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The BulletinDecember 4, 2023

Tough questions ahead for new climate minister at Cop28

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New Zealand’s scrapping of the fossil fuel exploration ban and other green policies could make for some awkward conversations for Simon Watts in Dubai, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Fossil fuel u-turn puts Watts on the defence at Cop28

On Thursday, climate change minister Simon Watts arrives in Dubai for Cop28, the global climate conference, accompanied by his predecessor James Shaw. While New Zealand remains officially committed to the global phase-out of fossil fuels, the new government’s decision to reopen offshore oil and gas exploration could lead to awkward questions for Watts at the conference. Already New Zealand has raised eyebrows by not joining more than 100 signatories – including Australia – to a pledge to treble world renewable energy use by 2030. The government is yet to discuss the pledge in cabinet, RNZ reports. The news comes as the government confirms it is cancelling the $16b Lake Onslow hydro project, which was meant to act as a giant energy battery for years when other hydro lakes were low. Critics, including Watts, said it was too costly and would have damaged the wider renewable electricity industry.

Carbon credits set to fill the gap left by scrapping green policies

As part of its election manifesto, National committed to NZ’s 2025 and 2030 carbon emissions targets, but as climate policy analyst Paul Winton tells Stuff’s Olivia Wannan, official policy – such as scrapping EV rebates and public transport plans – makes that promise very hard to keep. By taking less action at home, the government could end up spending between $500m and $3b more on carbon credits, he says – which gives him “a glimmer of hope” that ministers might rethink their plans. “On many, many measures, climate action is the most economically efficient path for us to take.” Meanwhile New Zealand’s own carbon credit auction is expected to fail again this week – and that’s good news for the climate. “That will mean the country won’t create 15m tonnes of emissions in future – pollution equivalent to seven Huntly power stations running for a year,” writes Stuff’s Wannan.

Helen Clark among critics of decision to hit pause on WHO agreement

With the world’s attention on the United Nations climate conference, New Zealand’s relationship with another branch of the UN – the World Health Organisation – is also in the spotlight. New Zealand has lodged a letter of reservation with the agency, stating NZ will not yet sign onto proposed amendments to international health agreements. The government says it’s reserving its assent until national interest analysis can be undertaken, but public health expert Michael Baker tells RNZ such tests are done as a matter of course and he’s “baffled” by the letter. The reservation stems from National’s coalition agreement with NZ First, whose election campaign was in part aimed at the political fringes where suspicion of the UN and WHO is rife. Former PM Helen Clark, who has worked closely with both agencies, says she’s concerned: “What we’re seeing now looks more like Trump’s America or Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Not what people would expect of any New Zealand government.” Health minister Shane Reti says critics are overreacting and NZ remains fully supportive of WHO’s work.

‘We got that wrong’: Luxon admits mistake on tobacco outlet numbers

As the controversy over the smokefree reversal rumbles on, National was forced to backtrack on a claim that Northland would be left with only one tobacco retailer under Labour’s law. In an interview with Q&A’s Jack Tame on Sunday morning National’s Chris Bishop denied they’d got the figures wrong but later PM Chris Luxon admitted the number of outlets left in Northland would in fact have been 35. “We didn’t express it the way that we should have, which is that there will be towns across Northland, across New Zealand that only have one or two retail outlets in them,” he said. Under Labour’s plan, the number of outlets selling tobacco products would have dramatically decreased from about 6000 to about 600 across the country from July next year. The new government argues that restricting the number of outlets to just a handful would lead to more crime and a bigger black market for tobacco.

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