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It sounds very grand – the International Just Transition Declaration (which readers can check out here.)
Its purpose, aspiring to ensure a fair go for all as governments do what must be done to deal with global warming, is worthy and New Zealand – hurrah – is a proud signatory.
Delivering a fair deal popped up in other announcements at the weekend.
The PM no doubt was aiming to deliver fairness to poor people – for example – when she announced “a suite of improvements to family support from 1 April 2022”, which will increase the incomes of 346,000 families by an average of $20 a week, lifting an estimated 6000 more children out of poverty.
Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito Williams was expounding more on being a good neighbour than fairness, perhaps, in a speech to the Tuvalu Climate Action Network happening titled “Am I not your Tuakoi – Neighbour?”
He mentioned the recent announcement by our PM that New Zealand would provide $1.3 billion in climate finance to developing countries, at least 50 per cent of this to be spent in the Pacific — our own closest neighbourhood — and at least 50 per cent on adaptation; a key Pacific priority.
Williams also said:
We are in a climate emergency. The science tells us that if countries do not act now to reduce global emissions, the costs for everyone in the future will be much greater. No one is immune to the effects of climate change. And as our young Pacific climate change warriors have been chanting – Save the Pacific! You save the world!
And who’s going to tell China? It’s the most populous nation in the Asia-Pacific region and the world, with about 1.44 billion people, and it seems stubbornly intent on continuing to burn massive amounts of coal regardless of the grim environmental consequences.
Check out this rundown from the New York Times:
“Desperate to meet its electricity needs, China is opening up new coal production exceeding what all of Western Europe mines in a year, at a tremendous cost to the global effort to fight climate change.
“The campaign has unleashed a flurry of activity in China’s coal country. Idled mines are restarting. Cottage-sized yellow backhoes are clearing and widening roads past terraced cornfields. Long columns of bright red freight trucks are converging on the region to haul the extra cargo.
“China’s push will carry a high cost. Burning coal, already the world’s single biggest cause of human-driven climate change, will increase China’s emissions and toxic air pollution. It will endanger the lives of coal miners. And it could impose a long-term cost on the Chinese economy, even while helping short-term growth.”
But beyond the Pacific, we might stumble on a country called Brazil, which is intent on cutting down the Amazon forests inside its boundaries with the same grim determination as China is burning coal.
“It is not just the people of Brazil who will suffer in the face of their government’s smartly coordinated attack on humanity’s future. All of us, across the world, are set to suffer the consequences of the tragedy unfolding before us in the Amazon.”
“If the deforestation of the Amazon continues, we will see more extreme temperatures and forest fires like the ones currently ablaze in Canada, Siberia and the western US. There will be more floods, like those seen in Turkey, China and Germany, and more droughts leading to food and water shortages as in Madagascar and Ethiopia. There will be an increase in unpredictable severe weather events, more species will suffer extinction; inequality will grow as will polarization and conflict. There will be more people displaced by climate change throughout the world. It will all be unavoidable. We will also be faced with another genocide of Indigenous peoples.”
Signing the International Just Transition Declaration should bring us some comfort – shouldn’t it?
Maybe not. It’s aim (so far as we can see) is to tackle global warming fairly rather than successfully.
Announcing the good news at the weekend, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said New Zealand
“… has joined with a range of other countries and committed to a just transition to a low carbon future.”
He explained that the International Just Transition Declaration, launched at COP26 in Glasgow, acknowledges that countries must respond to the climate crisis in a way that is fair to everyone.
“The global transition to a low carbon future needs to be a fair and equitable transition that leaves no community, no family, and no person behind,” James Shaw said.
We suspect Shaw was huffing and puffing largely as a gesture for domestic consumption:
“The way previous Governments have managed periods of economic change in New Zealand has left too many families and vulnerable communities behind. This time has to be different.”
And then we learn we are one of just 15 signatories to the declaration, along with EU Commission, UK, USA, Canada, Poland, Spain, Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Belgium.
There are 195 countries in the world today, 193 of them member states of the United Nations and two (the Holy See and the State of Palestine) non-member observer states.
The EU Commission isn’t one of them.
But let’s not deny Shaw his platform for sounding important:
“Our Government has been working to build a low carbon future for Aotearoa New Zealand, where everyone has a secure income that pays enough for them to put a warm roof over their heads and food on the table. We have also established a Just Transition Unit, which was expanded in Budget 2021, and the Future of Work Forum to build resilience in those communities most affected by economic change. This work is supporting communities to plan and manage their transitions in a fair and equitable way. Signing the declaration today builds on this work.”
Shaw portended important decisions that will affect us all (with great fairness):
“The Emissions Reduction Plan we publish next year will set out how we will transition to a low carbon future in a just, inclusive and equitable way. That means transition planning with business, unions, iwi, and affected communities at the table; accessible education and training opportunities; support for working families; and making sure we fully understand the distributional impacts of climate policies on population groups.
“There is no doubt that the transition to a low carbon future is an historic opportunity – the creation of new jobs and opportunities for Kiwi businesses; lower household energy bills; a more sustainable agriculture sector; an enviable global brand; warmer, drier homes; new technologies; cost savings for businesses; and greater resilience in the face of increasing uncertainty.
“Our Government is committed to making sure we that we go about capturing these gains in a way that is fair for everyone,” James Shaw said.
A handful of other countries have made a similar commitment.
But 181 countries haven’t signed the International Just Transition Declaration.
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