Climate Change: We need cross-party action

It would be comical if it wasn't so terrifying. President Trump's newly-appointed head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, gave his first interview last Friday. The Republican lawyer from Oklahoma used the occasion to flatly reject the overwhelming scientific evidence. We now know that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are the leading driver of climate change. Pruitt's statement contradict what the EPA lists as "basic information" on its website.

This is not just an American issue. Climate change is starting to hit home. Auckland is reeling from major floods. Cyclones have devastated our neighbours in Vanuatu and Fiji. Tragic events like the bush fires in the Port Hills of Christchurch are set to increase in frequency in the coming years

The retreat of Trump's America into full-scale denial should concern us all. The most powerful statement we can make is a cross-party commitment to meaningful action. We need to stand united across the political spectrum and show that we accept the scientific reality of climate change, and will do what it takes to mitigate the worst effects before it's too late. The good news is, we won't be alone.

The United Kingdom's Climate Change Act is a decade old, but presents a chance for New Zealand to take a fresh approach. This Act was not, as some might assume, a product of their Green Party. It was championed by David Cameron and the Conservative Party, and passed into law in 2008 with near-unanimous support.

This framework has several key aspects. First, the Act creates an agreed long-term emissions target informed by science. Second, it lays out a pathway to get there: the government must set and meet legally-binding emissions budgets that are determined in advance. And third, it empowers an independent committee of experts to recommend and assess these targets, and to monitor the government's progress.

The UK Climate Change Act sets out a clear legal mandate for achieving reductions in emissions, but doesn't prescribe specific actions. It combines long-term clarity on policy direction with flexibility in its delivery.

And it's working. While new policies are needed to stay on track for the next decade, the UK looks set to meet its 2020 target ahead of schedule. A remarkable 6% drop in 2016 puts the UK's carbon dioxide emissions at 36% below 1990 levels - the lowest level since 1894.

Last month, Sweden announced that it will enact an equivalent climate law with the ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2045. The proposal has the backing of seven out of eight parties in the Swedish Parliament. Both of these efforts show us that when it comes to climate change, politicians can rise above partisanship and politicking.

Let's be frank. New Zealand's response to the climate crisis over the past two decades has lacked ambition and meaningful action. Successive governments have set meagre targets for emissions reductions, and devised creative ways to delay serious action. We need a law like the UK's to put us on track to zero carbon by 2050.

Generation Zero is a nationwide organisation of young people who have decided that we can't afford to wait for politicians to protect our future. Last year we decided to take the initiative and, with help from policy experts, lawyers, and other allies, began adapting the model of the UK Climate Change Act for New Zealand.

In April we will release a blueprint for our own Zero Carbon Act. This won't be a carbon-copy of the UK's Climate Change Act. We've put a lot of consideration into New Zealand's distinctive issues, such as our high level of emissions from agriculture. We believe this is a proposal that all political parties can get behind.

zca excited team2

Parties will always disagree on the specifics of policy - that is a hallmark of a healthy democracy. But we must reach agreement on the overall goal: to put New Zealand on the path to a thriving zero carbon future. Other countries have already led the way, it's time for us to be a fast follower.

We are at a pivotal moment. Let's get to work tackling the greatest challenge of our time and stand united as a nation that values reason, fairness and our children's futures.

A Zero Carbon Act will put New Zealand on the right side of history.


This article was originally published by NZ Herald.