Suzy McKinney: Opinion: I'm ashamed to be a New Zealander

This piece originally appeared in the Whakatane Beacon.

Whakatane Beacon

The first time I’ve ever felt ashamed to be a New Zealander was at the climate negotiations in Lima last year. I was ashamed sitting through New Zealand’s Multilateral Assessment, where countries present and justify their efforts to combat the effects of climate change to the international community – a kind of peer review. The Government’s current climate consultation process is bringing back this shame.

I felt embarrassed in Lima when other countries laughed at New Zealand for the way we tried to argue that we’re on track for a 5% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels, by 2020, when our net emissions have increased by more than 40% since 1990.

I felt ashamed when New Zealand actively advocated for deleting parts of the negotiating text that protected our Pacific neighbours.

I felt hopeless when an international study came out during the negotiations that declared New Zealand’s climate policy as the second worst of the developed countries.

My experiences in Lima were hard to reconcile with my identity as a New Zealander because I know that we are better than this. New Zealand is a country that has historically punched above its weight on issues that mattered: on nuclear power, apartheid, on tobacco control and more. If our attitude towards climate change is how New Zealand is defining itself in the 21st century, I don’t feel much like being a New Zealander anymore.

Last week, I drove from Whakatane to Rotorua for the Ministry for the Environment (MFE) climate policy consultation meeting. I was in Whakatane because I’m a final-year medical student, working in a rural General Practice.

My medical training teaches me to understand and communicate science to the public, to advocate for communities and protect vulnerable people. My youth compels me to be a representative for my own and future generations; those who will be affected by the choices of people who will be dead when the full impacts of climate change are realised.

This is the perspective I would take to the meeting that night hoping for a genuine opportunity to voice my concern, but the MFE consultation process felt like a continuation of the shame I felt in Lima.

I’m disappointed that the Government had only given us two weeks between the announcement and the public meetings. Two weeks isn’t long enough to inform and mobilise people to attend widespread meetings - it’s not a fair or wide conversation with the public. Yet despite this short notice, meetings have been moved to larger venues due to great public interest.

I was also disappointed by the discussion document MFE produced for this process. It was one-sided and focused on the costs of taking action, while making no attempt to estimate the long-term greater economic costs of not taking action. It made no mention of any of the opportunities that climate change presents for us to diversify and grow our economy. It was full of excuses, and pre-empted inaction. This discussion document wasn’t scientific at all: it was our government cherry-picking evidence to justify their current position, and not much else.

So what do I want, as a New Zealander who is informed about climate policy? I want ambitious goals to reduce our climate-damaging emissions - where we actually reduce emissions fast, not play games with dubious carbon trading. The science says we need a 100% renewable, zero-carbon economy by 2050. I want a binding comprehensive plan for how we’re going to get there. I want us to do our fair share to help vulnerable developing countries, by contributing meaningfully to the Green Climate Fund. I want New Zealand to support small-island developing states by advocating for a 5-year commitment term at the Paris negotiations. I want transparency for all submissions to this consultation process and all records of all public meetings.

New Zealand’s climate policy should match our values and be true to the character qualities we like to think we have. We urgently need to stop treating climate change as a political hot potato and start prioritising the well-being of our future generation. Climate change is the ultimate non-partisan issue that will impact all our children regardless of political persuasion.

Our leaders need to stop letting New Zealand fall behind other developed countries on climate policy and listen to the many people across our country speaking out for our future. They need to face full-on the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents, and fulfil their duty of care towards our people.

Maybe we can think about what the flag looks like after this.

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

Posted on June 1, 2015 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2014, Institute Updates.