Shane Jones: Less Climate Change Commission puffery, more economic realism

Our Climate Change Commission has two board vacancies. Nicola Shadbolt, an expert on farming and Judy Lawrence, a decorated climate change researcher have served their first tour of duty.

The Government may appoint fresh faces or re-appoint; a relatively innocuous act, given appointments are regularly made. However, the mix of governance talent matters because this body plays a critical role in our zero-carbon journey.

Local climate change activism with its apocalyptic overtones has been dwarfed by Covid, a rare example of a positive pandemic effect. We need to ensure the commission does not become an echo chamber for prophets of doom.

A strong blend of industry and common sense is essential in the climate governance mix. Truth be known, the public are already aware climate disruptions are with us. Emission cuts sound nice but dealing with the cost of living crisis feels better.

Our emissions are modest, our economy is small and we must focus on coping with changing weather. The commission would have us believe mitigation has a higher moral purpose than adaptation, showing how little it understands politics.

Enormous focus is now on our farming sector. The Government has to make a call in December on how agricultural emissions will be dealt with. We cannot afford to undermine this export earner. Our national economic resilience depends on it.

Sadly, this sector has been stigmatised as shrill critics call for shrinkage to comply with international greenhouse gas obligations.

They refer to the Paris global climate change agreement. Fortunately for New Zealand, this compact highlights food security and food production. There are trade-offs although you would not know if you relied solely on dispatches from the commission.

Rod Carr is the chairman of the Climate Commission. The arc of his public service is significant. It includes the notorious health reforms of the 1990s, the Reserve Bank, Canterbury University and other governance roles.

He is expansive with his opinions, cuts a hirsute figure and sports a palatial pounamu. He is our climate patriarch, although I doubt he will survive as long as Methuselah. Each to their own but we need less of the righteousness and more hard-nosed pragmatism.

Sadly, the chairman exudes bad humour when speaking about our agricultural sector. Although not exhaustively antagonistic, he sets the wrong tone.

Recently he mused that our food exporters do not feed the world, rather they serve the well-to-do. He told us rich foreigners consume more daily calories than necessary. Since when was premium foreign income a bad thing for Kiwis?

One hopes these are his personal broodings such as he shared with the National Party blue/green enthusiasts. He and his board have no mandate to deprecate our exporters. As the climate changes, our food industries need encouragement to grow and expand.

It is time we focused on the opportunities the climate journey represents for our investors, industries, entrepreneurs and communities. As global food systems are stressed we are well placed to offer trade solutions.

Food security and the various 2030, UN sustainable development goals mean judgment in the Beehive will be sorely needed in December. Climate disruptions are not the only source of deprivation.

The Prime Minister has yet to put substance to the assertion that climate change is her nuclear moment. She would do well to remember that the transition to a low-carbon economy mustn't threaten food production.

A host of initiatives maintain the resilience of our primary sector. As rainfall patterns change, water storage becomes more important. Already our dairy sector is reducing its emissions. Credit where credit is due.

For those who agonise over coal use in energy production, there are relatively straightforward solutions. Take the ETS revenue and deploy it to boost our energy transmission capacity. Build the electric highway and the private dollars will harness the sun and catch the wind.

Too much of the present narrative is based on mitigation. The public will not acquiesce to further de-industrialisation. The lessons of Covid teach us to retain domestic resilience. Hollowing out our economy and importing carbon is foolhardy.

The insurance industry will surely drive a new approach to disaster risk management. Rather than reacting to events, proactive risk management will be required. This requires leadership and collaboration with the private sector.

Labour seems to have left climate change advocacy to James Shaw. He appears fixated on terminating carbon forestry in the ETS. He and Chairman Carr fret that carbon forest sequestration means industries will fail to decrease actual carbon emissions.

Hopefully, Grant Robertson will not tolerate wackiness from the Greens or the Climate Commission on this front. Placing excessive burdens on our primary sector is akin to undermining the pillars of the economy.

All finance ministers know the value of $52 billion of foreign exchange in an election year. As attention drifts towards the ballot box, the Kiwi hip pocket looms larger.

Exaggerations about "hothouse Earth" and other apocryphal narratives may work for Greenpeace but we cannot afford a Climate Commission that buys into such rhetoric.

This will only work with a board that emphasises the engines of our economic growth.