Government confirms NZ ETS to be watered down

I listened sadly on the news last night to the conviction with which the Climate Change Minister Tim Groser announced “This is not the time to put the foot on the accelerator”. Admittedly he followed immediately with “nor, as the climate change sceptics would have wanted us to do, to back the ETS truck up the drive”, but the unfortunate image remaining is of the ETS truck sitting idling at the foot of the drive waiting, or at best crawling at snail’s pace along the road.

Groser is not a climate change sceptic. He claims to fully accept the science. But he obviously does not accept the science when it says that it is already past time when we should have begun reducing emissions, and the window of opportunity is near closing. In other words this is the time to put the foot on the accelerator if we place any value on the human future, or have any care for those already enduring the adverse effects of warming.

So what induces a climate change minister who does not deny the science to deny the urgency of action? The  Prime Minister, backing him up in yesterday’s statement, put the thinking, if that’s what it is, clearly enough: “We’re not prepared to sacrifice jobs in a weak international environment when other countries are moving very slowly.” Putting a price on carbon is going to simply pile costs on the economy. “If Labour want to put more costs on New Zealand consumers and New Zealand businesses in a very fragile time in the international environment they’re free to campaign on that.” Much of the news item centred on the delay in bringing the agricultural sector into the ETS, and here again it was the feeling that our farmers would be put at a competitive disadvantage which was invoked. Groser: “Not one country in the world has put a carbon price on biological emissions and we are not going to be the first to do this.”

Good grounds exist for considering that the government is wrong in its estimation that a price on carbon is inimical to the economy. There are plenty of reasons, many of them rehearsed in Hot Topic posts and underlined by commenters, to see real and lasting economic benefits in moving to decarbonising energy, transport, building and industry. The Ministers also exaggerate the degree to which New Zealand would be out in front with a fully functioning ETS. However it’s not the purpose of this post to explore these issues, but rather to focus on the urgency of serious action to reduce emissions.

Even if the Ministers were right in seeing carbon pricing as a drag on the economy, would that justify further delay in tackling emissions reduction? Not if the science of climate change is accorded the seriousness it merits. I’ve often quoted James Hansen on this. Let me in this post remind readers of the warnings of another representative climatologist, Lonnie Thompson, a renowned ice caps and glaciers specialist whose restrained words I reported  eighteen months ago:

“There’s a clear pattern in the scientific evidence documenting that the earth is warming, that warming is due largely to human activity, that warming is causing important changes in climate, and that rapid and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future are very possible. This pattern emerges not, as is so often suggested, simply from computer simulations, but from the weight and balance of the empirical evidence as well.”

And since Groser talked about not accelerating our attempts to reduce emissions let me point to Thompson’s concern about a different acceleration – of the rate of global temperature rise:

“This [acceleration] means that our future may not be a steady, gradual change in the world’s climate, but an abrupt and devastating deterioration from which we cannot recover.”

We can’t prevent global warming, which is already upon us. Our remaining options, Thompson says, are mitigate, adapt, suffer. The best option is mitigation, and without it we will be left with only adaptation and suffering.

“Sooner or later, we will all deal with global warming. The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer.”

That’s the verdict of the science and it’s very difficult to see how the Ministers’ professed concerns about today’s economy can be construed as a duty to slow down on mitigation. Their sense of proportion is badly out of kilter. Their conviction is misplaced.

Climate change looms as a disaster which will dwarf what they profess to be worried about in the moves to rein in emissions. That’s the central factor. Groser’s determination should be transferred to that reality. He and the Prime Minister should be rallying the population with that message, not dressing up their timidity as a brave resolve to save the economy.

40 thoughts on “Government confirms NZ ETS to be watered down”

  1. It would be good if a journalist (or several) were to interview Groser ONLY on his understanding of the science, what it means for New Zealand, how he thinks future generations will be able to cope with what a warming world will bring us. NOT mention the ETS or the UNFCCC, but purely on the science. About keeping below 2degC, whether he thinks that should be the temperature rise limit.

    Fed Farmers have been vicious today. Their claim that they’ve cut emissions 1.3% a year for 20 years (per unit of millk product produced) seems to be a deliberate obfuscation of the fact that our agriculture emissions are, on average, six times that of other developed countries.

  2. Bryan,

    I think Tim Groser has got his car analogy revealingly wrong. Carbon pricing is to him braking. Business-as-usual-with-greenwash is to him going forward. I prefer Jeanette Fitzsimon’s analogy that National’s approach to the NZETS is like people in a fast car arguing about whether to change from fifth to fourth gear as they speed towards a vast cliff.

    These latest delays and exemptions just confirm two things.
    1) That everything National has done to the NZETS is either a short-sell or bet that the UNFCCC international climate change talks will collapse completely.
    2) That National views the NZETS as a Potemkin village of carbon pricing, all outward appearance and no substance. Either way, it’s pathetic.

  3. I wonder how long DC has to experience “climate change” before the US gets it?
    The thing is, that when they do “get it” there will be taxes on GHG producers applied so fast that our farmers will be left squawking and flapping in the dust.
    And we have already seen how they squawk and flap when they get droughts and floods.

    Of course the smart farmers are already putting in the riparian margins, backing off the marginal land, and cutting back on investing in latest tractor with air-con etc.

    1. …and a better script than many a Hollywood Blockbuster!

      Not least thanks to McKibben himself, who’s always an entertaining read.

      There really does appear to be a certain amount of ‘getting it’ (at last) doing the rounds at the moment. ‘Strike while the weather is hot’, perhaps? 😉

      1. Here is a great summary column on how they are “getting it”, finally…

        I lack the space to blast you with science so I will blast you with advice. If a third of the Toronto year is going to be hotter than we can tolerate and function well in, we have to alter our conduct.

        I laughed when I read Monday about voters in a U.S. city named Colorado Springs, which cut sales taxes and rejected a property tax hike. When the wildfires came, they had a straitened ability to fight them. The city, home of the notorious hard-right Focus on the Family and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and highly libertarian in voting patterns, as Reuters reports, now looks like your campsite firepit the morning after you roasted all your wieners. They’re begging for federal money to rebuild.

        Global warming requires communal work, not individuals crossing their fingers and hoping it never happens.

        http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1220964–global-warming-caused-the-heat-wave-that-s-burning-cities-and-destroying-perfectly-good-hair

  4. And we have already seen how they squawk and flap when they get droughts and floods

    Yes, and I’d suggest that any farmers living in the northern regions of New Zealand, areas affected by El Nino/La Nina, take pre-emptive measures for drought this summer. With global warming, ENSO rainfall anomalies are expected to become more extreme. Although climate models predict a gradual increase throughout this century, the climate seems to have lurched into an amplified state in the last 3-4 years. And El Nino appears to be on the way – suggesting dry times for northern New Zealand over summer.

      1. Given that there is no practical way to reduce methane emissions from cows, which farmer is going to willingly be “fined” under the ETS for owning cows?

        Do you think NZ farmers, alone in the world, should pay for ruminant methane emissions, a natural part of the carbon cycle, because it “feels good”?

        1. There are a number of ways for farmers to reduce their emissions. Nitrification inhibitors, stand off pads etc. given the incentive to improve, they will. The impact on their trading position will be to make them more competitive, not less, as the world moves to reduce emissions generally.

          It’s also worth noting that it might encourage a switch away from dairying, which many would say was a good thing – and not just for emissions.

          1. As I understand it, the ETS in its current form proposes to charge on a stock unit basis. Correct me if I am wrong.

            Therefore, whatever work a farmer does to reduce emissions will result in the same charge assuming that the stock numbers stay the same. Hence there is no incentive given, via the ETS, to reduce emissions.

            Secondly, the agricultural component of the ETS is not limited to cattle, I believe.

            1. I’m not aware that the “point of obligation” has been set yet, given the reluctance of the govt to engage on agricultural emissions.

            2. Note that the site also includes helpful advice on mitigating farm emissions.

              Most importantly, pricing carbon in the food chain should motivate shifts to less carbon-intensive farming systems — and crops. The current enthusiasm for dairy production is a product of an economy which fails to include adequate pricing of lots of things — water, power and environmental externalities such as nitrate pollution.

  5. I’d be much happier with Agriculture being included in the ETS for Methane if there was the ability to look at GMO solutions to the problem. That is the problem with the Greens as far as I am concerned . They are very pro-Science only on some issues when it suits their politics and need to realise that they have to compromise on issues such as these if they want to make progress.

    1. please note that poultry includes chicken, turkey and duck slaughtered for meat. The government is also recommending that layer hens (hens that produce saleable eggs for consumption) are being removed from legislation altogether.
      Just considering that NZ produces ~86 million chickens/yr for meat. Add in mortality and consider rotations and the average age that a chicken is slaughtered at, this equates to ~ 9million chickens in a full calender year that are being produced for meat. This is twice the population in NZ, hence a considerable population size.

  6. Professor David Frame wrote this article in the Dom Post recently

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/our-future/7148556/International-focus-needed-over-climat

    Note his comment #3

    @Mike #1 – good and useful link, thanks. And I think you’re choosing the right variable, too, when you focus on CO2. Shorter-lived gases (such as methane) are not obviously as important for the overall properties of climate change as is commonly thought, and the way we count them – or rather the way the folks who came up with Kyoto ended up counting them – masks this by giving them high emphasis. [Unwarrantedly high emphsasis in my view, but that would be another article, which is a bit more technical to write.]

  7. NZ’a Global contribution to CO2 emissions is supposed to be around 0.2%?

    So our emission reductions aren’t going to do ANYTHING on the World’s Climate. Since CO2 and it’s impact on climate forcings appears to be much, much lower than claimed by the socalled AGW/CC science.

    Emission Reductions are just a Delusion. NZ Can’t Save the World. So get over it Guys,

    1. MarianP… you’re not to say that. They’ll call you nasty names and allege that you support the holocaust and are in the pay of Big Oil.

      Speaking of which – wasn’t peak oil the catchcry of green anti-capitalists recently ?

      I draw to your attention George “Moonbeam” Monbiot, another recanting greenie…

      “The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil – the decline of global supplies – is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike…Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time….”

      Much more to feast on here…

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/02/peak-oil-we-we-wrong

      1. So, there may indeed be more oil than had been assumed by many, not just Greens, particularly with previously too-expensive to extract ‘unconventionals’ now coming online. Hell, they’ll even be drilling under what was the pesky Arctic ice-cap! Only if you have the intellect of a Benny is all this something to gloat over.

        Oh, and Marian, go read up about ‘the tragedy of the Commons’.

        “The small amount of crap I’d like to toss off the side of my boat is an infinitesimal percentage of the crap that’s tossed into the ocean each year, and so it won’t make any difference if I hold onto it until I get to shore, so therefore… over it goes.”

        Stroll along any beach and discover how many people ‘reason’ just like Marian. Day in, and day out..

        1. But Bill, you’re missing the point.

          This is George Monbiot, environmental commentator for the Guardian. A guru if you like. George has recanted on nuclear power, he now sees it as an environmental and economic necessity, and now he recants his strident apocalyptic peak oil view.

          The point is, if he has recanted on these, can I as a reader – or can anyone else – trust his AGW position ?

          1. Exactly. Look, did you see how when it appeared possible that the facts in the situation may indeed have changed I simply accepted that? The point is, I’m not a denier.

            Though naturally it would require more than a single post by Monbiot to convince me (interestingly Greg Palast – another writer I have a lot of time for – has been saying for years that the Hubbert Curve was essentially an oil-company scam to maintain a false sense of scarcity and drive up prices.)

            Maybe they’re both right, but I simply don’t – unlike many Deniers – outsource my cognitive processes to ‘gurus’. The fact is, while we can know more about production, we don’t really know a lot about oil reserves – it’s simply not in the interests of oil companies or the OPEC nations to give a clear or honest answer. And then there’s the whole issue of unconventional supplies.

            Two things are obvious. One – it’s a finite resource, and will expire eventually. There is no cornucopia.

            Two – if there is, in fact, more than we had thought this will prove a terrible Faustian temptation for the species – indeed, the whole biosphere. Because what I do not doubt for a moment is that if Monbiot is right, he’s also right that this puts us all in terrible danger.

    2. Yes, increasing our emission reductions will do nothing regarding global concentrations of ghgs. NZ is already meeting its international obligations and has an ETS that can be strengthened when future obligations are tighter. What matters to our future climate are those obligations and what the big emitting countries do. Anything else, including personal efforts like avoiding air travel, are weightless gestures. They might be morally and ethically right, but they will make no difference.

  8. I am also concerned that the measurement of emissions by the Pastoral Agricultural sector would be something as blunt as total stock numbers. Please someone tell me that there is some better option in place than that.

    1. There isn’t a better solution proposed Gosman.
      However, in Australia, they pay farmers to dispose of methane in dung heaps by burning it. It is up to them whether they do anything useful with it like heat things or generate electricity

      Meanwhile, NZ ETS proposes what is effectively a fine on our primary industry

        1. You may disagree with Big Dairy and farming monoculture. Many of these views I can sympathise with.

          Where I disagree is the use of the blunt tool of the NZ ETS to address these issues.

          1. There is absolutely no need for an ETS to be a “blunt tool”. You’re being critical of something which for agriculture does not yet exist. A straw man, in other words.

            1. It does not yet exist but it is on the statute books to be introduced, possibly, at some time in the future.

              The only incentive, as I see it, for farmers to reduce emissions is to plant trees or change their stock mix. There is no incentive provided to use better pasture management, for example, to reduce CH4 emissions from cattle.

              NZ’s pasture management is amongst the best in the world, as acknowledged by the IPCC.

            2. Okay Gareth, let’s put this is terms you might better relate to. Imagine Truffle farming was quite greenhouse gas intensive yet NZ Truffle farms were one of the best emitters in the world, (i.e. we produce less CO2 and Methane than most others per unit produced). Now imagine there was no better way for pricing the impact of your farm than a blunt measurement like total production. How would it serve the cause of Climate change mitigation if NZ farmers were forced tp look at less greenhouse gas emitting output than Truffles when the demand for them will be filled by more greenhouse gas emitting farms from other countries?

  9. Can anyone explain the political objections to the Simplified Carbon Tax: flat tax on all fossil carbon, proceeds to be returned with minimal administration fees or taxes, equally to every individual in NZ to spend as they will. You want to offset the fuel costs on your SUV? Fine, your call. Install double glazing or solar heating? That’s better. With the cost of fossil carbon closer to the true total long term cost to the planet, people will think twice about burning it. A fiscally neutral tax as everyone can choose to pay it or not.

    1. Economics 101. There is a heap of ETS v tax papers out there to be read.

      NZ chose to use an ETS so that participants could buy international units so to lower the cost of compliance. There is a trade off with administrative and transaction costs of course. I’m sure there are lots more reasoning in the appropriate cabinet paper.

  10. “We do not chase poverty, poverty chases us”

    In both this post and the previous one covering the views of Exxon’s CEO, you illustrate well what is essentially one of the most important areas of disagreement between those who profess an understanding of the science behind climate change (while simultaneously defending business as usual), versus those who are convinced the forces of climate change have put us on a perilous path (requiring urgent mitigation). I intentionally leave out of the present discussion the ignorant, the cranks and those individuals who foolishly deny the overall weight of the scientific evidence; they do damage to the discourse but their numbers and voices are doomed to shrink as the changes unfold before our collective eyes.

    I think it boils down to this. Most semi-informed government and business leaders, like the well-intentioned Climate Minister (Tim Groser) representing a government unwilling to front up mitigation costs and the Exxon chief (Rex Tillerson) desiring to eliminate poverty by promoting use of fossil fuels among the world’s poor, sincerely believe in their hearts that those of us who recommend urgent mitigation to slow climate change are fools chasing poverty. Climate change activists, however, insist that poverty is chasing us. For the business as usual crowd, it is indicative of their complete buy-in to the myth of perpetual progress that prevents them from seeing that the cliff really does lie ahead. And so they treat the advocates as pariahs.

    I wish I knew how to bridge this gulf of misunderstanding between men and women of noble intent, for if we cannot, we most certainly will drive together off the cliff with the planet’s innocent inhabitants in tow.

  11. On the further watering down of the NZETS, in an idle moment, I wondered to myself “Surely Pure Advantage made a critical comment about Groser’s announcement”.
    So I googled ‘Pure Advantage emissions trading scheme’. There appeared to be a couple of relevant results. Okay, I thought, I will eat my words.
    However, the two items in Unlimited and Stuff it is Russel Norman who is “on message” about the NZETS, not Pure Advantage.

    “Norman argued that the Government was subsidising its own favourite sectors of the economy, citing the agriculture sector’s exemption from the Emissions Trading Scheme”.

    Again Pure Advantage are missing in action.

    1. I don’t see any subsidies. Please explain.

      After 2012 there is no cost to taxpayers from NZ’s national emissions because NZ has no quantified internationally binding target. Having some emitters outside the ETS does not mean that the govt/taxpayers are paying for those emissions instead of the firms.

      In actuality, those businesses with ETS obligations after 2012 are simply providing emission units to the govt for it to bank. Which is why the govt is thinking of running auctions for units instead to having near-valueless international units surrendered to it.

      1. The cost still exists, it’s just been externalized. Written off the books, but it didn’t go away. It’s still adding $15 of mitigation cost for each $1 it “saves”.

  12. “I don’t see any subsidies. Please explain.”
    Good grief! This is like having my own personal blogosphere echo each time I mention large emitters like NZ Aluminium Smelters Ltd being subsidised by the NZETS.

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