By VIRGINIA WINDER
IT’S do or die time for human civilization.
That was the most powerful message to come out of a climate change conference for journalists in Wellington, New Zealand.
This dire warning comes, not from a new-age hippie, but a balding, bespectacled man in a suit.
“I think in the next 20 years we, human beings, are going to know whether or not the progressive effects, the impacts we are having on the planet, are going to terminate our civilization,” says Environment Ministry deputy chief executive Lindsay Gow (right).
He is talking about the end of the world as we know it.
“That’s the bad news. The good news is I think, amongst us, as a global civilization, we’ve got more than an enough capacity to meet that challenge and a combination of just smart thinking, doing a lot of little things and progressive use of smart technology is going to do it.
“We don’t have to be despondent. It’s not the sort of thing we have to shy away from. In fact it’s very exciting – it really is. It’s a huge challenge and New Zealand can make an enormous lot out of it,” Gow says.
Climate change writer Gareth Renowden agrees.
“I would say New Zealand is the lucky country. The reason being is that we are probably going to warm more slowly than everywhere else in the world,” says the author of the just-released book, Hot Topic (below).
“We are surrounded by great big cold oceans that are going to act like air conditioners for us. So while the Northern Hemisphere could be warming really quickly, we’ll probably be quite well off.”
The warming climate may also be good news for agriculture and horticulture during the next 20 or 30 years because it will help grass growth and provide more warmth to ripen grapes.
“It could mean 30% more area for growing wine across the country – you could be growing wine in Gore, which could be quite nice. Well, we’ll know when we drink it,” Renowden says.
“Beyond those 30 years it’s really difficult to say what will happen. I’m not very optimistic, frankly, unless we really do pull our fingers out globally.”
Although New Zealand is likely to be OK, thank you very much, it will be vulnerable trade-wise, because of world weather factors.
“If climate change is rapid and damaging in Europe or North America or Asia, we’ll feel that because it will be affecting our economy. If people suddenly stop being interested in buying New Zealand wine because they are struggling to deal with floods, we’ll feel that at our end as well.”
Because this country is so far from places like Europe, Renowden says we will be greatly affected if there is a crackdown on food miles. These are measured in terms of how much carbon is released from the burning of fuel to export products to the other side of the world.
There could also be restrictions on air travel, which would hurt New Zealand’s tourism industry. “This is isn’t a subject we can afford to lose on, because if it becomes established in Britain, for instance, that it’s really bad news to fly to New Zealand, even if it’s affecting only 10% of people, that’s 10% reduction in business from Britain and that’s very, very bad news for what’s our biggest export industry.”
To survive in this new economic climate, New Zealand has to join the carbon credit trading market, which it looks like doing.
Climate Change Minister David Parker says the Government is seriously considering bringing in a cap-and-trade market for carbon credits.
This simply means that big companies would buy permits to have a carbon cap rating put on them. If the company reached its target, it would be deemed carbon neutral. If it went under its cap by becoming even more environmentally savvy, it would get carbon credits, which it could sell.
Other businesses might go over their emissions, so to compensate they would be forced to buy carbon credits from New Zealand or overseas companies or miss out on trade opportunities.
It’s possible that carbon credits could become the most tradable commodity in the world, above oil and coffee.
Renowden says being carbon neutral will be a must, especially when dealing with Europe, which has taken an aggressive position on carbon trading.
If New Zealand doesn’t do anything, its exporters could face hefty penalties in the form of a carbon tariff or tax.
“But to be realistic, if we join the carbon club and get on with meeting the global targets, then we will be free to trade.”
Businesses are leading the way in bringing down emissions, Renowden says.
So, it’s possible and probable that it will be industries, not governments, which will save the planet.
Sunday, 26 August 2007
By VIRGINIA WINDER