Report by Pacific Media Centre
Kiribati President Anote Tong called for a moratorium on new coalmines and coalmine expansions in a letter to world leaders in early August. This has been given a cool reception in New Zealand, reports Mata Lauano of Asia-Pacific Journalism.
Although renewable energy plays an important role in New Zealand, says Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges, shifting away from non-renewable energy cannot be done overnight.
However anti-coal campaigners, Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), say this just isn’t good enough.
Earlier this month President Anote Tong sent a letter to world leaders calling for a moratorium on coalmines and coalmine expansions as Kiribati is under threat from rising sea levels and changing weather patterns due to global warming.
“Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines. lt would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour,” President Tong wrote.
When Asia-Pacific Journalism asked Prime Minister John Key whether he had received his letter, we were advised: “The Prime Minister has not received a letter from President Tong calling for a moratorium on new coalmines.”
All letters to heads of state or governments were being physically sent out since the beginning of this week, says Rimon Rimon, a spokesperson for the Kiribati government.
“We anticipate Prime Minister Key will receive the letter perhaps this week or next depending on the courier.”
Kiribati considers New Zealand a major development partner, says Rimon, advising that the larger country “has been assisting Kiribati in many areas involving fisheries, education, sustainable town planning, housing and including an annual quota of 75 for the Pacific Access Category among others”.
No real action
However, Cindy Baxter of CANA says she doesn’t believe that the government is serious about reducing coal production in order to reduce emissions.
“It has done nothing to encourage this.”
Baxter advises that New Zealand needs to listen to our Pacific neighbours and reduce our reliance on coal, both in the export markets and domestically.
According to CANA the government needs to strengthen the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
“First give it a cap, state that there are only x amount of emissions allowed to be traded, so that they become more scarce as the cap reduces to meet an emissions reduction target.”
However the government, says Baxter, also needs to stop subsidising the big emitters, “so that they actually pay for their emissions and that would encourage them to cut them. Coal would be on its way out if there was a price on its emissions”.
Baxter tells Asia-Pacific that the government has subsidised the biggest emitters so that the taxpayer pays for the vast majority of what they would have to pay to emit under the Emissions Trading Scheme.
New Zealand’s current plan
According to Bridges while renewable energy plays a hugely important role in New Zealand, and has an increasingly significant role to play internationally, it’s impossible to make an instant switch from non-renewable energy instantaneously as the world is transitioning to a lower-carbon economy.
“The International Energy Agency expects non-renewables, including coal, to continue to account for more than half the world’s energy needs for at least another two decades. That’s why this Government has a mixed and balanced approach to energy production and use.”
Bridges says it’s worth noting that in 2014, about 80 percent of New Zealand’s electricity generation came from renewable sources, “we have an ambitious goal of 90 per cent by 2025.”
Genesis Energy has also announced plans to shut down the last two coal-burning electricity generators at Huntly power station by 2018. The closure will mark the end of coal-fired power generation in New Zealand.
However Baxter is dubious, bringing up the biggest coal users in the country such as Fonterra.
“Why am I talking about Fonterra? Because after NZ Steel and Huntly, Fonterra is our biggest coal user – and our research shows its use of coal has grown 38 percent since 2008.”
There are others, such as Christchurch Hospital, which is installing new coal-fired boilers instead of wood burners.
“Because, again, the government provides no disincentives.
President Anote Tong says the future safety of his people depends on collective and aggressive action to stem the use of coal, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.
“Let us join together as a global community and take action now. The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions NOW will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical.”
It will be interesting to see how John Key will respond once he receives his letter especially as he has stated earlier this year, during a statement on deploying NZ soldiers to Iraq, that New Zealand takes its responsibilities regarding climate change seriously.
“It is why we have an emissions trading scheme, it is why we are investing heavily in science, and it is why we will be taking a responsible target to Paris. We are a small country but we do our bit.”