When a magazine as authoritative as The Economist heads up its lead “No Safe Place” , even climate change deniers should sit up and take notice.
The Economist” says the most terrible thing about the spectacular scenes of destruction that have played out around the world over recent weeks is that there is no safe place from which to observe them.
“The ground under the German town of Erftstadt is torn apart like tissue paper by flood waters; Lytton in British Columbia is burned from the map just a day after setting a freakishly high temperature record; cars float like dead fish through the streets-turned-canals in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. All the world feels at risk, and most of it is”.
NZ had its own headline: “The Buller River recorded largest NZ flood flows in almost 100 years”.
The Economist argues the extremes of flood and fire are not going away but adaptation can lessen their impact.
Greenhouse gas emissions have produced a planet more than 1 degree warmer than in pre-industrial days.
“Its atmosphere stoked up and out of joint, is producing heavy weather in ways both predicted and surprising. And, with emissions continuing, it will get worse”.
In NZ, as in Australia, there is a degree of scepticism about the impact of climate change. The big food producers in both countries argue that with the higher temperatures in the tropics, severe harvest failures will be commonplace, and the populations in those regions will desperately need the food produced in the more temperate climates of NZ and Tasmania.
Then there is the argument that in NZ methane emissions from its dairy herds and livestock generally are more moderate than in other countries. It is also contended that NZ has a major scientific programme under way to produce a “methane vaccine” which will cut emissions, and we should wait for that, before moving ahead with reducing the size of herds by 15% as proposed by the Climate Change Commission.
Beyond that, solar geoengineering is said to be the most spectacular, and scary, form of adaptation. This seeks to make clouds or particle layers in the atmosphere a bit more mirror-like, reflecting away some sunlight. The Economist says research over the past 15 years has suggested solar geoengineering might significantly reduce some of the harms from greenhouse warming.
But advocates who have urged the NZ government to go slow on the proposal to cut herd numbers and impose penalties on other emitters of methane got a rude shock last week when the United States and European Union both announced they would introduce a ‘carbon border tax’ on imported foreign goods as early as 2023.
Carbon emission tariffs will be imposed on goods imported from countries with less strict emissions schemes, to level the playing field with local producers.
NZ sends 22% of its total exports to these markets, so these changes could be a major hurdle for Fonterra and other food exporters – perhaps even for products like honey.
NZ is still trying to negotiate a trade agreement with the European Union, and has found it hard going.
It would be doubly ironic if countries like China followed the US and EU example and in imposed a ‘a carbon border tax’ at a time when Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has been talking up the need for food exporters to diversify away from China.