Massive bill after failed UN meeting

By GRAHAME ARMSTRONG - Sunday Star Times

Last updated 05:00 14/02/2010

The 34 New Zealand bureaucrats, advisers and government ministers who attended the failed United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December generated a lot of hot air – and ran up an estimated $685,000 bill for taxpayers.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Star-Times under the Official Information Act show that sending the Kiwi delegation to the two-week conference cost taxpayers an average $20,147 for each person, including airfares, hotel accommodation and meals.

Those who travelled to the Copenhagen Summit would also have left a travel carbon footprint of between six and 10 tonnes each of CO2 in the atmosphere – a total of at least 200 tonnes.

The figure of $685,000 is extrapolated from precise figures supplied to the Star-Times for the five people from the Ministry of the Environment who attended.

For those five, travel costs averaged $8353 per head, accommodation $8162, and meals and "incidentals" $3653. It is reasonable to expect that some senior attendees such as the prime minister may have run up costs exceeding that average, while other individuals, such as officials who combined the Copenhagen trip with travel to Europe on other business, may have spent less.

The estimated expense has been slammed by Federated Farmers' president as "a complete waste of money".

Those who travelled included Prime Minister John Key – who decided to go only after a chorus of criticism when he suggested he might not attend – the minister responsible for international climate change negotiations, Tim Groser, Environment Minister Nick Smith and an entourage of policy analysts, advisers and press secretaries from seven agencies and departments.

The Copenhagen Summit failed to deliver a legally binding global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many developing countries did not agree to the proposed emission targets, claiming their economies would be adversely affected far more than those of developed countries.

Instead, an agreement, known as the Copenhagen Accord, was reached. The document recognises that climate change is one of the greatest challenges today and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2C. But it is not legally binding and does not include any commitments to reducing CO2 emissions.

The New Zealand government signed up to the accord and has submitted a conditional emissions reduction target range of 10-20% below 1990 levels by 2020.

While New Zealand was disappointed that a legally binding agreement did not happen, the environment minister said the accord was "a constructive step forward to developing a comprehensive global deal on climate change".