Havelock North’s Louis Chambers, a law student at Otago, is a member of the New Zealand Youth Delegation to the Copenhagen climate negotiations.

As the conference ends, I thought you might be interested in his observations …

“This morning I was sitting in Copenhagen when New Zealand’s name popped up in the most unexpected and unfavourable way.

I was sitting in the Fresh Air Centre, an area where NGO’s and people from around the world meet to discuss issues, receive news updates and communicate back to their members and followers. As I listened to the daily updates, New Zealand was given a thrashing for its inaction on climate change.

When I decided to come to the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen I came representing a country which I was proud of. Us New Zealanders love our country and the lifestyle it offers us. In particular, we love that we are clean and we are green. The image of New Zealand’s beautiful mountains and crystal clear lakes is plastered across every travel brochure produced. More than being a travel brochure, this image represents our values – we are a people who are proud to stand up for the environment, proud that we have preserved much of our native forest, proud that we protect our beautiful beaches from development.

So what has gone wrong? How can it be that we have slipped from a country promising to go carbon zero in 2007, to being one of the worst countries at the negotiations in 2009?

It is reasonably simple: our current Government ran an election where they openly stated that they would not be leaders on climate change. We, the people of New Zealand, elected that Government. Now we are feeling the consequences.

The bigger question, however, is what these consequences look like. Will our clean, green image be forever lost?

First, let us be very clear about just how bad New Zealand’s approach to climate change is. Problem one is that New Zealand’s emissions per capita are already high. This means we have a special obligation to reduce our emissions.

This brings us to problem two: New Zealand’s Government target is 10-20% by 2020, but even the 10% target is conditional, meaning New Zealand will reduce by less than 10% if they do not get what they want in Copenhagen (See John Key’s statements in Parliament here). Given the European Union, encompassing 27 countries, has pledged 20-30%, we are far behind. Many developing countries are calling for 40% reductions by 2020. Indeed, it is only Canada, Australia and the US who have targets as low – hardly an esteemed group to compare ourselves to when it comes to environmental records.

Now, of course, New Zealand’s clean green image could remain untarnished. Maybe, just maybe, our tourism sector has a slick enough marketing scheme to avoid the destruction of the image. Unfortunately, this is not what I have seen in Copenhagen.

The best response I have heard is ambivalence. People simply do not know and do not care about New Zealand. This is because in the scale of things we are small. It seems John Key is depending on this, as the New Zealand Government has consistently tried to keep its head down over here. Even this response is not ideal – people not knowing about us means we avoid harm, but it hardly brings us any favours.

What is the worst response I have heard? Shock, anger and frustration at a country who markets itself as clean and green while taking a negotiating position which is incredibly weak. A good example of this was when New Zealand was recently given a third place Fossil of the Day award here in Copenhagen. Other prominent names to receive this award are the USA, Canada and Saudi Arabia. Once again, it does not seem like we are putting ourselves on the right side of the climate debate.

And that is exactly what this debate is all about. Even if you think that Copenhagen is full of people with an environmental bias who are unduly harsh on New Zealand, then surely we should take a strong stance on this issue because it is right. It is right to take responsibility for our pollution. It is right to embrace green technology at a time when Europe and much of Asia is exploding with green business. Indeed, the only reason we ever receive more than an ambivalent response from people is that we do punch above our weight.

Essentially, we cannot afford not to act on climate change. The worst case scenario is that people become thoroughly disillusioned with New Zealand and its image. In doing so we lose tourism, but most importantly we lose a key part of our sense of identity. In the best case scenario we keep our heads down and are ignored by the world. As a small country, we cannot afford to be forgotten by the world. This is without even mentioning the actual environmental consequences for New Zealand. Let us hope our political leaders can start making the right decisions. Or if they do not, then we as individuals must start to take responsibility.”

Louis Chambers

Join the Conversation


  1. Does Louis, and do others of the same opinion, realise that if every person (and cow) in New Zealand stopped breathing permanently, it would have a (positive, we presume) impact on global 'climate change' (= CO2 emissions, if the two equate) of just one-tenth of 1%?

  2. Why are people sucked into playing the percentage game? Measuring contributions to emission reduction goals as a percentage of current emissions is pointless, since what that actually means depends on the base (the current emissions) that the percentages start from.

    Maybe one among many reasons we have slipped from a promise to be carbon zero in 2007 is that the promise was dumb political rhetoric in the first place.

    Your correspondent uses expressions like "Shock, anger and frustration" and "the right side of the climate debate". Emotion and judgmentalism are luxuries the world can't afford right now.

    Finally, individual responsibility for the planet is not contingent on political failure, as Louis' last sentence suggests. We are all responsible independently of what the politicians do.

  3. I would like to know what countries expressed shock, anger and frustration at the apparently deplorable environmental attitude in New Zealand? Having lived in six countries and traveled in well over 50, I can check off quite a few countries that could never offer what New Zealand can. Might this angst be based on envy perhaps? On the other hand, might it have anything to do with the fact that the Copenhagen event is a colossal failure having collapsed under its own weight. Small wonder John Key was reluctant to attend [as was the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper]. Anyone with the IQ above that of a geranium could have foreseen what would happened. Take the decision making process of the UN as a model on which to base one's prediction.

    Would it be accurate to say that the bulk of tourists to NZ come from Australia, US and Canada; all outstanding members of the 'low target group' according to Louis? That being the case, why worry about what participants in the Copenhagen Talk Fest have to say? Tourists from these countries will continue to come here regardless.

    While I don't deny the obvious fact of global warming, I am appalled at the lack of knowledge of climatic history on the part of many environmentalists. If the historic evidence of Roman Warming, Medieval Warming and the Little Ice Age upsets some computer models so be it. That is not to say that such information should be suppressed or ignored. A good reference on this topic is the book by Ian Plimer "Heaven and Earth".

    Let's concentrate on how to cope with the problem on our immediate horizon instead of obsessing about some target in the distant future.

  4. On Saturday morning a group of 20 gathered by the Clive River, to affirm our hope that we can collectively find a way forward through the complexities of our current environmental challenges. Let us not lose heart but renew our resolve as individuals and communities to move beyond the model of exponential growth to one where we live within our limits. Louis sent this message .

    "I write this message having just returned from our own

    vigil here in Copenhagen. At this vigil, we stood with

    hundreds of others and listened to songs and speeches. All

    these carried a common message – the need to show unity in

    preventing a climate crisis. As news flooded in of chaos in

    the climate negotiations, we stood together and remembered

    how far the movement has come. No matter what happens in

    Copenhagen, we have seen people come together. This movement

    has joined people across borders, religions and ethnicities.

    Remember this as you yourselves come together. As you gather

    in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand you stand with people from every

    corner of the world. It is a tremendous challenge which we

    face, but the opportunity to solve this challenge unites us.

    Whatever result emerges out of Copenhagen, we need to

    remember moments like this one. As deserts spread in Africa,

    as waters rise in the Maldives, we know that there are

    millions around the world who are ready to change their

    lives.If this change does not come politically, then it must

    come personally. As well as empowering our leaders to act,

    actions like yours help all of us embark upon change in our

    own lives.

    You are the inspiration for those of us lucky enough to be

    here in Hopenhagen.

    Thank you, and kia kaha,


  5. Oh to be young and idealistic and at a time when you don't pay any taxes, give him a few more years when he will be paying towards this eutopia he seeks and he'll change his views. How much carbon did he and all the others burn up getting to this conference?, surely it could have all been observed over the net?

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