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Government accused of intentionally avoiding asking for advice regarding coal polices

Demelza Jackson,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 May 2024, 5:00am
Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

Government accused of intentionally avoiding asking for advice regarding coal polices

Demelza Jackson,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 May 2024, 5:00am

Questions are being raised over whether the Government’s coal mining strategy breaches New Zealand’s international climate commitments.

It has been revealed Foreign Minister Winston Peters did not ask for advice on how “cutting consenting red tape for coal mines” will impact our international standing or relationships.

This is despite New Zealand being among the first nations to sign up to the Powering Past Coal Alliance – an agreement to transition from coal to clean energy.

The deal was struck at the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP23 - and now consists of 60 governments.

Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick is particularly concerned, saying that Peters should have at the very least looked at how such a decision would impact New Zealand’s relationships and reputation on the world stage.

“The Government has continued a relentless assault on people and planet,” she said.

Swarbrick fears this goes against the way New Zealand has positioned itself globally as a leader in the Pacific, where island nations are at considerable threat from sea level rise.

Last month, Resource Minister Shane Jones announced the Government would remove controls introduced by Labour to end the consenting pathway for existing thermal coal mines from December 31, 2030.

It’s part of a sweep of reforms included in a first Resource Management Act Amendment Bill, which was introduced to Parliament on Thursday.

When asked in a parliamentary written question if he had requested any advice on the impact of the policy on New Zealand’s international standing or relationships, Minister Peters replied “no”.

He said the Government remains committed to doubling New Zealand’s renewable energy production and therefore becoming a lower-emissions economy.

“New Zealand’s international standing with regards to addressing climate challenges will be shaped by delivering on the Government’s steadfast commitment to the Paris Agreement and other accords.”

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, adopted by 196 parties at COP21 in 2015.

But Swarbrick said excavating and opening up more coal mines completely ignores the advice of the country’s independent expert Climate Change Commission, to transition away from coal as quickly as possible.

The commission’s latest advice on reaching New Zealand’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is out for consultation.

It recommends a steady and sustained shift away from coal, diesel and fossil gas – to electricity and biomass energy.

Swarbrick said this goes against the Government’s own coalition agreement to be driven by data and evidence.

She claims the Government is intentionally not asking questions of its advisors, so there is no paper-trail.

“As we can see here, particularly when it comes to decisions around climate change, they are simply not seeking that advice,” she said.

“I guess you could say they aren’t taking the advice they haven’t got.”

Minister Jones has said consenting coal mines was necessary to ensure industrial processors will have access to domestic coal and not be forced to rely on imported coal to meet their needs.

Earlier this month, power generator Genesis Energy revealed it expected to be buying coal again by the end of the year – for the first time since 2022 – to “keep the lights on” while it progresses its transition to renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Climate Change Minister Simon Watts said he was confident that the Government’s proposed reforms will not affect its commitments to meet its climate change targets and support the transition to a low emissions future.

In a statement, he said he has not sought additional advice from officials to date – because he sits on the Ministerial Group for Resource Management Act Reforms – and receives briefings.

But Swarbrick said this confidence is not reflected in what she’s hearing from not only young people and mana whenua, but also business leaders in her electorate of Auckland Central.

Swarbrick said that even includes those who elected the current regime.

“They voted in the direction of this Government because they wanted them to act on cost of living,” she said.

“They didn’t understand or they didn’t foresee how nasty and how cruel, how anti-evidence and anti-environment they could be”.

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