation to agriculture with all revenues cycled back into agriculture for mitigation, for the additional planting of forestry, and for research innovation—“also part of our coalition agreement”
NZ First regards that as “critical”. He says in recognition of NZ’s methane profile, it splits methane from the more longer-living greenhouse gases.
The bill, according to Peters, establishes an initial gross methane target of 10% from 2017 levels from 2020 to 2030, which it projected, all the way to 2050, corresponds with a 26.7% methane target.
Peters dismisses as Federated Farmers “alarmism” the complaint that these targets are too stringent.
He went on to offer this prediction:
“I am confident that farming will be more wealthy than ever before because it will also have this about it: not only being sustainable; it’ll finally get to added value, which is a policy that this country should have been pursuing a long, long time ago.
“No, no—all they worry about is cow hoof numbers. It’s what you do with the cow that’s important”.
The problem for Peters is that dairy farmers regard the methane targets as impossible to meet without substantially culling herds. But for many farmers, it’s the last 30 or 40 cows in their herds which produce the volumes of milk sufficient to determine whether the season outcome is profit or loss.
National, like the farmers, argues the targets for 2030 and 2050 are too high. The 2030 target is negative 10% and the 2050 target is negative 24% to 47%.
The difficulty for Peters, and the government he is part of, is that the biotechnology which could ensure agriculture meets its methane targets has been ruled out.
Former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman made it clear genetic engineering is an essential tool to combat high emissions.
But as Opposition Leader Simon Bridges noted in the debate, if biotech is an important part of the answer “it’s a tragedy the Green Party rules it out”.
As in Australia, where the Green vote was vital for Labor to win the Treasury benches, Peters in effect depends on Green support to hold his post as deputy PM. But because agriculture is the source of the bulk of its exports, when will the rural regions forgive him if dairy herds have to be culled and incomes fall?
A report in the NZ Herald this week noted NZ’s economy could miss out on up to $50bn worth of economic growth because of the Zero Carbon Bill, according to official analysis.
The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), written by officials at the Ministry for the Environment, reveals that NZ’s economy will grow to $522bn by 2050 if the zero carbon legislation is not adopted and the status quo is maintained. However, if the legislation does come into force – as it is expected to do later this year – the RIS showed NZ’s GDP in 2050 will be between $472bn and $476bn, a difference of $45 – 49bn. In effect each NZ household would be around $20,000 worse off.
Peters may not care about what could happen by 2050 — but he should care about the next election. Point of Order suggests he looks even harder at what happened across the Tasman last Saturday.