NZ uses dodgy Ukrainian carbon credits, minister in denial

Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett

In which Jack Tame conducts the toughest interview ever with a New Zealand Minister for Climate Change and Paula Bennett ends up denying that the Government cheated on its climate change commitments.

Minister for Climate Change Paula Bennett has just been in New York signing the UN Paris Agreement. While in New York, Bennett was interviewed by TV One USA correspondent and general nice guy Jack Tame for Television NZ’s Q + A news show. You can read a full transcript.

I wonder if Paula Bennett thought she would get a soft jokey interview with that nice young man Jack Tame. She certainly didn’t. Tame takes the interview 110% seriously. He does not smile. He delivers his questions and his interruptions through a taught stone-face. And his questions are good questions.

We perhaps need to remember about a year ago, Jack Tame stood in for Mike Hosking on ‘Mike’s Minute’ and gave us a month of refreshingly different short pieces to camera. In that month, Jack Tame talked about climate change. And he concluded with a minute titled climate tipping points. So Tame takes climate change and climate change policy seriously.

Tame gives Bennett a couple of minutes to gush enthusiastically about the signing of the Paris Agreement. Then he cuts straight to the Morgan Foundation’s Climate Cheats report which alleges that the New Zealand Government was complicit in allowing dubious international carbon credits (Russian and Ukrainian and emission reduction units or ‘ERUs’) into the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.

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Fixing the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme is just flogging the dead horse

How fast shall we drive over the cliffSimon Johnson looks at ‘fix the ETS’ metaphors and argues that trying to incrementally ‘save’ or ‘fix’ the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme will ensure it remains ineffective in reducing domestic emissions for decades. Politically, its just flogging the dead horse. We don’t have time for a unending institutionalised cultural conflict over ‘fixing the NZETS’ like the one we have had for ‘fixing’ the Resource Management Act.

In my last post I used the metaphor or framing of ‘arguing over the gears while accelerating towards a cliff’ for the latest review of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.

Other commentators are using a very different framing for the review; that of ‘fixing the NZETS’. For me that raises some fundamental questions. What are the political advantages and disadvantages of the two framings? Where will each framing lead us? Which framing is more ‘science-informed’?

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How fast over the cliff? More tinkering with the train-wreck NZ Emissions Trading Scheme

How fast shall we drive over the cliffSimon Johnson aka Mr February looks at the Government’s latest token consultation about tinkering with the train-wreck New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. We are still driving fast towards a cliff but the argument has moved from which gear to air-con versus heater. The Government has kindly given us the opportunity to make a submission about how hot or cold we should be as we go over the emissions cliff.

Back in September 2012, when Tim Groser and the National Government were last watering down the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS), I wrote a post that used an excellent metaphor for amending the NZETS, tinkering with the gears while driving a car fast towards a cliff.

All credit should go to former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons who had absolutely nailed her answer to questions from TVNZ about the relevance of amendments to the NZETS.

“Look, its like we are in a very fast car, we are heading towards a cliff, which is getting really close, and we are arguing whether to change from fifth to fourth gear”.

Now we roll forward and there is another review of the woeful NZETS.

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Latest NZ ETS report: policy failure is main feature

This is a guest post by Professor Euan Mason of the School of Forestry at the University of Canterbury. It is cross-posted from his Photosynthesis blog.

New Zealand’s climate change policy failure is the main feature of the 2014 report on New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). More than 95% of surrendered credits were imports, and the cost to emitters was approximately 10 cents per imported ‘hot air’ credit during most of 2014, compared to an average of approximately $4 for New Zealand Units (NZUs), our domestic carbon credits, during that year. In addition, during 2014 taxpayers gave 4.4 million NZUs to ‘trade exposed’ industries, representing a windfall for them of approximately $17 million, which is their allocation multiplied by the difference in price between domestic and imported credits; we essentially paid them to pollute. Given the low cost of imported ‘hot air’ carbon credits and the fact that we paid people to pollute, it is unsurprising that New Zealand now lags behind almost all of the rest of the world in its climate change response.

Since imported credits were outlawed earlier this year our NZU price has gradually risen to around $7/credit. This price is much too low to encourage the level of tree planting we need in order to avoid a blowout in our carbon accounts during the 2020s as trees planted during the 1990s are harvested. Figure 3 of the ‘Facts and Figures’ report shows that only 42% of post-1989 forests are registered in the ETS. Figure 4 shows the dramatic reduction in new forest planting and the resumption of deforestation that coincided with imports of cheap ‘hot air’ credits that began in earnest towards the end of 2011.
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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…