Monday, 11 March 2013

A New Zealand Risk Assessment


Symptoms too serious to ignore:
a call to face up to NZ’s critical risks

We live on a biologically complex and exquisite planet, home to 7 billion people and a myriad of other unique life forms.  We believe it is our human responsibility to maintain the integrity of life support systems and the natural processes which sustain and renew them.
We believe it is also our responsibility to fervently defend the basic right of humans to live secure and fulfilling lives consistent with the UN Declaration of Human Rights.  It follows that our generation must satisfy our present material needs in ways that do not diminish the prospect of their realisation for present and future generations.
We are deeply concerned about the links between global climate change, fossil fuel extraction and combustion, and the economy.  We consider the evidence is now overwhelming (refer Urgency below) for accepting that human-induced climate change, (including extreme weather events) and impending oil constraints threaten our ability to meet those environmental and social obligations.
So far, New Zealand has failed to truly face up to such unprecedented threats to its collective security.  Indeed, some policies exacerbate the situation.  There appears to be an unwavering faith that technological fixes will be found in time. Yet with scientists saying critical “thresholds” are upon us, the odds of such solutions being found diminish by the day and the consequences of this faith being ill-founded will, in all probability, be disastrous and irreversible.
Therefore, in the name of all our children and grandchildren we, the undersigned, call on the New Zealand Parliament to face up to this situation now by dispassionately assessing risk levels in the following five areas. Then, if found necessary, and with public input, design coherent, robust cross-party strategies and policies to avert these risks and give future generations the very best chance of security, peace, social justice and opportunity for all.
1. Economic security:  the risk of a sudden, deepening, or prolonged financial crisis. Such a crisis could adversely impact upon our society’s ability to provide for the essentials, including local access to resources, reliable supply chains, and a resilient infrastructure.
2. Energy and climate security:  the risk of continuing our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.  Progressively restricting their extraction, importation and use could promote a switch to genuine renewables and encourage smarter use of existing energy and energy systems while creating better public transportation.  Such responses would simultaneously lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
3. Business continuity:  the risk exposure of all New Zealand business, including farming, to a lower carbon economy. To mitigate this risk, all businesses could explore both market and job opportunities in reducing the human ecological footprint, finding substitutes for petroleum-based goods and services, increasing efficiencies and reducing waste in food and resources. This would position New Zealand as a market leader in low-carbon technologies and living arrangements.
4. Ecological security: the risks associated with failing to genuinely protect both land-based and marine ecosystems and their natural processes. We believe that such protection is essential for both the maintenance of indigenous biodiversity and ultimately, all human welfare.
 5. Genuine well-being:  the risk of persisting with a subsidised, debt-based economy, preoccupied with maximising consumption and GDP.  An alternative is to measure progress by means of indicators of community sustainability, human well-being, more equitable wealth-sharing and environmental resilience, and to incorporate full-cost pricing of harmful environmental impacts.
  • Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated recently that: “If current trends continue, and we go on building high-carbon energy generation, then by 2015 at least 90% of the available “carbon budget” will be swallowed up by our energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, there will be no room to move at all”. (, IEA (2011) World Energy Outlook). A new report draws attention to the climate extremes already being experienced and the urgent need to prepare (IPCC. 2012. Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., et al]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 582 pp. Gruber,N. 2011. Warming up, turning sour, losing breath: ocean biogeochemistry under global change. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A 369: 1980–1996).

  • International negotiations to combat human-induced climate change (Rio 1992, Kyoto 1997, Copenhagen 2009, Durban 2011) reveal that the course of climate diplomacy has increasingly lost touch with the scientific evidence (New Scientist 3843: p3. We can still avoid a ‘lost decade’ on climate change. Dec 2011).  Not only is the widely used  target, based on the 4th IPCC assessment  report (450 ppm atmospheric CO2 equivalent) now very difficult to achieve, but this limit may be far too high.  Scientists such as Jim Hansen argue that the maximum safe level for atmospheric CO2 concentration is 350 ppm (Hansen, J. 2012.  Scientific Case for Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change to Protect Young People and Nature. ha08510t.html).

  • Fatih Birol from the IEA (2011) has also stated that maximum global conventional crude oil production (“peak oil”) occurred in 2006. This means that “all liquids” supply will likely steadily decline after an undulating plateau with a growing gap between demand and supply occurring from around 2015. The economic implications of this decline are likely to be serious. See Hirsch, R. L., Bezdek, R. & Wendling, R. 2005. Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management, US Department of Energy, and Hirsh R.L, ASPO presentation Vienna. 2012).  Only by moving away from fossil fuels can we both ensure a more robust economic outlook and address the challenges of climate change. This process will be a “decades-long transformation that needs to start immediately” (see Murray, J. & King, D. 2012. Climate policy: oil’s tipping point has passed, Nature 481: 433–435.).

  • Financial inequity is increasing and the world financial system is unable to deliver security; social cohesion is at risk both nationally and globally (see Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity without Growth. Earthscan. London, UK).  In 1998, more than 45% of the globe’s people had to live on incomes averaging US$2 a day or less while the richest one-fifth of the world’s population has 85% of the global GNP. The gap between rich and poor is widening (see Meadows, D., Randers, J., Meadows, D. 2004. Limits to Growth: the 30 Year Update, Chelsea Green, USA.). The perpetual growth myth is enthusiastically embraced by politicians and economists as an excuse to avoid tough decisions facing humanity (see The Asahi Glass Foundation. February 2012. Environment and Development Challenges: the Imperative to Act, and Lloyd, B. 2009. The Growth Delusion, Sustainablity1: 516-536).

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