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Innovate on climate challenge or lose the public, Jones tells industry

Thursday 30th May 2019

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Industry must demonstrate its ability to innovate and respond to climate challenge if it is to maintain the support of the voting public, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says.

New Zealand First is not going to allow industry to be “carbon-guilt-tripped out of existence,” he told delegates at the New Zealand Minerals Forum yesterday.

Mining is not the “new form of cigarettes” but political calls for action on climate change are coming from a predominately metropolitan voter base, many of whom are ill-informed about the issues and the industries that create much of the country’s wealth, he said.

Action on climate change is needed; industries have changed their practices in the past and must show they can do so again, he said.

‘If we’re not nimble and we’re not investing in innovation, then it will be as difficult for us to win and hold the political ground as it will be for you to justify your industrial social licence.”

Jones was speaking on a panel discussion with National Party energy and resources spokesperson Jonathan Young. Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague withdrew from the event last week.

Earlier this month, polling by Horizon Research showed that 43 percent of the adult population considers climate change an urgent issue, up from 29 percent a year earlier and just 8 percent when the company first asked the question in 2006.

Young said there is a real danger that people demand a jump from “A to Z” when a managed transition through to 2050 is what is required.

He cited the passionate but mistaken belief of school students marching for action on climate change that their world really will come to an end within 10 years if faster action is not taken.

“It’s very difficult for industries to be able to reach out and communicate – but that’s what must happen.

“We’re in a transition. It’s going to take a little bit longer than just tomorrow or next year.” he said.

“This low emissions future is a very expensive pathway – we all know that. So we have to maintain the balance between a strong economy, and being able to get there and make the transition successful.”

Jones said he was optimistic Climate Change Minister James Shaw and the National Party would work together throughout the select committee process on the country’s Zero Carbon legislation to “defang” some of the politics around the issue before the next election.

The government has pledged a just transition, but that has to be just for more than just the “woke” generation of socially aware youth, Jones said.

Investors in coal are also entitled to “just” treatment, although he noted they must have understood for some time the longer-term risk their industry faced.

“The pace at which these large users of coal transition away from coal – to me that is the key point.”

Young said he is frustrated by how politicised the debate is here when in Europe, politicians and officials appear able to take pragmatic decisions that are both good for the environment and their economies.

Here people appear keen to shut steel mills and methanol and urea plants, not understanding that production would simply move offshore, resulting in higher costs and higher emissions from importing those products instead.

Young also contrasted the government’s ban on new offshore exploration with the investment that Norway’s state-owned oil company – Equinor – had made over many years in carbon capture and storage and the development of floating wind turbines.

Equinor had recognized the changing environment and had invested to focus on gas and other low-carbon and renewable energy options.

On the day the exploration ban was announced last year, Taranaki’s biggest engineering firm put a halt on new hiring, Young said.

“If you cut an industry off at the knees, then you start to lose capability,” he said.

“These people, these bright engineers are not the problem - they are actually part of the solution on what we are going to do next.”


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