Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Another attack on democracy in New Zealand

Under their recently retired PM Ardern, significant power in the country was transferred to the Maori minority. The Parliament became no longer supreme. NZ journalist Marc Daalder has mounted another attack on NZ democracy. See below.

Daalder is a global warming true believer. And he doesn't let the facts get in his way. For a start his assertion that "Human civilisation has never before seen a world as hot as Earth is today " is quite false. It ignores the Medieval warm period and the Roman warm period. Is he saying that the ancient Romans were not civilized? Is he denying that it was hotter then? Elephants cannot now traverse the Alps the way they did under Hannibal.

And note in his third paragraph how he slides from saying (correctly) that there is a lot of CO2 in the atmophere today to linking that to New Zealand's recent weather disasters. Even the IPCC says you cannot infer climate from weather.

But he really nails his colours to the mast when he says that "It is incontrovertible that human burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change". Incontrovertible? A lot of people have controverted it. He is just a foolish young man. He is not worth a Dutch dollar

National Party MP Maureen Pugh echoed an old adage of climate deniers on Tuesday when asked about her belief in human-caused global warming. The climate, she said, has always changed, but she was still awaiting evidence that humans are causing changes this time around.

This is a classic example of paltering - the use of selective truthful statements to create a misleading overall impression. Scientists are aware the climate has changed in the past, and it is the reality of these past changes that make our current situation so concerning.

The last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, New Zealand had crocodiles, Central Otago was hotter and more tropical than Queensland is today and conifers lined the coast of Antarctica. Human civilisation has never before seen a world as hot as Earth is today - let alone the 2.6C of warming we are on track for.

Clearly, past climates are not reassuring. But the human impact here is clear as well. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at the fastest observed rate in 66 million years of records.

It is incontrovertible that human burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change and global temperature increase. That's the conclusion of 234 experts from 64 countries who wrote the latest review of scientific evidence for climate change for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They reviewed 14,000 scientific papers, responded to 80,000 comments from peer reviewers and produced a 2400-page report, as well as a summary for policymakers approved line-by-line by 195 countries.

The first line of that summary?

"It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred."

If that isn't enough, consider that the Royal Society of New Zealand first backed the scientific consensus on climate way back in 2001, back when Pugh had been a local councillor for just three years and before her nine-year mayoral term or seven years as an MP. It was joined by 33 other national science academies from around the world.

There's also the World Meteorological Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, the American Geophysical Union, the European Federation of Geologists, the American Meteorological Society, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the Royal Meteorological Society, the American Medical Association and dozens of other expert groups.

When Pugh said she was awaiting evidence from Climate Change Minister James Shaw on the human influence on the climate, why were the views and research of tens of thousands of practising scientists worldwide not enough for her?

Now, of course, Pugh says it was all a misunderstanding. "Human-induced climate change is real," she now says. She had been "unclear", she says.

Pugh wasn't unclear, she was crystal clear on Tuesday morning. She was asked point blank whether she believed in human-caused climate change. She didn't say "yes", she said she was waiting for Shaw's response with the evidence.

It is not credible that Pugh accepted the scientific consensus on climate change when she gave these answers, which inherently contradict her later claim that she had seen all the evidence she needed.

"I'm not waiting on the evidence," she told reporters on Tuesday afternoon, three hours after she told the same reporters, "I am waiting on the evidence".

It's not credible either for her to have missed or ignored two decades of scientific research on climate change, only to have reviewed the science over lunch on Tuesday and come around on the whole climate change thing.

Neither what Pugh wants the public to believe nor any alternative generous interpretations of her swift about-face are feasible.

Even putting aside this dishonesty, the situation raises greater questions about the quality of our representatives.

Pugh is of course an example of the historically poor quality of National's candidate vetting.

When she first arrived at Parliament, she said she didn't believe in pharmaceuticals. In 2021, she was one of the last of the party's caucus to get vaccinated, saying she had not yet booked a doctor's appointment. During the Parliament occupation, she briefly wrote in support of the protesters before deleting the social media post.

The climate issue is perhaps the most significant question mark over her record, however.

In 2023, as climate-intensified storms and cyclones have already killed 15 people, rendered thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage, not accepting the scientific basis for anthropogenic (human-caused) warming is unacceptable in a legislator.

It speaks to both a callous disregard for the mounting toll of victims of climate change and an irrationality we wouldn't allow on other issues. Would anyone trust an MP who was a flat earther to make the best decisions for their constituents and their country?

Legislators make decisions on policy that have concrete effects on people's lives and the country's climate response. It's clearly untenable for people who deny the fact of climate change to be making those calls.

The rapid backlash to Pugh's statements and her unconvincing retraction show that the public and most sitting MPs also see climate denial as an automatic disqualifier for holding office.


Manchin digs in against ESG, puts GOP a vote away from rejecting Biden’s woke rules for investments

Sen. Joe Manchin III is escalating his attacks on corporations and financial firms that embrace environmental, social and governance investing as the ESG movement also suffers setbacks in corporate boardrooms.

Once mum on the hot-button issue, the West Virginia Democrat has increasingly targeted the investment strategy that makes fighting climate change a priority.

Mr. Manchin insisted to The Washington Times in a recent interview that his warning that ESG hurts energy security when geopolitical risks go ignored was “not criticizing ESG” or the responsibility to address climate change. But he has begun to sound more like his Republican colleagues who dub ESG “woke capitalism.”

“Colleges, universities, you have different investment firms — they’re looking only at ESG and not geopolitical risks. They’re not being reasonable [or] practical,” Mr. Manchin said. “If you hang your hat on one thing, without the geopolitical risks — just ask Europe what they’ve gone through.”

Mr. Manchin, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has joined a Republican-led effort to tank President Biden’s climate-friendly 401(k) rules that allow retirement fund managers to consider ESG, as first reported by The Times last month, a move that could force Mr. Biden to issue his first veto.

“At a time when our country is already facing economic uncertainty, record inflation and increasing energy costs, it is irresponsible of the Biden administration to jeopardize retirement savings for more than 150 million Americans for purely political purposes,” Mr. Manchin said earlier this month.

His anti-ESG rhetoric comes amid diversity, equity and inclusion workers — components of ESG — being put on the chopping block in recent layoffs across corporate America. Between December 2021 and December 2022, the attrition rate for these DEI workers was 33% compared to 21% for non-DEI workers, according to workforce analytics company Revelio Labs.

Mr. Manchin remains an outlier for Democratic leaders who overwhelmingly back ESG. Republicans in state capitals and on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, are working to combat the woke takeover of pension funds and corporate culture.

When lawmakers return next week from the Presidents Day recess, Mr. Manchin and all 49 Senate Republicans plan to force a vote on a Congressional Review Act resolution to dismantle new Labor Department rules allowing financial managers to use ESG for investing clients’ retirement money.

The vote will only require a simple majority to pass, meaning one more Democrat is needed to pass it. The Republican-controlled House already has the votes.

Potential defectors in the Senate, such as Democrat Jon Tester of Montana and independents Angus King of Maine and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom caucus with Democrats, are holding their cards close to the vest. The trio is up for reelection next year and each is crucial for Senate Democrats to retain the majority.


Wall Street Clashes With Green Bankers Fed Up With Oil Agenda

Inside the world’s biggest climate-finance alliance, a number of green banks are reviewing their membership in objection to perceived concessions to Wall Street.

The Net-Zero Banking Alliance, which is a sub-unit of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, faces a potentially embarrassing mutiny from some of the world’s most climate-conscious lenders after it decided against imposing binding restrictions on fossil-fuel financing. One lender, Germany’s GLS Bank, has already walked out in protest. Now, others say they may follow.

Compromises made by NZBA to keep Wall Street firms on board are “disappointing and discouraging,” said Jeroen Rijpkema, chief executive officer of Triodos Bank, a green lender from the Netherlands. Gareth Griffiths, CEO of the UK’s Ecology Building Society, described as “frustrating” the fact that major NZBA members continue to finance new fossil-fuel exploration, which is “incompatible with net zero.”

Both Triodos and Ecology said they will review their membership in the alliance and may walk away if the group doesn’t tighten its rules around the funding of fossil fuels.

The compromises in question relate to a decision late last year by the net-zero alliance to loosen ties with Race to Zero, a United Nations-backed group behind proposed restrictions that would have forced members to phase out their financing of oil, gas and coal. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp. threatened to leave NZBA if such limits were imposed, people familiar with the process said at the time. Part of their concern hinged on the legal liability that binding terms represented, the people said.

The upshot is that banks can continue to call themselves alliance members without being subject to externally imposed limits on their fossil-fuel financing. As a result, “a significant proportion of NZBA members continue to lack an appropriate approach to their own climate and environmental impact,” a spokesperson for GLS said earlier this month.

GFANZ expanded its membership to 550 financial firms last year with about $150 trillion in combined assets. Together, Triodos, Ecology and GLS account for just a tiny fraction of that. Yet the lenders represent some of the highest green standards in finance, and their departure would mark a reputational setback for GFANZ and NZBA.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and others find themselves at the receiving end of climate activism intended to expose their perceived lack of credible net-zero plans. As You Sow, a climate nonprofit, just filed shareholder resolutions asking the three Wall Street firms, along with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., to disclose climate transition plans in order to “assure investors and the public they have a path forward” to meet their stated net-zero goals.

A spokesperson for NZBA said the alliance doesn’t comment on individual banks.

As an umbrella group for all net-zero finance alliances, GFANZ faces an increasingly tough balancing act. Late last year, Vanguard Group Inc. walked out of the asset manager coalition after scoring the lowest results in addressing its financed emissions. Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley told the Financial Times in a report published Tuesday that he felt "our voice was being drowned out or confused.” Vanguard said in December that it plans to keep investors informed of its ongoing climate work.

Remco Fischer, climate lead at the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, which convenes NZBA, said members, which include global systemically important banks, are expected to set decarbonization targets that “reflect decreasing use” of unabated fossil fuels in accordance with emissions-reductions pathways aligned with keeping the increases in global temperatures to below 1.5C.

Ben Caldecott, director of the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group at the University of Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, said given the alliance’s size, “it was always going to be hard” to be the high ambition coalition. “It has real leaders and it has some laggards, and that reflects what it is trying to achieve: improving practice across a variegated industry,” he said.

“I understand the frustrations of members who want to pick up the pace – we are facing a climate emergency after all – but I’d caution against giving up on the coalition too soon," said James Vaccaro, who leads the Climate Safe Lending Network. “The most progressive institutions should stretch the ambition of those less advanced, but if they want to optimize their positive influence they should be leading from the inside."

Rijpkema at Triodos Bank said some laggards appear to have too much leeway. The fact that “some financial institutions that have signed the commitment still finance fossil-fuel expansion and exploration” is “not in line with the commitment financial institutions have made and does not bring the 1.5C scenario any closer,” he said.

The Dutch bank, which has committed to reaching net zero by 2035, 15 years earlier than the NZBA requires, joined the banking alliance as a founding member. Triodos said being an NZBA member should “at a minimum” require banks to follow the criteria that had been proposed by Race to Zero.

NZBA is due to revise its target setting guidelines by April 2024 at the latest as part of a periodic review of its criteria. In an unrelated move, Norwegian green energy investor Aker Horizons has left GFANZ’s asset management sub-group. While Aker continues to support the goals of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, the firm’s model of taking large ownership stakes means the alliance “is not well adapted to the reality and needs of our company,” said a company spokesman.

“It is frustrating that it appears that some of the requirements of the UN’s Race to Zero climate action campaign have been dropped by NZBA,” said Griffiths of Ecology Building Society. “Also frustrating, is that a number of NZBA members are still providing finance for new fossil-fuel explorations. If we don’t see NZBA being an enabler in creating a fair society in a sustainable world, then we will need to reconsider our membership.” .


Australia's Leftist government gives Santos gas expansion project green light

The Greens say Labor’s environmental credentials are “in tatters” after Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek gave the green light for a new gas expansion project in Queensland, amid deteriorating negotiations over Labor’s key climate policy.

The criticism comes after The Australian revealed Ms Plibersek approved an application from energy giant Santos to construct and operate an expansion of 116 gas wells at an existing facility in the Surat Basin out until 2077.

The project’s approval has threatened to derail Labor’s negotiations with the Greens as it seeks to win support for its key climate change policy, with Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen locked in negotiations with the minor party in a bid to get Labor’s safeguard mechanism through the upper house.

Anthony Albanese on Tuesday slapped down threats from the Greens to block the carbon credits scheme without a blanket ban on fossil fuel projects, saying they would “not be entertained” by the government.

The Prime Minister said the Greens were trying to “exert their influence” in negotiations after the Coalition formally opposed their climate policy.

But Greens deputy leader Mehreen Faruqi said Labor’s climate credibility was “in tatters” after the new gas approval and called on Ms Plibersek to explain her decision to approve “new gas fracking until 2077”.

“Labor has just approved 116 new gas wells and its climate credibility is in tatters,” Senator Faruqi said. “Gas is as dirty as coal. We’re in the middle of a climate crisis and Tanya Plibersek needs to explain why Labor is approving new gas fracking until 2077.”

Labor’s safeguard mechanism – in which Australia’s 215 biggest-polluting facilities would slash emissions by almost 5 per cent each year out to 2030 – is essential to the government’s target to cut emissions by 43 per cent by the end of the decade.

With the Coalition opposing the safeguard mechanism, the federal government needs the votes of the Greens’ 11 senators and two crossbenchers to get its carbon credits regime through the Senate.

A spokeswoman for Ms Plibersek said the gas expansion was assessed on its merit and was subject to strict environmental approvals.

The spokeswoman said the federal government was putting Australia “on a clear path to net zero” through its $15bn National Reconstruction Fund, safeguard mechanism and support for electric cars.

The Australian understands the expansion is a small addition to an existing project which has been operational for more than eight years. “This proposal, as with all proposals, was assessed on its merits. It was subject to robust scientific assessments, and strict environmental approval conditions have been applied,” the spokeswoman said.

It comes after a new report from the Australian Energy Market Operator highlighted an “urgent” need to invest in back-up capacity – including batteries, long-life storage and more generation – to avoid the risk of blackouts later this decade.




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