Knock on wood

pine.gif Rumblings about the forestry industry’s disappointment with the “suspension” of the ETS have not been slow to surface, but as I’m no expert on the business (though I do like trees) I asked well-known forestry consultant Piers Maclaren if he could provide Hot Topic’s readers with an overview of what’s going on. I must have asked nicely, because within hours he’d supplied an excellent – and forthright – article to post (see above). For those who don’t know Piers, here’s a brief (self-penned) CV:

Piers Maclaren remembers the time he first became aware of the issue of global warming: it was at a student meeting in 1970. Over the years, he came to realise how intractable this problem was, but it wasn’t until 1989 that he had the opportunity – as a scientist working at the Forest Research Institute, Rotorua – to actually work on it. He devised a way to calculate the nation’s carbon budget for forestry, and this yielded a figure that overwhelmed carbon from other sectors.

He has written over 100 scientific papers, attended numerous international meetings, and reviewed all four IPPC reports. He was science advisor to the Minister for the Environment (Hon Simon Upton) at the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in 1995. He now works as an independent forestry consultant dealing with a wide range of issues, including climate change. He’s read – and strongly approved of – Gareth’s book on climate change “Hot Topic”.

In other words, he speaks with some authority.. 😉 His take on forestry and the ETS is essential reading.

Paint it, black

Paintitblack.jpg Interesting to see how one opinion poll can say different things to different people. Over the weekend, Fran O’Sullivan in The Herald referred to a survey commissioned by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (they of the mostly useless recent report on the economics of the ETS). Here’s what Fran noticed:

The detailed survey shows extraordinary ignorance by New Zealanders. It indicates only one-third of the country believes in climate change in the first place. Only 13 per cent strongly support the ETS, with less than half the country aware of the scheme’s existence until prompted by surveyors.

The usual suspects have been trotting out a similar take on the survey. But it seemed fishy to me (and to No Right Turn). The results don’t seem to square with other online polls on the subject. So I downloaded the survey results and had a look [PDF].

Continue reading “Paint it, black”

Friday on my mind (once more)

coccolith.jpg Before you ask, the picture shows the shell of a coccolithophore, and it’s in trouble. We’ve been adding a lot of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and a good chunk of it has ended up in the oceans. The water is getting more acidic, and some sea creatures are finding it harder to build their shells – which has the potential to disrupt the entire oceanic food web. We know it’s a problem, we know it’s happening, but we didn’t expect it be happening as fast as a recent research programme has found [Herald, Telegraph]. According to one of the scientists involved, “the coastal ocean acidification train has left the station, and there’s not much we can do to derail it.” Another excellent reason to cut carbon emissions, if one was needed.

More on methane: research on a rapid release of methane hydrates 635 million years ago hints that modern warming could trigger a similar cascade of gas release, with catastrophic results for the planet’s climate [Science Daily News, Wired]. Wired also has an excellent backgrounder on methane hydrates, discussing how they might be turned into a source of energy, while the BBC reports that the recent rise in methane in the atmosphere looks as though it is coming from thawing wetlands in the Arctic. In better news, NZ scientists have completed deciphering the genome of one of the methanogens that live in the rumens of cattle and sheep (Stuff, Yahoo/xtra). With luck and a lot of hard work, this might lead to methods of cutting methane emissions from livestock, and eventually play a key role in reducing agricultural emissions around the world.

Some light reading for the weekend: Yale’s environment360 is a new web site from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, launched this month with some interesting and challenging articles from writers like Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben, and Fred Pearce amongst others. Worth checking out.

For those with more than a few minutes to spare, I can recommend The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity review [PDF] released this week. It’s an attempt to put a rational value on the services nature provides, to allow a Stern Review-type of cost benefit analysis of losing or retaining biodiversity [Herald, BBC, Guardian]. Climate change is only one contributor to biodiversity loss, but it could rapidly become the most important, and it’s the world’s poor that will suffer most.

The law won

hot-topic-cover.jpg The LexisNexis legal symposium on climate change was an interesting couple of days. Some excellent presentations – including a particularly fine exposition of the science of climate from NIWA’s Katja Riedel, and a very good summary of the post-Kyoto options from Jonathon Boston. Peter Weir from the Forest Owners Association presented a characteristically direct assessment of the role of forestry in the ETS – and demonstrated just how challenging the business of forestry has just become. My own short talk covered New Zealand’s vulnerabilities to climate change, looking at potential winners in losers in a world where there’s a risk that rapid climate change is happening now. [PDF here – 4.5MB] One take home message: do not expect the price of carbon to go down. I’m not sure that investing in carbon is exactly a safe haven for retirement funds, but if I were a Treasury official considering whether to hedge against NZ’s 2008-12 Kyoto CP1 liability, I’d be buying now.

They would say that (again), wouldn’t they?

dinosaur_roar.jpeg There are times when specially commissioned economic forecasts are a useful contribution to debate on emissions reductions, and times when they are not. The latest, commissioned by the Business Roundtable and the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association (Pepanz) from Adolf Stroombergen at Infometrics, is a fine example of the latter. The numbers allow Roger Kerr to rumble ominously [Stuff, Herald, original BR press release (PDF)]:

“The impact on numerous industries would be devastating – reductions in output of the order of 30 per cent to 40 per cent are reported in the case of sheep and dairy farming – and major industrial firms could face complete closure,” Mr Kerr said.

Even worse, households could be $19,000 a year worse off by 2025 and the government would still fail to meet a notional target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. Sounds dire. Better do nothing then…

But, as is usual with these things, when you look at the assumptions that underpin the forecast, you find that they have been carefully designed to produce the result the sponsors wanted. Take a look at the method used (see PDF linked above): they define a “business as usual” case against which they will measure the costs of emissions reductions – and they shoot for GDP growth of 4.5 – 5% per annum. I don’t have the figures to hand, but I can’t think of any period in the recent past when GDP growth has been that high – and certainly not for 17 successive years. And the costs? They use very high carbon prices (up to $300/tonne). So, when you artificially inflate both long term growth and the costs of action, you discover that action’s expensive.

Why am I not surprised?

And I’m not entirely surprised by news (Radio NZ) that 15 iwi leaders, chaired by Tuku Morgan and meeting at the Waitangi Treaty grounds say they oppose all climate-change legislation – because it has no regard for Treaty rights. But I’d like to know more about why. Forestry interests are one thing, geothermal sensitivies another, but what are the Treaty implications?