As you sow… (aka the “bugger” moment)

And so it begins: the rest of the world is starting to notice the major disconnect between New Zealand’s much advertised “clean and green” image and the National-led government’s piecemeal demolition of sensible climate policy. In yesterday’s Guardian, one of Britain’s leading quality newspapers, Fred Pearce devotes his “greenwash” column to New Zealand:

…my prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as “clean and green. […] To rub our noses in it, last year New Zealand signed up to the UN’s Climate Neutral Network, a list of nations that are “laying out strategies to become carbon neutral”. But if you read the small print of what New Zealand has actually promised, it is a measly 50% in emissions by 2050 – something even the US can trump.

Pearce fails to draw the distinction between the policies of the last government — which were for carbon neutrality — and the stance of the current government — which has stopped all work on plans for carbon neutrality — but is spot on about the marketing problem NZ now faces:

Check the UNEP website and you will find an excruciating hagiography about a “climate neutral journey to Middle Earth”, in which everything from the local wines to air conditioning and Air New Zealand get the greenwash treatment.

After extolling the country’s green credentials, it asks: “Have you landed in a dreamland?” Well, UNEP’s reporter certainly has. He cheers New Zealand’s “global leadership in tackling climate change”, when the country’s minister in charge of climate negotiations, Tim Groser, has been busy reassuring his compatriots that “we would not try to be ‘leaders’ in climate change.”

This is not just political spin. It is also commercial greenwash. New Zealand trades on its greenness to promote its two big industries: tourism and dairy exports.

And there’s the crunch. Pearce goes on to point to research that suggests tourism would be badly hit by a loss of the clean green image. To make matters worse, environmental tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the market. Our agricultural exports also depend on that image — but Tim Groser and the audience of farmers he was addressing seem to have been blissfully unaware of the pit they were digging for themselves.

It takes years to build a good image and establish what marketing people call positive brand attributes, but it can take only a few newspaper articles to damage or destroy it. Tourism NZ’s British campaign just took a major blow. How long before the news spreads, tourist numbers fall and exports are hit? Will our Minister of Tourism rush to defend our brand? And just how are you going to do that, John? It’s your systematic demolition of sensible climate policies that is doing the damage.

[See also: Bernard Hickey this morning.]

[Hat tip: Sam Tobin]

74 thoughts on “As you sow… (aka the “bugger” moment)”

  1. It would seem that in the dog eat dog world of international trade there is a use by date on bullshit.

    I would say that the last government was only marginally better in regards to addressing environmental matters than the current one.


      1. Thanks, so we have a hell of a lot of coal mines! Pearce though is saying we’re using more than ever for our power stations, specifically. I’m a little sceptical of that, seeing as it’s not like we’ve been building more or expanding the capacity of Huntly and Kinleith to burn more – I could be wrong(?)

        List of power stations in NZ there. We appear to only have two coal stations, and they’ve been around for ages, so not like we’ve been building more of them either a la China.

  2. Some detail here. Dirty brown coal – I assume you mean lignite. Why dirtier than other coal?? They are higher moisture but necessarily higher in ash or sulphur. No large scale mines operating. Consumption is domestic and light industrial. No power generation. Huntly was built for combined coal and gas operation and supplemented recently with combined cycle gas turbine, so total thermal capacity HAS gone up by 40%. When gas was cheap, Huntly ran heavily on gas not coal. As reported in media at the time, it switched heavily to coal, with a lot of it imported as well as local stuff. Imported could be brown coal.
    Coal consumption would vary year to year depending on other generation capacity – ie a lot in a dry year.

  3. Pearce may be best viewed as the canary in this case.
    Rather than picking up on a marginal incorrectness (after all the moral issue remains no matter who burns the stuff) we should focus on the warning…

  4. Gareth,
    I see that Nick Smith has read the Guardian article and in one of those ‘through the Looking Glass’ moments he has released a response that indicates he comes from an alternative universe.
    Smith states the Guardian is not fully informed. Well, only because they left out how bad Smith’s version of the NZETS is.

    Today I went to Geoff Bertram’s talk ‘How not to implement an ETS – Lessons from NZ’, hosted by Jonathan Boston of the Institute of Policy Studies (Victoria University).
    He concluded that the level of price incentive left in the National ETS, after hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies over 90 years to emitters, is less than the margin of error.

      1. Doc. Smith has attempted to set the Guardian straight, as promised in his press release. His reward is a follow-up article from Firey Fred who proceeds to give the Government a further drubbing on the subject of their shady forestry shenanigans. Priceless!

  5. Even if they manage to remove international language about being carbon neutral, Nick Smith and John Key are still faced with a massive problem with the New Zealand tourist board’s “100% pure” ad campaign.

    NZ has a whole heap of dirty little secrets, the national government is making them worse, and it’s time the cover was blown.

    1. Cindy, some fake billboards in London or Copenhagen with 0-20% Pure plastered over them would do a treat, I would imagine. If you make the point that NZ is taking a 0% emissions reductions target, on the back of some of the highest per-capita emissions in the world, you’re sure to shock the poor people of the world.

      Your people would have the resources to do it, I suggest you consider it. (It may or may not be a reasonable idea).

  6. To be fair, NZ has been miles behind and dropping further in a number of environmental areas for years, not just Kyoto targets, and it isn’t just the fault of politicians. We’ve all let it happen. The consumer response to a 5 cent plastic bag charge in some lower North Island supermarkets (where I live, cringe…) is a trivial but telling example.

    I’m probably being cynical, but I think that politicians are basically self-interested cowards – they are more likely to follow than lead. If we’re not acting, they won’t. That’s what I think is good about the 10:10 campaign.

  7. This is typical British hypocrisy. Of course NZ is poor on emissions production, but Britain is far worse on an emissions consumption basis.

    The following study found that the average Brit has a 35% higher carbon footprint than the average Kiwi.

    The reason NZ has high emissions production is simple really, the Heckscher-Ohlin model shows that nations economies are naturally geared towards the capital they are most abundant in, Britain is labour abundant so naturally has a low emissions service based economy (banking, insurance etc), while NZ is land abundant so naturally has an agriculture based economy (you should all know 48% of our emissions come from Ag, not brown coal, and around 95% of NZ ag production is exported to nations like Britain).

    What will drive emissions reductions in the future is not the crushing of all the ag and industrial economies, but reduced demand from consumers for emissions intensive goods. In this regard, the UK is 35% worse than NZ.

    Where do you think all that NZ brown coal goes? Oh to China? And what is produced? Oh steel and other goods for Europe and the US? So then this smarmy Brit turns around and tells us we should reduce our emissions?? While he will continue to use imported goods and not accept any responsibility for his own emissions?

    1. The really telling thing about this article is the speed at which the so called ‘green’ movement in NZ applaud this BS. It seems any mud that sticks will do for you lot.

  8. “It seems any mud that sticks will do for you lot.” – R2.

    The irony of that sentence will no doubt be lost on you R2. I don’t recall the UK recently touting itself as “%100 pure”, do you?. “NZ – 100% pure bullshit”, that would be more accurate.

    Myself and others have already commented on previous threads, of this very scenario playing out. I thought it would rear it’s head, only when western economies started to be affected by global warming. Looks like it’s ahead of schedule.

    This will of course play into the hands of NZ’s international competitors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some promotional campaign (UK meat industry?) highlighting this, popped up in the near future.

    1. Hmmm should I speak slower:

      The UK has a 35% higher emissions consumption per capita than NZ.

      NZ has the second highest rate of renewable generation in the world, much higher than the UK.

      The only ones who are taking notice of this are the greenies who supposedly should have a problem with flying half way around the world for a holiday anyway!

      1. “The UK has a 35% higher emissions consumption per capita than NZ.” – R2.

        Yes R2, and exactly how is finger pointing going to help NZ products overseas?, and tourism?. NZ has been well and truly identified as hypocrites, no point in saying “Yeah I was speeding officer, but this other guy was going way faster than me!”

        No need to point out worse offenders, I sure every other person here, knows the score.

        “The only ones who are taking notice of this are the greenies who supposedly should have a problem with flying half way around the world for a holiday anyway!” -R2

        Really?, and what evidence do you base that on?. Oh, that’s right another fabricated little factoid!. Only time will tell if this is going to affect NZ earnings.

        1. Dappledwater: “Really?, and what evidence do you base that on?. Oh, that’s right another fabricated little factoid!”

          Gareth: “In yesterday’s Guardian, one of Britain’s leading quality newspapers, Fred Pearce devotes his “greenwash” column to New Zealand”

          Guardian: “Fred Pearce is an environment writer and author of The Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change”


  9. R2, curious logic thinking those links somehow support your claim. It appears this matter has only just surfaced in overseas tabloids, and even if it hadn’t do you honestly think the Ministry of Tourism would mention it in their forecasts?.

  10. I think the National-led government is hopelessly out of its depth over this one, attempting, like Muldoon in the 70’s, to somehow deny physical and economic reality via legislative special pleading.

  11. Did anyone notice this comment attributed to Nick Smith in the Weekend Dominion Post article about this issue?

    “About half of New Zealand’s emissions come from methane, which does not stay in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide and is less harmful.”

    Less harmful? That’s not what I’ve heard!

    1. The Dom article is here, and that quote is in it, attributed to Nick Smith and Tourism NZ. Smith’s press release last Friday is risible, but doesn’t mention methane. Looks to me like something that probably originated inside the Dom – I can’t imagine that Smith or his officials would get something like that so badly wrong… Or can I?

      1. Well half of our emissions are ag (using GWP’s), about 36% off the top of my head is methane, using GWP’s.

        Bit of a mistake, what is correct is that many scientists and economists think the GWP method overstate the ‘value’ of methane emissions. Gram for gram every metric has methane higher than carbon dioxide, so methane is worse than carbon dioxide in that respect.

          1. Economists are aloud to make judgement, and should when ever future costs are being assessed.

            To simplify the issue it is easier to ignore all gases except methane and carbon dioxide.

            Carbon dioxide has a long atmospheric lifetime but a small radiative force, while methane has a short atmospheric lifetime but a strong radiative force.

            GWP’s are a purely scientific metric that calculate the total radiative forcing over a time from (100 years used for Kyoto) compared to the radiative forcing of carbon dioxide (21 for methane in FAR, 25 in AR4, 21 used in Kyoto, undecided in CP2).

            Economists argue that not all radiative forcing has the same cost. The first degree Celsius of warming will have a far lower cost than the second (Stern Report, plus many others). Methane released now will primarily cause warming in the next 30 years, with far less warming caused after that. Carbon dioxide will cause warming for about 150 years.

            If temperatures are not expexted to reach dangerous levels in the next 30 years, methane emissions today will have a low cost. Carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to temperature increases at times when climate change has large costs. So in other words a low temperature increase in 2100 may have a higher cost than a large temperature increase in 2020.

            But then it could be argued that as radiative forcing goes further into the future costs should be discounted, as they become more uncertain. For example, what if a technology is invented in 2090 that can cause the world to cool back to normal levels, radiative forcing after 2090 will then have zero cost.

            An economic metric will then depend on the discount rate used and the slope of the damage curve used. This is one reason why GWP’s are favoured, they are simple and transparent: a perfect metric would allow for all these factors, but everyone will have a different opinion on what factors should be used.

            This is a useful paper if you can find a copy;


            1. Thanks Doug, another good paper by Fuglestvedt, Shine, Godal etc, they have written a lot on this issue over the years, all good stuff.

              I know the Eckaus 1992 paper is quite old, I have looked at the recent work also, but I really like the Eckaus paper because it pioneered the field and it was written before the GWP was adopted by the Kyoto Protocol, and as such includes gems like;

              “It will be argued here that the GWP can play no role in policy making.”

              I understand that future work has revealed many problems with economic metrics. Primarily they are heavily reliant, to the point of manipulable, by the assumptions they based on (discount factor, slope of the damage curve, etc).

              Interesting topic alright 🙂

            2. Thanks R2D2. Those certainly are good points to consider. I agree that economists have a valid point of view when it comes to costs.

  12. From memory, GWP method puts 1 tonne of CH4 at being equivalent to
    24 tonne of Co2. This based on radiative forcing of methane (which is calculated from basics physics so I dont see this could be seriously debated) and residency time in at the atmosphere (a much more debatable number). I would be concerned if economists debated GWP because they found the number inconvenient as opposed to having science papers which presented data challenging the current GWP method.

  13. On GWP’s;

    Few questions, first, scientists who have criticised (offered an alternative) GWP’s;

    From a physical science point of view, K P Shine has written a lot. He was the lead author of the first IPCC assessment report chapter on metrics. This editorial in 2009 is interesting;

    He also writes this study in 2005;

    The UNFCCC has asked the IPCC to investigate alternative metrics possible for commitment period 3. The following report is from the first meeting in Oslo;

    From an economic point of view you could look at these papers;

    This paper explains the difference between an economic based metric and a physical metric;

    Or you could look at this paper which estimates values based on different economic assumptions;

  14. Just so long as policy instruments dont lose sight of fact that if our emissions maintain (or even raise) methane levels in the atmosphere then you WILL get continued warming. Its great if you can shut them off quick and get a fast response too, but first you have to shut them off.

  15. The methane from ruminants argument intrigues me. Look at it this way:
    A forest is considered to be a carbon sink whilst gowing, becomes neutral when fully grown and an emmission when cut down.
    Why is a constantly sized flock of sheep any diffrerent from the mature forest…?
    Sure if I increase my flock it’s a change, as it is if I decrease my flock. Keeping the flock at the same size should be neutral!

    1. OK, I read most of that (what appeared relevant plus the introduction). I didn’t see the bit I was looking for which would have looked like: (where both A and B are flock sizes)
      If A-B=0 then methane emissions are nil for the purposes of our national carbon footprint.
      Assuming from what I’ve just read the feed was the same, age was the same etc. I’m not putting a case about it, I just didn’t realise that was the case and wouldn’t mind reading it.

      1. You cant talk meaningfully about this without a baseline. Pre-European, there was no ruminants and a lot more bush. Our flock size (among other things) certainly changes that emission profile. You cant escape from fact that our carbon footprint has changed radically from then but the accounting is complicated. But is that relevant to anything meaningful? Targets are more like “10% below 1990 levels”. Or more generally at trying to target a safe CO2eq level for the atmosphere.

  16. And further to that, I note that kg CH4/head/year for sheep is 8, whereas the factor is 128 for dairy cow. This is by no means the full picture for calculation of emissions but gives you some idea as to why our increasing dairy herd size is problematic from emissions point of view.

    1. Sure and we’d all agree; but we wouldn’t be here.
      My original point though still stands if we take 1990 as the base line, as you point out, and my flock size is the same as in 1990 then why isn’t my flock carbon neutral?

      1. In the virtual legal construct of the Kyoto protocol everything is measured vis-a-via a 1990 baseline so if your flock has not changed in size since then you have no liability for their emissions. In the real world carbon-neutral means that your flock sequesters as much carbon as it produces. This is obviously not the case.

      2. There is a big difference between a tree – which stores up carbon in the wood until it dies and starts decomposing, and an animal which continually expires CO2 (and methane) during its life (it grows a little bit for the first couple of years too). So your flock of constant size is constantly emitting GHG, whereas a forest is continually absorbing CO2.

      1. R2D2 – I got the number from the publication on how to do accounting for national GHG emissions. In the link I posted above. An extremely superficial look at MfE site looks like their methodology is different. I have no idea on why the difference and way beyond my expertise.

        And as to question as to comparing prehistory animal no. to present, its not that relevant. You can still reduce methane by reducing no. of ruminants.

        The carbon neutrality is more a matter of accounting. Carbon
        cycle without ruminants is Plant -> soil carbon + CO2 -> plant.
        With ruminant you add a methane (and thus warming) factor. Now you can do accounting by sum up all emissions and sum up all sinks; or by sum only emissions that would be outside a ruminant-free carbon cycle (that period of methane duration). The niceties of these those are beyond me.

          1. I think that post has really hit the uncomfortable truth about modern diets. Those livestock numbers are quite incredible.

            I see that India has already made some comment suggesting that the west gives up eating meat in order to meet its carbon-reduction target…

            1. Hmm. MacKay’s book estimates energy for food requirements at 15kWh/p/d for meat eater and 8kWh/p/d for vege. (Energy required for production). If the average NZer spends 50kWh/p/d on transport, I would think that has a higher priority than meat consumption. Dairy is the worst too rather than meat, but here it would appear that meeting Asian demand for milk products rather than ours that is the cause.

            2. Those numbers may not be inconsistent with the CO2 emissions – the energy used in production (presumably this is not the solar energy converted by plants, but the motive/heating energy that the energy infrastructure has to deliver – since that was the point of McKay’s book) is only part of the story, especially if the meat/dairy production implies large emissions of methane.

              Now if dairy farmers could capture some of that methane and burn it they’d reduce their energy consumption AND reduce their CO2e output…

            3. Well beef/lamb is small part of the equation for NZ compared to dairy so I dont think the Indian suggestion has a lot of relevance to reducing our emissions cf transport.

              Regarding capture – farmers can only really manage capture of methane from manure which can also be managed for minimal methane anyway (but without a return to the farmer). As I understand it, the bulk of the methane production is burps which would defy capture.

            4. scaddenp: “Well beef/lamb is small part of the equation for NZ compared to dairy”

              Where do you get your facts from? Quick run through New Zealand’s latest submission to the UNFCCC shows dairy emissions are 38% of Ag (18% total) while sheep and beef are around 58% of Ag.


              I know Greenpeace like to think that emissions in NZ end with Fonterra but you should learn that Greenpeace don’t value truth over a good slogan.

            5. “Where do you get your facts from”.

              Mea culpa. I didnt look it up, sorry and I agree you are right. More like remembering a tearoom conversation of dairy “more than lamb”, “more than beef”, which is no substitute for actually checking the facts before posting. My apologies. I like to think I am usually more careful.

  17. Well its not carbon neutral, in that if it didnt exist, then emissions would be lower. However, if our flock size (and composition) was same now as it was in 1990, and other CO2 emissions were also the same, then we have met our kyoto responsibilities. Indeed a kyoto neutral. But lets not lose sight of what we are trying to do. – Get emissions stabilized at 450 or preferably lower. You can do that by cutting anywhere into emissions – (or adding to the sinks). The accounting exercise to see how you are doing. It wouldnt matter if we had 60 million ruminants from the dawn of time – reducing that flock size would reduce emissions.

    1. Now we’re getting closer to the truth. Doubt seems to be entering the discussion. Again:
      Why are we reporting our methane from ruminants in our national total (half or so they say) rather than change of methane due to change of animal number etc. Either we pay for change or we pay for production and I’m asking why we appear to be paying for production (if indeed so, but yet unproven) when unlike M. Noir I do postulate that a static flock is sequestering as much as it produces over the timeframes we have already established as appropriate for the discussion, that of a fully grown forest.
      The issue of reducing emissions is a given, and no argument from me, but that’s a very different arguement and we’re off topic there.

    2. Interestingly, although a cow is not carbon neutral, a cow-grass system must be carbon neutral as it does not have the power to create carbon and it does not release ancient fossil carbon.

      It does convert some carbon to methane and some nitrogen to ammonia that the soil converts to nitrous oxide.

      However the grass-cow-atmosphere system is methane neutral as the atmosphere will convert the methane back to CO2 (its original form) within a few short years.

      The IPCC report that nitrous oxide has a much longer atmospheric lifetime. However it should be remembered that cows aren’t the only animals that urinate……..

  18. Because we can always offset our increased emissions in transport by reducing flock. The inventory is about where the emissions are coming from, which is different from how we pay for them. Under a Kyoto protocol, we pay if total net emissions are above 1990; in credit if they are below.

    Unlike a trees, a stock animal does NOT sequester as much as it emits. The total carbon locked in body is nothing like the emissions of CH4. Even you assume a 500kg cow is 100% carbon (nothing remotely like it), at 128kg of CH4 a year, it is no way keeping up. Trees by comparison soak CO2 and emit only small amounts of CH4.


      Interesting study there.

      List of animals that digestion creates large amounts of enteric methane:


      The list could go on and on. How many total methane producing animals does the world have now compared to pre-agriculture??? Vast plains of the America’s and Eurasian land masses that were grass lands for roaming herbivores are now crop land. Maybe we should offset our dairy herd by taking out the African Wildebeest and Hippopotamus populations?

  19. Good point. Why then were we going to tax farmers for their methane emissions and why are we (I may be incorrect on this one) still going to collect on them at the processing level if we’ve only got to pay for the difference? I guess I know the answer to that unfortunately but give it a go.
    I disagree on your second point. Given the timeframe is sufficient the cow is carbon neutral (at least a wild cow would have been). I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that global methane levels have been rising since the development of the rumen any more than we should think they would rise now if numbers stayed static. The issue isn’t how much carbon a cow has but rather what cycle it came from (and goes to).

  20. I frankly dont know the details of how ETS or other schemes work. If running strictly to Kyoto, then you would pay on difference, but I know that is too blunt an instrument for government to stomach. But in reality our emissions are way higher than 1990 and while you can make money on dairying without paying any cost for environmental damage (atmospheric or otherwise), then you are going to see emissions increase. If there was credit for putting marginal land into forest then the equation for farmers might be different – that I THINK is what ETS architects are trying for.
    Still disagree on carbon neutral. Plant undigested by cow will die and cycle to CO2 with minimal CH4 production in most environments. In ruminants a whole lot of carbon goes to CH4 first. Bottom line is still same – remove ruminants and CH4 emissions go down. Ruminants are atmosphere modifiers in same way that plants are – fortunately, on a far smaller scale. And dont forget the NOx equation in farming either – something like 1/3 of farm emissions.

    1. “I frankly dont know the details of how ETS or other schemes work”

      A: They don’t really work. A NZ ETS can place a ‘cap’ on emissions from NZ. But emissions from NZ don’t really matter. A NZ ETS can never cap global emissions. An EU ETS can never cap global emissions. A US ETS can never cap global emissions.

      No other nation has included agricultural emissions in an ETS.

      It is true that agricultural gases are included in Kyoto. But Kyoto runs from 2008-2012. Will agricultural emissions be in a post Kyoto deal? The Aussies today agreed to write agricultral emissions out of there ETS. The US will also do this. The EU ETS only includes CO2 from certain sources (40% of total EU emissions, 90% free allocation during phase 2 (2008-2012), over 100% free allocation during phase 1 (2005-2007) and does not include agricultural emissions.

      A Kyoto 2 can not include any nation in the America’s and likely will only include Japan from Asia.

      It makes sense to throw away Kyoto and emissions trading and start with a clean slate (LCA). Agreements should focus on tangible action, ie US commits to ensure 20% of electricity generation is renewable in 2020, NZ commits to invest 20 million in agricultural greenhouse gas research, etc etc. Note NZ is already at 65% renewable generation.

      1. A lot of merit in that. I’ll vote for anything that is actually effective and I doubt that any proposals so far are likely to be that effective. You need something though to get transport emissions down (and push electrification).

  21. Just further to why you have to tackle transport – 20% of current fossil electricity generation converted to renewable or nuclear (which is tougher than just 20% of total) by 2020 for US, would only result in an 8% drop in CO2 emissions. Thats only a meaningful reduction if india and china (and other developing nations) dont increase. Why would they buy into such a pathetic reduction?

    1. Which gets us back to the point about sheep and trees etc.
      The real problems only occur when we start putting back into the atmosphere the accumulated effect of sunlight over a very long timeframe. Forget about the rest, the issue revolves around fossil fuels and not much else. If we got rid of the distractions around the edges and looked soley at how we’re going to replace our fossil fuel dependance we would be moving forward a great deal faster. Which, given many of the answers are already round, is pretty ironic. And what are we spending our time, energy and money on as a country? You got it, sheep and trees. See how far you get trying to put in solar in NZ; no, sheep and trees again. I could go on, but the answer will still be sheep and trees, pathetic.

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