Here in Canterbury we certainly seem to have been experiencing more extreme weather over the past few years with significant flooding in autumn and winter in some areas and warmer temperatures during summer. I am not an expert so I don’t know whether this is wholly or partially a result of climate change, but the scientific evidence is clear that globally greenhouse gases are contributing to an overall warming of the planet, resulting in melting polar ice caps and rising sea-levels.
The National Government signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2016 and this committed New Zealand to reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. In order to make progress towards reaching these targets we did a significant amount of work on increasing renewable energy, increasing the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand and reforming the Emissions Trading Scheme.
While it is important that we continue to take action, it is critical that decisions are based on careful analysis of the latest scientific advice, as taking the wrong steps can decimate our most productive sectors, cost jobs and actually increase global emissions.
For example, a recently published study by researchers from New Zealand, the UK and Norway has shown that methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) behave differently in terms of how long they act to trap heat in the atmosphere. Basically, while methane has a vigorous heating effect initially it lasts for a much shorter time while CO2 has a weaker but near-permanent effect on temperatures.
The researchers have warned that if we focus too much on reducing agricultural methane instead of fossil carbon, then we will be making a mistake from a climate change perspective. This kind of information is highly significant for agricultural countries such as New Zealand, where methane released by sheep and cattle amounts to nearly a third of our emissions.
Unfortunately the current Government’s track record in this area to date is not good. It has become apparent that the decision to end new offshore oil and gas exploration in New Zealand went against the advice of officials that the decision would have a negligible impact on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and would likely lead to an increase in global emissions. The Government was told that the decision would be likely to lead to higher gas prices and reduce the security of supply as well as result in job losses from reduced investment and confidence in the sector and supporting industries. However, the Prime Minister decided to go ahead with the announcement without getting Cabinet approval despite this being a “lose-lose” policy for both the environment and the economy.
There is too much at stake for decisions such as these to be driven by the political desire to be seen to be doing something and I hope that the Government will choose to heed official and expert advice on these matters from now on.