Speeches

Speech to the Bluegreen Conference

Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 09:40
Climate Change Issues

Good afternoon everyone, it’s great to be with you all at my first Bluegreen conference!

I want to start by first acknowledging my predecessor Tim Groser. 

He’s someone I know our party and in fact all New Zealanders should be immensely proud of, from global leadership in Climate Change and trade, right through to his unique and encyclopedic knowledge of 18th Century Prussian military leaders.

I’d also like to acknowledge my Bluegreen colleagues, many of whom you have or will hear from this weekend. 

And of course all of you!

It’s fantastic to see how many of you have travelled to be here for this conference.

Such a clear demonstration of the great shape National is in.

We’re modern, we’re outward looking, and we’re made up of members like you who get involved and give a damn about our country, and more broadly, our planet.

What better location than the stunning Tekapo to get together and talk about how National is the natural party to lead a coherent, effective and sensible response to environmental and climate change issues.

We believe in hard work and self-responsibility.

We’re unwavering in our support of research and development.

And we are pioneering an approach to Governing founded in practical solutions that put New Zealanders first, and uses data to measure results and effectiveness.

As I’ll go into, it’s a combination of all of these things, and the choices we make, that will define the next century and how we respond to the monumental currents of change coming our way.

The Effects of Growth

As I’ve been digging into the new portfolio, it’s interesting to see just how far the public conversation has moved in the last few years.

No longer is the debate acrimonious and all about the science.

It’s not a case where our party is painted as a bunch of Ostriches with our heads in the sand, while others on the left are the only believers.

I think a big part of this is because of our Prime Minister and other Ministers like Tim and Nick, who have been crystal clear in their views about human-induced climate change.

While good science, by its own definition, is never settled, it’s clear that the overwhelming consensus is that our choices are having an impact on our natural environment.

And let’s be clear, they are choices.

It hasn’t always been the case that we have pumped harmful gasses into the atmosphere by the tonne.

It hasn’t always been the case that humans relied so heavily on non-renewable resources to move ourselves and the fruits of our hard work. 

It hasn’t always been the case that we’ve feared unseasonable tides caused not just by a great rain event, but our invitation for them to creep up a little more quickly.

Over the last couple of hundred years, our world has seen remarkable technological change that has changed the way we live, work, and even think.

And as unprecedented economic development has lifted billions out of poverty into the more prosperous and mobile middle class, we live longer, and more importantly, we live better lives.

While remarkable, that development has come with a cost to our natural environment. 

Decades and decades of growth have been supported by intensive and extractive industrial processes, so that over the last 150 years the planet has warmed by almost 1 degree, mainly caused by humans.

If we continue with business as usual, over the next 100 years the world is expected to see a further 3 to 5 degrees in warming.

For a countries like ours, this could have a profound and devastating impact.

From tourism through to agriculture and horticulture, our natural environment supports thousands of jobs in communities large and small.

When businesses suffer, so do families, and it also affects the Government’s ability to do those things New Zealanders expect it to do like invest in world-class schools or hospitals, keep our communities safe, and support those most in need. 

So we have a vested interested in doing what we can to reduce the impact of climate change, and be a global leader in transitioning to a low-carbon economy that still supports that vital growth.

Our Response So Far

This Government is immensely proud that we’re already doing a lot in this space.

An impressive 80 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable sources like geothermal and hydro, and we’re on track to making that 90 per cent.

For comparison, only about 12 per cent of Europe’s electricity comes from renewable sources. 

We’re investing millions to support our Pacific neighbours adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

I’m currently leading a review of the Emissions Trading Scheme, which is a key tool to send clear cost signals to businesses and consumers and to drive pollution reduction.

It’s clear that if the ETS is going to work, carbon has to cost more than it does right now.

Simon Bridges is working on a plan to promote greater use of electric vehicles that are easy on the wallet and the environment.

Just last week I saw NZ Post announced it was deploying a fleet of small electric buggies to handle drop-offs and pick-ups, starting in Auckland.

It’s things like this that are going to become the new normal.

While New Zealand’s emissions are small on a global scale, contributing 0.15 per cent of worldwide emissions, we are determined to make a strong contribution to the international effort, because countries with less than 1 per cent of global emissions together make up over 25 per cent of total worldwide emissions.

It’s imperative we all play our part. 

We have a reputation as a nation that is principled but pragmatic, that leads by example, without wasting time lecturing or posturing simply for the sake of making ourselves sound better.

In the historic and recently concluded UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, we submitted a fair and ambitious target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels.

We also worked with close to 40 other nations to call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

This was a huge and historic step forward.  

But pledges won’t solve climate change.

It will be the actions that we take going forward that make a difference.

Ultimately ladies and gentlemen, it’s about focusing on practical solutions that get real outcomes. 

The Challenge of Agriculture

Where we get to though is this.

The very thing that is one of the pillars of our nation’s economic prosperity… 

…central to prosperity of towns like Dargaville, or Gladstone, or Omarama… 

…the thing that puts money in the economy that means a local business can afford to create another job…

…is of course agriculture.

New Zealand is unusual for a developed country because just under 50 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, with the remaining coming mainly from energy and transport.

Compare this with other developed countries, where agriculture contributes 12 per cent of emissions and energy and transport makes up 80 per cent.

You can see just how different our emissions profile is.

Specifically, 35 per cent is Methane coming out of either end of livestock, and 10 per cent is Nitrous Oxide from fertilizer and livestock urine.

So for those countries with massive energy and transport emissions like those in Europe, you see them setting these targets that look incredibly bold and ambitious on the surface, but in reality, are much easier to achieve. 

They can switch from non-renewables like coal and natural gas to hydro, solar, and wind.

They have more people, living more closely together, meaning efficient and public transport is a practical and affordable choice.

In this space, we can’t easily make the same choices that other countries can.

We have to be smarter.

As I’ve already mentioned, we’re on track to have 90 per cent of our electricity come from renewables.

We have, to put it bluntly, picked off a huge amount of the low hanging fruit.

Because of our smaller population and as a long, thin and diversely spread country, large scale public transport infrastructure is just so much more expensive.

That’s not to say we can’t and won’t invest in this space, and you may have seen recently we are working with Auckland Council to bring forward construction of the City Rail Link.

For New Zealand to make meaningful gains in reducing our domestic emissions, we simply must find ways to reduce agriculture’s impact.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are clear choices we can make.

We can work with our farmers to help them adapt. Accelerate the scientific research. Chart a careful path towards agricultural reductions.

Or we can do what opposition parties want, and massively and suddenly increase costs on farmers and farming communities.

That’s not who we are!

While there might be a comparatively easy way for our farmers to move immediately to lower emissions - it would have a huge impact on our competitive advantage.

Farming animals more intensively and grain-feeding could reduce agricultural emissions, but a huge part of our international brand is green, open, grass-fed.

Ironically, hammering farmers and pushing up their costs would just mean consumers would buy more products from overseas farmers who are not as environmentally friendly as us.

I’m not ashamed to say to you that this National Government is for keeping farmers on their land, and for hard working men and women in their jobs. 

While our opponents might be solely focused on the future of work, whatever that means, we’re just as interested in today’s workforce. 

What this doesn’t mean is that farmers are off the hook - they absolutely have to do their bit.

Since 1990 significant improvements in animal efficiency and productivity have been made across the sector, and we’ve seen an 18 per cent decrease in emissions per kilogram of milk solids from dairy cattle.

However, total emissions from the sector continue to increase, up 14 per cent since 1990.

I want to ensure the sector is focused on making real and lasting reductions. 

But I firmly believe we have to do it in a way that doesn’t rip the heart out of agriculture and destroy our competitive advantage. 

That actually doesn’t help us one bit.

I want to focus on smart solutions that will deliver meaningful reductions in our emissions.

Research is Development

Already, there is some really fascinating work going on in this space.

Some of those big brains we have in this country are working on vaccines that can reduce the amount of gas livestock produce.

We’ve got researchers looking at different species of grasses that actually digest easier and produce less gas in digestion.

I’ve read about an innovative hose used for things like washing down cow sheds that uses air to increase pressure, while massively cutting the amount of water needed.

Already, we’re committing around $400 million each year in agriculture research, as part of our $1.5 billion annual investment in science, an increase of 70 per cent since we came into Government.

We are strongly supporting the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases which now has 46 member countries.

It targets research that will help grow more food, and more climate-resilient food systems, without growing greenhouse gas emissions.

In December last year we announced an extra $20 million in funding for the GRA, on top of our initial investment of $45 million.

I’m not pretending for a second that we’re going to solve climate change simply by looking for some silver bullet.

But humans have an immense capacity to look into the smallest aspects of our world, and find solutions to the biggest of problems.

Where We’re Going

I want to wrap up and hear from you – your ideas, your questions, what you think I need to reflect on as I keep digging in to this portfolio – but let me finish by saying this. 

There are people who are more interested in talking about how we’re changing the climate, than in changing ourselves and our effect on the climate.

There are people who are more interested in the issue than in a solution to the issue.

I understand why people are skeptical, doubting the evidence or humanity’s ability to respond in time.

I understand why people are afraid, fearful of change that might come too quickly or won’t come quick enough.

And I understand why people are angry, incensed with scientists and politicians they don’t believe or with a culture they think is too focused on short-term gains.

Well you all know me better than that, and you know I start from believing the best in people, and their potential.

That’s why I am choosing trust over doubt.

I am choosing optimism over fear.

And I am choosing action over anger.

I fundamentally believe New Zealanders are up for the challenge.

That not only are we already making better choices about the way we want to live but that it will become even easier to do so, and that this will have a meaningful impact on our response to climate change.

Thank you again for making the trip to be here, I look forward to continuing the discussion.