Oxfam NZ Election Debate: Climate change

by Gareth on November 9, 2011

Environment minister Nick Smith, Labour’s David Parker and the Green Party’s Kennedy Graham debate climate policy in these edited highlights from the first of Oxfam NZ’s election debates, held last week in Auckland. Debate ranged from whether New Zealand can become carbon-free to the likelihood of a cross-party agreement on long-term issues that last more than an election cycle, and from the effect of investing in roads to the question of bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

More on the debate from Oxfam NZ’s Jason Garman below the fold…

For the National Party, Hon Dr Nick Smith stressed a practical approach, balancing environmental with economic needs. He touted the successes of the ETS and explained the recent decision to indefinitely delay bringing agriculture into the scheme, stating the technology to do so practically does not yet exist. As for roads, Smith favoured a “fit for purpose” approach – investment in public transport where cost effective, but not where more roads were deemed the more practical option, such as in rural areas.

David Parker said Labour’s approach would be to bring agriculture under the ETS as of January 2013 and use revenues to fund a 12.5 per cent R&D tax credit. As well, the party supports renewable energy sources, vehicle fuel efficiency ratings similar to those that exist already for home appliances, and re-allocation of the bulk of funding for the Puhoi-Wellsford “Holiday Highway” to an Auckland rail link.

Dr Kennedy Graham outlined Green Party policy, which includes climate finance provisions and a plan for reducing domestic emissions by 36 million tonnes. The Party is aiming for a fossil fuel-free economy by 2050, similar to Denmark. Graham also spoke of plans to introduce vehicle fuel efficiency standards, reducing the carbon emission per kilometre from the current average of 210g to 110g by 2019, resulting in significant carbon reductions. The Green Party also supports taking away funding from road projects to reapply elsewhere – in this case to help realise the creation of 100,000 green jobs.

[Video from last night’s debate in Wellington on Foreign Affairs and Aid will be posted to the Oxfam NZ YouTube channel in due course.]

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Watts November 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

The problem with both Nick Smith and David Parker is that they are taking a brute force approach as if it is the only way to achieve compliance. They argue over semantics but they don’t seem to acknowledge the base issues involved in a transition of this magnitude.

Our prosperity relies mainly upon either burning fossil fuels ourselves or having others do the burning for us. The fundamental reality is that whether climate mitigation forces our hand or the rising cost of fossil fuels, in the end being prepared is far better than being forced to make a sudden 90 degree turn.

Business as usual simply doesn’t work for the 21st century. We can keep trying to bang that square peg into the round hole, we can throw off the splinters of unintended consequences which hurts people or we can face the truth head on. We can’t simply impose costs on people and expect them to conform, what we really need are inclusive solutions which cater to the needs of people.

Delay is simply not an option because every year the fossil energy needed to extract the resources and construct the renewable infrastructure of the future become more scarce. The returns from renewable energy compound like interest so the earlier we start the better our future will be. Like savers, if we want to save our future we need to start as soon as possible.

Gareth November 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I like your last point, Richard – the compounding benefit of making an early commitment to renewables – but it applies to the wider economy as well. People making financial or strategic decisions without taking present or future carbon constraint into account are potentially locking themselves into future problems. Which is true for the whole planet, unfortunately.

Mr February November 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm

“Hon Dr Nick Smith… explained the recent decision to indefinitely delay bringing agriculture into the scheme, stating the technology to do so practically does not yet exist”

Nick Smith yet again gets away with a soundbite of spin that is contradicted by the orthodox economic rationale for having an all-sectors all-units and all-gases international emissions trading scheme for greenhouse gases.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the Sustainability Council’s work on agricultural emissions reduction and assume that Dr Smith is correct that there are no practical technologies that will enable the agricultural sector to reduce emissions.

Let’s go back to basics. Why do we even have emissions trading including all greenhouse gases across all sectors and across national borders?

The whole point is so that ‘cheaper emissions reductions’ can, in the short to medium term, largely carry the can for ‘expensive emissions reductions’, in meeting emissions limits or caps.

In economics speak, a sector of an economy with ‘expensive emissions reductions’ options is more or less just the same as a sector without practical technologies to enable reductions of emissions. Agriculture, for example, according to Nick Smith!

To paraphrase from another Nick, Lord Stern, in a well-functioning “deep and liquid” market for emissions permits, emitters with expensive mitigation options become buyers of permits and purchase permits from emitters with cheaper mitigation.

The role of the all-gases ETS is to provide a wider variety of cheaper markets for emissions reductions than would be the case in a single-gas ETS (such as a ruminant methane ETS, if there was one).

So the role of the emitting industries with fewer mitigation options (or more costly options) is to provide a flow of funds to reward those industries that have the cheaper emissions reduction options!

Logically, the lack of immediate practical mitigation technology in any one sector, is not a valid reason for leaving a sector out of an all-gases ETS.

Gareth November 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm

… assume that Dr Smith is correct that there are no practical technologies that will enable the agricultural sector to reduce emissions.

Assuming that Dr Smith is correct is always dangerous, in this case obviously so, because there are numerous ways for existing emissions-intensive farming practices to emit less and become more efficient.

Mr February November 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Indeed! What was I thinking? !!!

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