NZ government to consult on Paris emissions target

NZemissionsconsult.jpgClimate change minister Tim Groser announced yesterday that the government is to consult on a post-2020 emissions target to present at the UNFCC conference in Paris in December. The consultation process is open to written submissions now, and there will be a series of public meetings and hui starting in Nelson on Wed May 13, finishing in Christchurch on May 20. Submissions close on June 3. In his press release, Groser said:

“New Zealand wants to set a target which is environmentally credible and reflects our particular circumstances.  But we also need to consider the possible impacts and costs to our economy.”

Reasonable enough, but Groser then starts a pitch that sounds suspiciously as though he’s preparing the ground for an unambitious target:

“Increasing our commitment after 2020 will be a big challenge, as nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture and 80 per cent of our electricity already comes from renewable sources. The easy gains have already been made. But we are expected to make a fair contribution to combating this global problem.”

This impression is confirmed by a quick reading of the discussion document issued by the Ministry for the Environment to accompany the process. Much is made of the difficulties of cutting emissions, and the costs they will impose on the economy, but there is no apparent effort to quantify the risks of inaction, or the benefits to be delivered by the economic transformation to a low-carbon economy.

One of principal reasons that cutting emissions will be “challenging” is of course that Groser and his cabinet colleagues dismantled a comprehensive set of emissions policies inherited from the previous Labour-led government, mismanaged the emissions trading scheme so as to create a laughably low effective carbon price, stymied new forestry planting, and refused to bring agriculture into the ETS. It’s always harder to get somewhere if you’ve spent the last six years pedalling in the wrong direction.

I’ll be commenting further on the discussion document in due course, but as Brian Fallow in the Herald notes, I am not alone in finding Groser’s approach unpersuasive.

Being a cynic, I suspect that this whole rushed process is being offered as a fig leaf for a lack of ambition — about managing expectations downwards, rather genuinely seeking ideas with a view to creating good and effective policy. In the meantime, I urge Hot Topic‘s readers to prepare submissions, make an effort to attend one of the public meetings, and lobby the government for an ambitious set of emissions targets. We can but try…

30 thoughts on “NZ government to consult on Paris emissions target”

  1. My impression is the same – the government is clearly positioning itself for an unambitious target. That might suit farmers and the business sector in the short term, but it will have long term negative consequences for our international reputation.

    I’d be very interested to see the modelling behind the claim that “for the same level of cost as the European Union’s target, New Zealand’s target would be approximately 10 to 20 per cent above 1990 levels. I expect there would be some “interesting” assumptions in that modelling. If the modelling came from Treasury, which is reasonable to expect, then it is also reasonable to assume that their assumptions would be heavily weighted towards the short-term. Climate change is a long-term problem of immense significance, and the government and Treasury still don’t appear to have got their around this.

    On the positive side MfE’s youtube video is fantastic!

    1. I’ve emailed MfE to ask about that modelling, and as and when they let me know where it came from, I’ll discuss it in more detail.

      The video is certainly trendy – and very much “on message” for Groser & Co. Who knew that dealing with climate change could be so bright and breezy?

  2. My view is the same, in that both governments have done nothing much to change our sources of energy, although our coal boilers at Henderson are now burning gas or are in reserve. If we accept that we are not going to stop dairy and beef farming then all we have left is oil which we use for transport and which is 50% of the problem.
    It may be that we are going to sort it out ourselves. New Zealanders are fitting solar panels in huge numbers and this is driving down the revenue to the electric companies, (I haven’t paid for electricity for two years) With a shrinking market the electricity companies need to look for new markets and the transport industry uses a lot of energy, which is currently oil, and we have an annual oil import bill of $6 billion a year. A mouth watering figure for an industry with a shrinking business.
    If a couple of electricity generation companies got together and bought a railway and went into competition with the truckers it would establish a foothold in a new market for them.
    I am still waiting for the first electricity company to put electric cars on the electric bill. This is just what the electricity companies did to open up the appliance business in the UK many years ago when fridges were not common.

    1. That is literally disgraceful and shames Australia – as one comment I read on the ensuing fracas put it beautifully; ‘remember when we just used to laugh at the US for being this stupid? I miss those days…’

      But Maurice may need to keep his ever-vigilant eyes peeled for more than just UN Black Helicopters; take a look at what just happened to Lomborg, igniter of the last such public ruckus!

          1. Yes the monk from a different religion (Climate Denial) got to speak there then – I’m not sure that Lomborg would be welcome now. As we see the monk wasn’t very welcome then either – had to sneak in through the back door so to speak.

  3. The big question to me is what on earth do we do about farming? It’s almost 50% of our emissions, but as a major source of export revenue its not like we can slash it back without first growing other parts of the economy. Perhaps a carbon tax would push forward this long term change? It doesn’t sound easy. Bring on that low emission drench that’s been discovered! Another thought – re carbon sequestration via forestry. Ken Caldeira’s research on albedo had found that forestry at temperate latitudes causes warming because CO2 uptake is offset by the dark forest absorbing heat. Weird, but true it seems.

  4. There is a big difference between dairy farming and coal mining forexport. With dairy farming we export the milk but the methane stays here with the cow. With coal mining the coal is exported and the CO2 is emitted where the coal is burned. As far as I am aware mining countries do not count the methane emissions that are released when they dig coal or drilling and fracking for oil and gas. Another problem is that if we stop dairy farming and plough the pasture for grain farming the release of CO2 may be worse than the methane release. For me I think we keep dairy farming and reduce or oil use by converting our transport energy to electric. I saw a Tesla today and it is a big car with seven seats and a range of 480 Klm

  5. Dairy farming emissions are more than just methane from the cows. I’ve got a Fonterra ‘sustainability fact sheet’ on energy (downloaded from their website a couple of years ago) which says that their tanker fleet travels 81 million kms a year and that in 2010 their New Zealand manufacturing sites consumed over 5,500 gigawatt hours of mostly fossil fuel energy. I am guessing that the emissions from those activities are included in transport and manufacturing.

    TheTOTAL emissions from the dairy industry as a whole need to be counted to be able to have a discussion about the cost/benefit of dairying.

    I do not agree with Bill about “keep dairy farming’ (other than for local consumption) . Farming animals for meat is likely to have significantly lower overall GHG emissions than dairy. We need to eat mostly plants, so our food systems should mostly be about growing plants and growing plants isn’t just about ploughing to grow grains.

  6. Dairy farming is a very messy business as each cows creates as much waste as seven humans and we have 10 million of them. This means that we have the equivalent of seventy million people crapping in the fields. Its hardly surprising that they are making a mess of the rivers. My preference for changing from oil to electricity for our transport is partly emissions and partly strategic and economic. Oil is a diminishing resource and we rely on it almost completely for our transport. If oil shoots as up in price as it surely will we will be plunged into an economic mess as we have nothing else to move our goods and get to work..

  7. In my view, excluding agricultural emissions from the ETS is a very significant economic distortion because it means that any future emissions cuts have to be born by the rest of the economy – and which may therefore be harder/costlier to achieve. If you expose agricultural emissions to a carbon price, farmers and farming systems will adjust their practices to reduce their exposure to the cost.

    It simply isn’t true to assert, as the govt’s consultation document does, that there aren’t practical means for farmers to react to emissions pricing. There are many. It may be true that there are not currently available means of significantly reducing ruminant CH4, but reducing stock numbers and switching to different crops or farming systems can have big impacts now.

    1. If the large overstocking results in environmental cleanup costs that nulify any gains, as reported, then accelerated loss of soil quality (this is the year for soils) makes it a disastrous loss.

  8. I guess progress in emissions reductions comes from two drivers:

    (a) Changes in systems and infrastructure, i.e. switch from FF to electric cars in transport, switch from FF to more renewable sources in electricity generation, distributed electricity generation and storage systems, etc.
    – action on (a) requires generally significant capital investment.

    (b) Changes in behavior and processes, i.e. agricultural production intensity, crops or grazing, consumption choices, choices of residence versus workplace, commuting means and many other behavior related factors on emissions.
    – action on (b) can be costly (loss of export productivity etc) or bring savings (reduction in non-essential consumption).

    If the government had a clear and progressive plan to attack (a) one could forgive them for delaying action in (b) in order to finance (a). I.e. don’t yet bother the farmers, we need their income to pay for (a).
    However as this government has no coherent plan to wean us of FF consumption any time soon through a change infrastructure and systems, there is really no excuse for not at least demanding changes in (b) where these can be reasonably made with current means.

    And while the world governments slumber, the urgency for change and the booked eventual ecological and economical damages from climate change are growing rapidly.It will take more foresight and inspiration than this government can muster to lead us forward.

    1. That’s about it Thomas but the drivers are leading the way. On the radio this morning Rod Oram was talking about the state of our coal industry and pointed out that China’s consumption of coal was down about 1.9%.despite a big increase in power generation. America has switched to gas and is now trying to export coal at a loss. Mongolia is supplying China at $40 a ton so we stand no chance. Australia must be deep in the mire.
      Also on the radio NZ Federated Farmers spokesman giving a classic denial statement “We know the world is warming but it has always changed and the science is not settled” At least we know where we stand with the farmers.

  9. PeterB said “The big question to me is what on earth do we do about farming? It’s almost 50% of our emissions, but as a major source of export revenue its not like we can slash it back without first growing other parts of the economy”.
    I think we have to really challenge this sort of framing of the agriculture/climate change issue. We have been so browbeaten by the sensible moderate reasonable small ‘c’ conservative spokespersons and pundits that we mostly accept as orthodox several axioms of inaction and special treatment for pastoral agriculture;
    1. NZ’s proportion of agricultural emissions is a special circumstance
    2. Agriculture earns export revenue
    3. There are few mitigation options available
    4. However we are researching it as we care
    5. But right now any regulation (ETS) will catastrophically “slash” production
    so QED there should be no regulation of agriculture.

    I will ignore the fallacy of special pleading and start with export sectors. Is it logical to exempt a sector from an ETS because it exports? Don’t you think that in China there is probably a high level meeting of Communist Party officials discussing climate change. And in that meeting the official in charge of coal thermal power is saying “But we can’t tax coal thermal! It’s special! It supports our export manufacturing which is lifting millions of our citizens out of poverty.”

    The “no easy mitigation” argument makes no sense at all in the context of emissions trading/carbon pricing. If there was some form of easily deployed “mitigation on a plate” for agriculture, then you wouldn’t use an ETS, you would just “command and control” regulate to make it compulsory. That’s the point of emissions trading! You don’t have to know the mitigation thats best for each sector (which is probably unknowable a priori anyway). Emissions trading just provides price incentives for agents to find mitigation. The agents are free to act based on their own perceptions of their marginal abatement costs. Or in English, if some farmers don’t want to reduce emissions they can buy emission units off those who can.
    The Nats and Fed Farmers have really succeeded in reframing this as a “If – then” we-win-atmosphere-loses sound bite. IF we can find some effective mitigation THEN we might think about emissions trading. This really is public relations special pleading masquerading as reaasonable policy. It’s about time we stopped accepting it.

  10. Much of the emission accounting is not fair. Australia mines coal and exports it and so has no emissions, they don’t even count the methane which escapes due to mining. China burns the coal and exports the goods to the USA so China gets the emissions and the USA does not. We are in a similar position with farming because the cattle produce the methane which we count but the countries that get our beef and dairy get it free of emissions. We are now on the UN council and so Grosers ideas of advising the world to make improvements while doing at home is not going to work. How stupid does he think they are?

  11. Well said Mr February. It seems that dairy industry propaganda has successfully portrayed any questioning of the status quo as verging on treason.

    We are basically told “there is no alternative”, that the NZ dairy industry must be allowed to continue in it’s current form and to expand, regardless of the GHG emissions of both the cows and the transport and manufacturing associated with the industry. Apparently, there is virtually nothing else we can grow here, it’s dairy or nothing.

    We are told that we are special because we “feed the world” and that to propose a reduction in dairying will harm the world’s poor- which is nonsense, because infant formula and the processed foods that milk powder go into are not staple foods of the world’s poor.

    As with air travel, any suggestion that we actually decrease certain activities with large carbon footprints, seems to be beyond the pale.

  12. That ghastly old fraud, Bryan Leyland, appeared at the well-attended public consultation meeting in Auckland last night and repeated the stock denier cherry-picking: no warming in 17 years, global sea ice steady, tropical storms decreasing, polar bears doing well, etc, etc.

    Apart from a few supporters, the audience was in no mood to let that pass unchallenged, and Jim Salinger later spoke to set the record straight re the visible effects of climate change in NZ.

    I doubt, however, that the opinions of several hundred well-informed Aucklanders will count as much as one phone call from a Fonterra executive to the Prime Minister – let alone a round of golf with Honest John…

  13. THe issue of emissions of methane from dairy farming may be solved by market forces. Both Europe and the USA have stopped regulating their dairy markets and can now export. They have vastly more capacity than NZ and lower costs. It’s not good for the farmers or the country but it may reduce dairy farming and the emissions.

    1. So if we allow NZ’s dairy industry to die off to be replaced by a European and US dairy market, it will “solve” the emissions problem.

      How does this work, exactly?

      1. I can attest to the fact that compared to the unbelievable stupor of the “common dullards” posting at the Daily Caller (you need a mental cleansing ritual when returning from the place) your comments here are comparatively engaging…
        And I am glad to hear you don’t work for Delingpole. Working for Nigella might be entertaining, at least the food will be outstanding.
        Nigel however…. yuck…

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