Gordon Campbell on MP pay rises, and the Paris agreement

Somehow, the ‘need” for belt tightening – or of stemming the rise in income inequality – just goes right out the window at this time of the year. Scads of money can always be found for backdated pay increases to MPs .

It is the kind of Christmas pageant where the child in the manger is forgotten, and the rich wise men just give the gold, frankincense and myrrh to each other – and on the usual spurious grounds. Years ago, I remember interviewing the new Remuneration Authority chairwoman Fran Wilde – at the time, Wilde was the MP for Wellington Central – and the excessive pay rates of MPs came up, even back then. In response, Wilde cited as justification the excessive drycleaning expenses that MPs face in order to look presentable to their constituents. Nice for MPs to know that the Remuneration Authority can empathises with their plight.

In fact, there is no good reason why MPs and Cabinet Ministers must receive the same percentage average pay increase as public servants – especially when that average has been artificially inflated by the high rates of pay enjoyed by contractors and by CEOs. Why not tie the annual pay rises for MPs to (a) the rate of inflation or (b) to the income rises of those on the median wage? That latter option at least, would create an incentive for MPs to improve the lot of the people they serve. Why not independently assess why there is any need for a pay rise at all – on the basis of what legitimate need is being rendered unaffordable by the current rate of MPs’ pay ?

It is particularly galling that it seems impossible to rein in the perks. Part of the rationale this year for the 3-4% pay rise to MPs ( backdated to July), is that the unlimited travel perk for MPs spouses and partners has been scrapped. So even if you correct a historical, unjustified example of largesse, then – for no logical reason – MPs and Cabinet Ministers must be compensated forever afterwards for their “ loss.”

This morning on RNZ, entitlement’s poster child – David Seymour of the Act Party – claimed that MPs would be ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’ pocket their p[ay rise. In fact., the only person who would be damning any politician if they didn’t take the money would be David Seymour, who pre-emptively labeled that socially responsible response as a ‘stunt.’ In one sense, its useful that every year ends with this salutary reminder as to why politicians are held in such contempt.

So here’s a song for all of us. On this buoyant, irrepressible track, Oakland hip hop artist Kamaiyah – as someone who has worked all her life and still been broke – wonders what it feels like to be rich.

Apres Paris

So three days after the historic, momentous, epochal, game-changing climate change conference in Paris…hows it going ? My eco-footprint feels pretty much what it was this time last week, last month, whatever. So does the nation’s. So there’s a lot of room for improvement, right ? Paris was great, it felt good to see nations get together for some other reason than planning a bombing mission or an invasion but ….at the risk of sounding self-defeatingly cynical, aspirational pledges come pretty cheap. Didn‘t we promise to do a whole bunch of historic, momentous, game-changing, earth-saving stuff at the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992?

Keep in mind that the pledges made in Paris don’t involve change now. Or tomorrow. They’re a promise to start doing something after 2020. Its like a binge eater promising to go on a diet in five years’ time. And furthermore…even if all the emissions reduction pledges made in Paris were kept, this analysis on Climate Tracker of the conference pledges – while not entirely pessimistic – warns that global warming is still on track to reach 2.7 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, and not the below 2 degrees and headed for 1.5 degrees being touted in the Paris aftermath :

With 158 climate pledges now submitted to the UN, accounting for 94% of global emissions, the Climate Action Tracker today confirmed this would result in around 2.7°C of warming in 2100 – if all governments met their pledge. “This level of warming is still well above the agreed limit of 2degrees, and even further above the 1.5degrees called for by most governments here at the Paris climate summit,” said Marcia Rocha of Climate Analytics. If those governments who submitted a conditional target were to have their conditions met, and increased their climate action accordingly, and if those who plan to build new coal plants were to cancel them, the gap can be reduced substantially.

Meaningful prevention steps have to be taken now, in other words. Business as usual with a few environmental tweaks at the margins won’t do it. There’s no room left to overshoot the target pledge, and then try to fix it up afterwards. So far, the best metaphor I’ve seen for the Paris declaration is the one offered by the American environmentalist Bill McKibben, who likened it to the impressive stretching exercises that athletes do at the starting line, before a marathon.

Unfortunately, in the three days since Paris, politicians have run off to re-assure the corporate world that hey relax, you won’t be required to actually run the marathon that the Paris pledges would otherwise entail, if they were to be taken seriously.

Thus, we have New Zealand Prime Minister John Key promising that mining will continue here, despite the deal done in Paris.

Mr Key told Morning Report New Zealand’s significant steps on emission reduction would not involve cutting back on the mining of oil, gas and coal. “Not in terms of the production side of the house, if you like … I can’t exactly tell you off the top of my head how many barrels of oil we produce a day but it would be what Saudi Arabia, Iraq and those other countries, Iran, produce in a nano-second. It’s just not large.”

Mr Key said New Zealand was just being consistent with what other countries were doing. “The world’s going to continue to consume some of these products and we can’t stop that. The question is, can we get them to transition more rapidly to other forms of renewable energy? The answer is yes. But one of the fastest ways to do that is to stop the subsidisation of the consumption of fossil fuels and that’s really what the fossil fuel subsidy reform’s about.”

Note that Key is speaking there only of stopping the subsidisation of consumption ie, the stuff for the general public. He’s not talking about ending the subsidies for companies engaged in fossil fuel production. Yet in MBIE’s fossil fuel reform list of the relevant subsidies, seven out of the eight measures listed are production subsidies. And surprise, surprise, MBIE thinks they’re all good and jolly efficient.

Basically…the political response entails leaving it to the boffins. They’ll think of something. Apres Paris, science is being expected to produce an answer to man-made emissions reduction (and thereby to global warming) without the need for painful change to business as usual. No matter that via business as usual, global warming is already at 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial average ( and producing extreme weather events and species destruction) and is headed for 4-5 degrees Celsius, if left unchecked. Keeping it in the 1.5 – 2 degrees range this century will require massive, costly change further down the track. If we are to succeed in averting this outcome we need to start now, not after 2020, or 2030. McKibben explains what we need to stop doing, at once :

Translated into carbon terms: you don’t get to go drilling or mining in new areas, even if you think it might make you lots of money. The Arctic will have to be completely off limits, as will the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The pre-salt formations off Brazil, and the oil off the coasts of north America too.

You’ve got to stop fracking right away (in fact, that may be the greatest imperative of all, since methane gas does its climate damage so fast). You have to start installing solar panels and windmills at a breakneck pace – and all over the world. The huge subsidies doled out to fossil fuel have to end yesterday, and the huge subsidies to renewable energy had better begin tomorrow. You have to raise the price of carbon steeply and quickly, so everyone gets a clear signal to get off of it.

At the moment the world’s major polluters have no feasible plan to do those things. It continues to pretend that merely setting the goal has been work enough for the last two decades. Its “training plan” – the text that negotiators agreed on in Paris – is a go-slow regimen that aims for a world 3.5C warmer.

New Zealand is part of the problem. It seems willing to sit on its hands and wait for science to find an affordable solution for our agricultural-based emissions, without troubling farmers in the meantime with any preventative measures, or emissions minimisation incentives. In addition – as I pointed out in this recent Werewolf article the Key government has no policy framework to deal with emissions from non-farm sectors, such as transport, or energy or industry – even though transport has been the sector where New Zealand’s emissions have been growing the fastest since 1990. In the same RNZ article linked to above, former Climate Change Minister Tim Groser could not have sounded more complacent :

Mr Groser said no change in goverment policy was needed in the short term, but in the long run, New Zealand would have to do more to meet the agreement. Part of that would be finding technical solutions to agricultural emissions.

In fairness, the politics of climate change are in pretty bad shape elsewhere, too. Putting a price on carbon in Paris – via a tax or a cap and trade system ? Too hard. Mandatory reduction targets ? Too hard. Pathetically, to get around the need for Congress to ratify the Paris deal – which it wouldn’t do, since so many Republicans are still living in denial about global warming – US President Barack Obama has had to define the Paris agreement as merely an extension of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the Senate ratified back in 1992.

So in the US, this epochal, game-changing etc deal has had to be snuck into American law through the back door, as an adjunct to something agreed on openly, 23 years ago in the4 heady wake of Rio. That’s progress…I guess. Even the nominal pledges can be useful to activists, as commitments against which government actions (and inactions) can be measured.

Footnote : hat tip to Jan Rivers for the argument ( and links) around fossil fuel reform.

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3 Comments on Gordon Campbell on MP pay rises, and the Paris agreement

  1. You can tell why the National Party has been abolishing democracy, one way and another, eh? It’s because they know that politicians – including themselves – by and large are completely and utterly USELESS.

    I expected nothing different from Paris than what we got. No action, and skimpy on the promises. Farting around as usual. And the pay rises for MPs? Once on it, no one wants to get off this gravy train.

  2. Our PM has, as usual, been a great disappointment. His bland remarks to the media about the Paris agreement were like so much damp blotting paper. God knows this is the time for leadership, not soothing assurances that everything will be OK.

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