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Open letter: To Forest & Bird from Paul Callister and Robert McLachlan

Thursday 27 Jul 23 10:45am


Paul Callister, a climate change policy researcher at Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, and Massey University mathematician Robert McLachlan - both long-time supporters of Forest & Bird - say they are “deeply concerned” that the organisation is giving the aviation industry a platform for greenwashing at the upcoming conference.

Here is the letter in full:

To: Nicola Toki
Chief Executive, Forest and Bird
23 July 2023


Kia ora Nicola,


We are long time members and supporters of Forest & Bird. We have both donated to Forest & Bird campaigns. We are both actively involved in restoration work.


As an example, as a volunteer, Paul is currently running a three-year project in Kāpiti under the name “Inspired by Sanderson”. This focuses on carbon sequestration, including through rewetting wetlands to reduce emissions.


In terms of climate change, one of our concerns has been the rapid rise in emissions from aviation, in particular from international aviation. We have written extensively on this issue, including the following two journal articles:
Callister, P. & McLachlan, R. I. (2023) Managing Aotearoa New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 1-21.


Callister, P., & McLachlan, R. (2023) Decarbonising Aotearoa New Zealand’s Aviation Sector: hard to abate, but even harder to govern. Policy Quarterly, 19(2), 9-18.


This research indicates that airlines and the wider aviation industry are actively communicating a future of ‘decarbonised’ and even net-zero aviation. Unfortunately, at present, this is pure greenwash. The combination of aggressive growth plans from the aviation and tourist industry, the slow adoption of mitigation measures, and the lack of regulation of this sector means that emissions are likely to grow.


Some of the proposed solutions, such as biofuels, have significant biodiversity implications, including continued destruction of tropical rain forests. Our concern about biofuels led to the campaign “Don’t Burn Our Future”, supported by Greenpeace and Oxfam, aiming to end the proposed biofuel mandate.


We are therefore deeply concerned to find that Forest & Bird has invited a representative from Air New Zealand to speak at its conference. We are certainly not against engaging with industries that have high and growing emissions, but we have two problems with how this talk is presented.


First, it is billed under the heading “Courageous Leadership in the time of the Climate & Biodiversity Crises”.


Inviting a highly paid industry lobbyist from a high emitting sector to speak under this heading is an insult to the many people, most working as volunteers, who are courageously working to help avert the climate crisis rather than help cause it.


This includes people battling hard for cycleways, often against considerable opposition, bringing back low-emission passenger rail, or out restoring the natural environment day after day, in sunshine and in rain. It would have been courageous and inspiring to have someone speaking about bringing back passenger rail to New Zealand, or getting people out of cars and onto bikes.


Second, there is no opportunity for an alternative view to be presented.


At present, flying less and avoiding far-flung destinations is the main way that aviation emissions can be reduced. This includes people on bird-watching and tramping holidays just as much as those who travel for shopping, entertainment, or to see relatives. As New Zealand’s largest environmental organisation, it is important for Forest & Bird to demonstrate leadership on this issue.


In the US, the Sierra Club magazine has it right:
Technology Alone Won’t Green the Aviation Industry (July 14, 2022)
Planes, Trains, and Decarbonization: Is a future without air travel possible? (June 15, 2023)


Ngā mihi,

Dr Paul Callister, Paekākāriki
Dr Robert McLachlan, Palmerston North


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