Sarah Thomson is a law student at Waikato University, and she’s currently challenging the government’s response to climate change. Her case is about the government’s failure to adjust policy following the signing of last year’s Paris accord.
Under the Paris agreement, governments have pledged to limit global warming to "well-below" two degrees above pre-industrial levels. It’s a major step towards a global approach to addressing climate change, but it requires politicians to honour the agreement and achieve the targets set.
Sarah, like many of us, is frustrated that, despite the Paris accord, our government has failed to act in a way that shows they take this issue seriously. It’s simply too important for us to bury our heads in the sand.
But burying our heads in the sand is exactly what this government has done. They’re on the side of big polluters, and have not facilitated the partnership, research, and innovation required to ‘clean-up’ some of our industries.
Take agriculture, for example; it makes up for over half of our emissions, but it currently sits outside our Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – the regulatory framework that puts a price on carbon and encourages more sustainable practices.
As someone actively involved in the design of the Emissions Trading Scheme, I can tell you that it was not our intention to exempt agriculture from the ETS. But sectoral politics have taken hold, and the government has overseen an arrangement where others are paying for increasing agricultural pollution.
In my view, New Zealand desperately needs an independent Climate Commission. Such an agency would have a statutory mandate to look across transport, primary industries, energy and infrastructure and put together a carbon budget and then critically monitor our progress.
It will also likely tell us what we already know: that we must finally confront the issue of agricultural emissions. We cannot continue being wilfully ignorant about the elephant in the room. There are smart ways we can transition agriculture into our ETS. This is not about punitive reparations; it’s about shaping future land use decisions and rewarding sustainable farming practices.
Reducing our emissions offers New Zealand exciting opportunities in transitioning our economy. High value, low-carbon industries and business will benefit everyone. Nowhere could this be more valuable than in our regions.
The status quo will not do. We need a fresh approach. For Labour, it is critical that we have a plan integrated across government to reduce emissions.
Global climate change affects us all. To borrow an analogy from a lawyer in the court case: to say New Zealand doesn’t have a role to play is like saying that a smaller person shouldn’t pick up a bucket and bail a sinking ship. Everyone has a part to play.