Climate Crisis Immediate Response Bill – ideas
Below is the submission I have made to the select committee considering the so-called Zero Carbon Bill. (Submissions close on July 16.) Rather than attempting to engage with the content of the ZCB, which is mostly about setting up a Climate Change Commission (which I consider to be a total waste of citizens’ time and money), I make suggestions regarding what could and should be done instead.
Submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill 2019
Dr Christine Dann*
I wish to speak to this submission in Christchurch.
1.1 We were promised this bill in December 2017, and were told that it would come to Parliament in October 2018. It did not arrive until May 2019. We are now told that there will be further delays before it is enacted, at least a year later than promised.
1.2 In the two years between promise and delivery the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have kept increasing, and are currently at levels (415 ppm) last seen 3 million years ago. Cyclones are now occurring further north and south than ever before. A recent example of this: cyclones Idai and Kenneth devastating the south-east coast of Africa. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, glacier and sea ice cover has been melting at unprecedented and alarming rates. The global average temperature is now at a level last experienced 800,000 years ago (before humans existed), and is on track to get higher.
1.3 In those two years New Zealand has broken monthly temperature records several times. We have also experienced terrible wild fires. The storm which washed out the tourist highway bridge at Franz Josef in March 2019, causing a loss of $3 million a day to the local economy for nearly two weeks, had an even more severe impact on the viability of Fox and its glacier as a tourist destination. Land access to the glacier there is now blocked indefinitely, and the contents of a storm-destroyed rubbish dump, strewn along kilometres of coastline, has required the Department of Conservation, the Defence Force, and many volunteers to take over from the district council to provide clean up machinery and workers.
1.4 The human and financial costs of global heating, including the droughts, fires, sea level rise and extreme storms which have killed tens of thousands in the past two years, and have displaced and hurt hundreds of thousands more, have cost billions of dollars globally. New Zealand is currently on track to pay much, much more in damage control and compensation than the $43 million allocated in the 2019 Budget for the costs of setting up and operating the Climate Change Commission and the $77 million allocated to other spending on climate change research projects and the like.
1.5 So which part of “This is an emergency!” does this government (and parliament) not understand? I submit that this bill is not fit for purpose and should be thrown out and replaced by a Climate Crisis Immediate Response Bill. In the far off and mythical 2050 zero carbon never-land promised in this Bill I will most likely be dead of natural causes – but in all likelihood millions of people will have perished or had their lives ruined by the unnatural causes of climate chaos by then. This climate chaos is happening NOW, and is reliably predicted to get worse as the world continues to heat up, weather patterns become more unstable, adverse weather events more severe, sea levels rise higher, and fresh water sources dry up or become too erratic to support crop growing.
1.6 The climate crisis is the biggest crisis the world and New Zealand has ever faced, and overcoming it will not be achieved by ‘business-as-usual’ measures like a permanent commission on the level of the Lotteries Commission, the Film Commission, or the Transport Accident Investigation Commission. All these (and New Zealand’s fourteen other commissions and commissioners) have worthwhile jobs to do – but none of them involve dealing with any sort of ongoing crisis, let alone one on the level of the climate crisis.
1.7 To meet the huge challenges posed by this crisis New Zealand will have to come up with innovations in democratic theory and practice, along the lines of the Citizens’ Assembly and Climate Crisis Cabinet recommended below, and it will also have to make big changes to the way it farms, travels and lives. We are already paying substantial costs for not having made the necessary changes sooner, before climate-created damage started occurring, and the longer we delay making those changes, by setting up Commissions to discuss the issue and make recommendations to a series of incoming governments (there will be eleven – 11! – new governments between now and 2050) the more we will have to pay. Let’s stop pretending that the Zero Carbon bill is any such thing. The UK has had an equivalent committee since 2009, and it has had near zero impact on climate change policy in the UK, while the UK’s emissions (and temperatures and sea levels) have continued to rise. It is time for taking measures that have a much greater chance of being effective, as outlined below.
2 Democratic innovations to address the climate crisis
2.1 A Climate Crisis Cabinet
Since the current state of the climate constitutes a bona fide emergency or crisis (albeit on a longer time frame than most crises) it is appropriate that the contemporary equivalent of a ‘war cabinet’ is set up by the government. This ‘Climate Crisis’ cabinet would be a sub-set of the relevant ministers in the full cabinet (e.g. the ministers of climate change, environment, primary industries, transport, local government). The cabinet could (and should) also have opposition politicians as members, and senior civil servants from the relevant departments or ministries of government. Policies and other matters recommended by the Climate Crisis cabinet would go to the full cabinet for discussion and final decision-making, and the relevant ministers would then be directly accountable for the pursuance of those policies and other decisions made. The Climate Crisis cabinet (like a war cabinet) would last for as long as the crisis was on-going, and while the personnel might change as governments changed, continuity would be provided by the civil servants involved, and by the parliamentarians exchanging roles (e.g. opposition spokespersons becoming ministers, and vice versa).
2.2 A Citizen’s Assembly to draft the Climate Crisis Immediate Response Bill
2.2.1 The climate crisis is a long one, and it pervades every sector of society. It will require difficult decisions to be made about activities that must be curtailed, and goodwill and majority support for such decisions is essential. Therefore it is vital that the people who will be bearing the brunt of the costs of both action and inaction have an opportunity to become fully informed on those costs, and on the best actions to take to avoid them.
2.2.2 Citizens’ assemblies have been used in other democracies as an effective means of increasing democratic participation in difficult public decision-making. They deserve to be trialled alongside the crisis cabinet as another innovative way to address the existential threat of our era. In particular, if a Citizens’ Assembly were to be convened to draft a Climate Crisis Immediate Response Bill, which contained the core policies which the government of the day and subsequent governments would be required to enact and pursue to address the crisis effectively, then those policies will receive much greater public salience and scrutiny, and a democratic mandate for enacting them will be provided.
2.2.3 The time frame for convening the Assembly and enacting its recommendations should be no longer than the time frame for Zero Carbon Bill i.e. by the end of 2019, and the most urgent policies to mitigate climate change and/or adapt to it should start being applied from 2020.
3 Contents of a Climate Crisis Immediate Response Bill
3.1 If those who draft the policies required for such a Bill focus on addressing the biggest challenges with the most effective policies, while also mindful of the need for maximising the democratic mandate for change and minimising negative effects on those already economically and socially disadvantaged, then we will have the best possible legislation to address the crisis. This is a big ask, and the details of it are best worked out by citizens assembled to do so, with access to expert briefings and opportunities to discuss all the alternatives. However, they do not have to start from scratch, as environmental and other public policy organisations and academics have been working on such policies for over a decade now, and are largely in agreement over what to do, and how urgently it needs to be be done. (None of them have suggested that a Commission is the way to go, or that 2050 is a realistic end date for action.) So the list of possible policies and actions below is primarily a list of actual suggestions, recommendations and policies made by these organisations and individuals. They are all necessary, and they all require urgent action if they are to stop further climate chaos and reduce its current and future impacts. They require more work to develop and finalise them for a bill – preferably using the democratic mechanisms described above.
3.2 Climate mitigation and adaptation policies to urgently address the climate crisis
Set and enforce lower stocking rates for farm animals.
Cap and then reduce the national dairy herd to a sustainable (non-polluting) level.
Support farmers in learning and practising regenerative agriculture to improve their economic, family, personal and professional wellbeing.
Stop the sale and use of synthetic nitrogenous fertilisers.
Stop wasting public money looking for technological ‘solutions’ to problems caused by national and local overstocking, inappropriate fertiliser use, and lack of farmer education and support.
Prevent the expansion of built structures and roads on to agricultural soils within and adjacent to urban areas.
Investigate and apply appropriate levels of taxation on greenhouse gas emitting fuels and other sources (e.g. nitrogenous fertilisers) to rapidly reduce their use. (Ensure that such taxes are fiscally neutral i.e. do not disadvantage those making essential – but ideally temporary – use of such fuels.)
Phase out the importation of petrol and diesel powered vehicles
Replace fossil fuel powered public transport vehicles with electric vehicles.
Reduce and where appropriate ban the importation, production and use of fossil-fuel derived and non-biodegradable products which drive up greenhouse gas emissions and are ecologically destructive (e.g. plastic bags and bottles, pesticides)
Require all new builds to reach high insulation standards, and have a programme of assisted (if needed) retro-fitting for all existing builds.
Require all new builds to be designed for passive solar heating and cooling, and have a programme of assisted (if needed) alterations to existing builds to improve passive solar functions.
Require all heating and cooling appliances sold and/or fitted to meet top energy efficiency standards.
Support and promote sustainable design and building materials and practices.
Require all new public buildings to meet all the criteria above.
Reduce the size criteria for new housing (i.e. discourage large houses and encourage smaller ones).
Stop permitting the construction of buildings (commercial or residential) which do not prioritise energy efficient and sustainable design and construction.
Encourage and promote design for compact and integrated urban spaces where active transport is the main mode of getting around.
Encourage and promote the use of public transport for travel between urban spaces, inside and outside of cities.
Set strict limits on urban boundaries to protect agricultural soils and climate mitigation and adaptation plantings.
Plan for sea level rise – stop consenting buildings for construction which will be within the new high tide zone with a one? two? three? metre sea level rise; and start planning for a ‘staged withdrawal’ of buildings, roads and people from existing coastlines over the next half century.
Develop and start implementing ecological and biodiversity restoration plans for New Zealand, province by province (in liaison with territorial authorities, iwi and other responsible parties).
4 Get cracking
4.1 It is over thirty years since the safe limit of 350 ppm of CO2 in the global atmosphere was passed. As I write it is now 415 ppm, and the average global temperature is 1 degree warmer than it has been for the whole existence of the human species. Deaths from over-heating have been occurring around the world since the beginning of this century, and now number in the tens of thousands. To this must be added more tens of thousands of deaths caused by escalating extreme weather events. If this is what things are like at 1 degree hotter, what will they be like at 2 degrees? Or more? We don’t have time to muck about – we have to get cracking and DO something – NOW. Please take this issue seriously, and get on to making a difference with real policies, effective immediately.
* Christine Dann lives on Banks Peninsula. She has an M.A.(Hons) in Political Science and a Ph.D. in environmental policy. She writes about climate change and other issues at Climate for Change.