Commissioner on climate change: “At the global level, I think it’s very grave’

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, released a report this week recommending a re-think on how greenhouse gases are treated.  He said we were depending too much on planting trees.

He was interviewed on Newshub nation yesterday, where he said on the scale of our warming emergency: “At the global level, I think it’s very grave”.

I don’t think this sort of over-dramatics from Newshub Nation helps a reasoned debate on climate change:

Transcript of the interview between Emma Jollif and Simon Upton:

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, released a report this week recommending a re-think on how greenhouse gases are treated. He said we were depending too much on planting trees to offset emissions – particularly carbon dioxide. I spoke to Simon Upton and began by asking him about the UN’s warning we only have twelve years to avoid climate catastrophe.

Simon Upton: Okay, the Paris Agreement talks about the second half of the century to reach a balance between sources and sinks, and that’s really what I’m aiming at. If you could do better than that, fine. In fact, Paris talks about well below 1.5, I think that is an extraordinary stretch. But, yes, of course, there is urgency, but the reality is that it takes time to put investment into these new technologies to build entirely new systems.

If it’s only farmers who can offset the emissions using the trees, where’s the incentive for farmers to actually reduce their emissions, because that’s ultimately what we’ve got to do, isn’t it?

No, no, farmers do have to reduce their emissions. And my report’s quite clear on that. We can’t leave agricultural greenhouse gases where they are either. There has to be a reduction. And I am not one of those people who say, ‘Well, look, let’s plant some trees, and you don’t have to worry about agriculture.’ We do.

I think the two fit together nicely, but the government would need to develop a mechanism similar to the Emissions Trading Scheme that we have for fossil carbon. It would need something similar in the agricultural space.

This month Air New Zealand, Contact, Genesis and Z established a forest portfolio to sequester carbon and help meet their targets under the ETS. Isn’t that at odds with what you’re suggesting?

Look, what they’ve done is perfectly rational in the world that currently operates. Forest sinks are available. They’ve been on the table for the last 25 years. And so what they’re trying to do is to purchase a future supply of units that they can surrender. So they see the carbon price going up, so if they can plant some forest today, they can get some units.

And in the future, they can hand over those units and say, ‘We’ve met our obligation.’ So they’re doing a perfectly rational thing. The question I would ask is, whether that is actually the best thing for them to be spending money on?

Wouldn’t it be better, maybe, to be spending money on reducing emissions? Or if they can’t, then they’re going to have to pay the full price. And that will be passed on to consumers.

How would you describe the scale of our warming emergency?

At the global level, I think it’s very grave. I have not seen anything comforting, either about what will happen with climate or, to be honest, what will happen in terms of the human response. I think it’s a very significant problem, and it’s going to affect us probably in ways that we haven’t thought about. People say we need to adapt, and adaptation is going to mean being resilient, being in a position to cope with the unexpected.

I’d really make this point — this economy, more than most developed economies, is absolutely reliant on what nature provides, in terms of ecosystem services; we are reliant on what comes from the ocean, we’re reliant on what comes from the land.

And so it’s very much in our interests that we can hang on to the best of what we’ve got there. Because we’re not Singapore, we’re not all living in buildings doing work virtually on things; we’re actually out there in the environment. And if that environment is no longer as friendly as it was, we are going to be severely hit.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  31st March 2019

    There’s neither money nor empire in being comforting, Simon.

  2. Duker

     /  31st March 2019

    “I don’t think this sort of over-dramatics from Newshub Nation helps a reasoned debate on climate change:”
    Exactly . But they have identified climate hysteria as something thats clickbait to a younger audience – a bit like rockwall climbing, surfing , MMA etc.
    Advertisers are always going to pay a lot more for a younger ( & female) audience – see TVs nightly shows that are relationship/romance or cooking based. Even a traditional structured detective story must have a female focus . So no more Maigret.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  31st March 2019

      I do wonder who has nothing better to do than watch someone else cooking. Nobody I know can understand it. It’s like watching someone else cleaning their house, dusting, vacuuming etc…no, it’s worse. I hate cooking and would never want to watch a stranger doing it.

      My guess is that these shows are cheap and that there are people who’d watch the test pattern (or its modern equivalent) if that was all that there was.

  3. Duker

     /  31st March 2019

    Upton still believes in magic thinking as the answer
    ” but the reality is that it takes time to put investment into these new technologies ???to build entirely new systems???.”

    this failed politician did the same with health reforms in the early 90s

    It always requires woolly numbers ( now its ‘rising temps’ back then it was ‘health expenditure was rising rapidly’)

    .Public spending on health, at 14.0 percent of net financial expenditure in 1993/4, is a significant part of fiscal outlays. It was claimed, wrongly, that the volume of spending on public health was rising. The mistake arose in a Treasury paper which deflated the nominal spending with the wrong price index, failing to compare apples with apples, and then using a period which maximized the size of the error.

    – Brian easton

    Why does Upton always play the mug

  4. Zedd

     /  31st March 2019

    the extremist views, dont really add to the serious debate (IMHO).. BUT the facts do seem to support the view, that some C-C deniers, refuse to even look at ?!

    One thing is certain, i have not seen any Snow in Sth Dn for several years & the Autumn weather (now) is still looking more like summer :/

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  31st March 2019

      We’re getting typical equinoctal weather – windy and changeable. Nothing very remarkable.

      • Duker

         /  31st March 2019

        In general ?
        A snow record from 1972 to 1991 at Dunedin International Airport showed on average snow was reported eight times a year, and at Musselburgh records showed about four falls a year.
        Several big snowfalls were recorded in the mid-1990s with the one in 1995 considered to be the “last known bad one”.

        Average of 4 times a year
        Musselburgh is next door to Dunedin South ? Arent you getting up early enough gezza

        • Griff.

           /  31st March 2019


          i have not seen any Snow in Sth dn forseveral years

          More than two but not many.
          Duker’s link ?
          Tuesday, 26 July 2011
          More than several years old.

          • Duker

             /  31st March 2019

            Another NIWA publication says 4 x average snow dates.
            But when I did a seach of NIWAs database at Musselburgh the record only gives 1994/07/02 and 03 as snow days. Their DB is a bit clunky so I may not have put the right options in.
            maybe the correct result was Snow is rare at South Dunedin/Musselburgh

          • Zedd

             /  31st March 2019

            ‘several’ usually means more than a few… BUT about 5 years, since it has been more than just light sleet, that has settled on the ground :/

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  31st March 2019

              Bloody Scots, always complaining it’s too warm. My mate could never get used to going to the beach in an overcoat there. Then they travelled halfway around the world and settled in Invercargill! Dunno why they gave the Auckland Islands a miss – must have been the name. They seem to have left those disasters to the Poms.

  5. unitedtribes2

     /  31st March 2019

    Listening to a weather man this morning who is in Canada helping with research. He suggested that Pine trees are part of the problem not the solution. Something about causing methane buildup for longer periods. Perhaps the cussies in Northland should stay put on the couch until we sort that one out.

    • Duker

       /  31st March 2019

      Use a filter . Suggestions arent really proper science. First thing to remember Canada isnt NZ, their trees grow really slowly

      • Duker

         /  31st March 2019

        looked a bit deeper .Its the usual nonsense junk science based on computer model run over 300 years!
        “But how did more forest coverage lead to warming? Researchers from the Laboratory of Climate Science and Environment in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, came to this conclusion by building a [computer]model that uses 260 years of forestry data ?? in Europe, from the distribution of tree species?? to the methods people have used to harvest wood??. From 1750 to 2010, the continent added almost 200,000 square kilometers of forest, and created a 0.12°C ??? rise in temperature.”
        0.12 C !!
        Its too stupid for words – not doubt would have sailed through peer review

        “The conifers are worse for the climate because they absorb more light with their dark color, trapping heat that would otherwise be reflected back into space. They also release less cooling water into the atmosphere through evaporation. Together, these two factors were to blame for 0.08°C of the region’s warming. Foresters removing trees for wood products contributed another 0.02°C by releasing carbon that would otherwise be stored in forest debris and soil.”

        Kim Nautts would be a 30 something researcher at MPI-Meteorology who likely has no real experience of forests but is a whizz at computer code.

        • Griff.

           /  31st March 2019

          Your logic fallacy is .

          Personal incredulity

          Because you found something difficult to understand, or are unaware of how it works, you made out like it’s probably not true.

          Complex subjects like biological evolution through natural selection require some amount of understanding before one is able to make an informed judgement about the subject at hand; this fallacy is usually used in place of that understanding.

    • Maggy Wassilieff

       /  31st March 2019

      This is a fairly new field of research…
      Folks have only recently recognised that trees and forests are sources of methane

      Methane production and emissions in trees and forests,
      Most of the references are to Angiosperm (Flowering plants) trees and Angiosperm-dominated forests.

      There’s little work that has been done on Gymnosperms/conifers – (Group that contains Pine)

      Main relevant reference is to scots pine Pinus sylvestris
      Pinus sylvestris as a missing source of nitrous oxide and methane in boreal forest


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