Hot Air: Climate Change Politics in New Zealand
Directed by Alistair Barry Abi King-Jones (2013)
This documentary left me with a sick, futile feeling about the hopelessness of real democracy occurring any time soon in New Zealand. It tells the really sad tale of wealthy business interests aggressively blocking meaningful action on emissions reduction for over 30 years.
I was previously unaware that in 1990 the incoming National (conservative) government set a target of reducing NZ’s carbon emissions by 20% in 10 years. Alarmed by data being released by international climate scientists, National’s Minister of the Environment Simon Upton persuaded cabinet to agree to a $10/tonne carbon tax. His plan was to implement the tax in 1997, if polluting industries failed to achieve voluntary emissions targets.
In 1993, Upton established a board of inquiry to hear the resource consent for the Stratford (Taranaki) Power Station. The final consent mandated that Electrocorps plant 5,000 trees per year to mitigate the additional CO2 emissions produced by the power station. Not a single tree would be planted, after Taranaki Regional Council used their powers under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to remove this stipulation.
When Upton launched the Working Group on Climate Policy (WOGOCOP), New Zealand’s Business Roundtable (under the guidance of Carter Holt Harvey*) quietly arranged for US climate denier Fred Singer (to to tour New Zealand.
The company’s next move was to form the Greenhouse Policy Coalition with New Zealand Steel, Coldco (a company specializing in refrigeration which has since been liquidated), Melbourne Cement and the New Zealand Oil Refining Company. Through massive lobbying, this Coalition successfully blocked each and every regulation aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
By 1996, when New Zealand enacted an MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system, New Zealand’s per capita carbon emission were 7% higher than 1990 (and higher than most other industrialized countries).
In 1997 New Zealand signed the Kyoto treaty, committing New Zealand to reduce carbon emissions 5% from 1990 levels by 2012. It would be two years before Parliament ratified the treaty, after a Labour-led coalition under Helen Clark assumed control of government. At this point, the dairy cooperative Fontera and Tiwai Point aluminum manufacturer joined the pro-corporate Greenhouse Policy Commission in commissioning a statistically flawed Institute of Economic Research study. It claimed a carbon tax would reduce New Zealand GDP by 1%.
Under the New Labour government, Contact Energy received approval for a new gas-fired power plant and Genesis Energy a permit to increase coal burning (and carbon emissions) at their Huntley power plant. During the same period, Fonterra massively increased their use of coal (and their emissions) to dry milk solids (for export to China).
In 2005, New Zealand’s richest man Graeme Hart bought Carter Holt Harvey and began pulling down the company’s forests to replace them with dairy farms. Under Kyoto, this represented a potential cost to NZ taxpayers of $68 million (for disestablishing the carbon credits they had committed to).
Until 2006 when Al Gore released his film The Inconvenient Truth, Labour Environment Minister Pete Hodgson essentially carried the climate change issue alone – with the Green Party, Greenpeace, and other New Zealand environmental groups only signing on after 2006.
In lieu of a carbon tax, the Labour-led coalition, with the support of the National Party, opted to join the global Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)* in in 2008. The same year, National would resume control of government, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
*Carter Holt Harvey specializes in forest plantation management and timber production.
**Under NZ’s ETS, the biggest polluters (outside of agriculture, which is exempt), can purchase credits to produce carbon emissions by investing in carbon sequestration schemes in the Third World. It has proved totally useless in preventing the continuing rise of our country’s carbon emissions. See link The Carbon Trading Racket
The film can be viewed free at https://www.hotairfilm.co.nz/