New Zealand is dramatically increasing coal production and exports at the same time it tells the world it can do nothing to reduce its carbon emissions, the Green Party said today.
"The whole world is in Copenhagen looking for ways to avoid climate disaster while we're cranking up our coal industry and saying we can't do anything to reduce our emissions," said Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.
"We can do more and the science says we have to. We need leadership from our government instead of denial."
While New Zealand's Prime Minister is due in Copenhagen at climate change negotiations this week, state-owned Solid Energy has launched plans for a lignite processing plant in Southland and the Port of Lyttelton is nearly doubling its coal stockyard.
Solid Energy recently shipped 500 tonnes of lignite to North Dakota to test a water-extraction process it plans to use in Southland. The Solid Energy plant would process up to 100,000 tonnes of lignite annually from an open cast mine near Mataura, converting it to briquettes.
The Lyttelton port meanwhile is seeking resource consent to almost double its coal capacity to nearly 5 million tonnes each year. The increase is to handle growing exports from Solid Energy and Pike River Coal.
"The tired old arguments about clean coal and economic growth don't wash," said Mrs Turei. "Science tells us catastrophic climate change threatens the world. Dealing with rising sea levels, droughts and severe storms will cost us a lot more than we could possibly earn from coal exports. The Government's approach is short-sighted.
"We should instead encourage Solid Energy's innovation into renewable energy sources such as wood waste."
Mrs Turei noted that the Government had also launched a review of national standards for air quality which may delay the standards' introduction: "We've been talking about phasing out coal burners in people's homes over a10 year period but now the Environment Minister Nick Smith is considering extending that timeline. How long does it take to do the right thing?"
Solid Energy has said that it may also use its new lignite processing plant to serve the home market, acknowledging that while open fires and old burners cause "significant air quality and health issues in many of our towns and cities," it plans to stay in the home market until the Government introduces air quality standards.