Towards credible offsets

Carbon offsets are often criticised as no better than medieval “papal indulgences” – pay a few dollars and have your sins forgiven, then feel free to sin again – but they have a valuable role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. Provided, of course, that the offsets – the emissions reductions or carbon sequestration that someone undertakes on your behalf – are real. There are substantial moves afoot to develop credible international standards for offsets, and a seminar at the Institute of Policy Studies in Wellington last week (Carbon Neutrality and the Voluntary Carbon Market in New Zealand) looked at the issue in the NZ context.

Rod Oram’s column in the Sunday Star Times this week drew on his experience at the seminar, and paints a picture of what’s going on in the voluntary sector.

…if we leave climate change to mandated government actions such as treaties, caps, emissions trading and standards we will never achieve the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed to stabilise the global climate, argues Michael Molitor of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Australian practice. Even if you take all the existing mandatory national and international programmes in place and add in something of similar scope for the US on the assumption that the next president will act, “you do not get a reduction in timing and scale of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020,” he told a Victoria University Institute of Policy Studies seminar last week. “So, you have to engage everybody.” And that means developing voluntary carbon markets to incentivise people to change their behaviour and adopt better technology.

Many of the presentations given at the seminar are available at the IPS web site, and one well worth reading in detail is a paper (Carbon Neutrality, Carbon Footprints, Offsets… and Credibility [PDF]) by Murray Ward, Melanie Hutton and Jim Renwick. It provides an excellent overview.

Also worth noting: on November 19th, The Climate Group (a British NGO), the World Economic Forum, and the International Emissions Trading Association will launch a new global Voluntary Carbon Standard. No popes involved.

Formerly the weekend roundup

Saturday’s promised omnibus extension never arrived, in part because of the arrival of a big cat on my computer, so here’s a Tuesday update.

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Big emitters bite back

 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 09 Nzets1-4NZ’s big greenhouse gas emitters have begun a push back against the government’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and energy strategy. Last week an industry group including the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, Federated Farmers, the Major Electricity Users Group, Business Roundtable, the Chambers Of Commerce, and others wrote to Helen Clark warning that, as Colin Espiner in The Press reported, “the Government’s proposed Energy Trading Scheme (ETS) is being rushed through Parliament without adequate consultation with industry. It says the Government is refusing to release any economic analysis to back its claims the new system will have a negligible impact on economic growth.” Fran O’Sullivan in the Herald provided more context, with news of the first meeting of the government’s Climate Change Leadership Forum, but it’s clear that a coordinated effort to derail the ETS is under way.

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 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 08 Homer-1Al Gore’s making most of the climate news at the moment. Winning a Nobel Peace Prize and having a British judge find nine “errors” in An Inconvenient Truth has generated a lot of copy, and more hot air. Others have done a lot of footwork on this story: Deltoid looks at the nature of the “errors” and RealClimate examines the underlying science, but New Zealand has its own band of stalwarts banging away. Former ACT MP Muriel Newman, who runs a web site titled the NZ Centre For Policy Research, not content with fulminating against “political indoctrination” in NZ schools, has now written to the president of the Academy Awards demanding that Gore’s Oscar should be removed:

“With the release of the British High Court judgement overnight that found that ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was littered with nine inconvenient untruths, it is clear that Al Gore embellished the truth to create dramatic effect (see the High Court Judgement Given that the Oscar Award was presented in the documentary category and not the drama category, the only appropriate action now is for the Academy to rescind the Award as it was clearly inappropriately classed as a documentary. The second Oscar for ‘Best Original Song’ is not affected by the Judge’s ruling. The truth, as inconvenient as it is to Al Gore, is that his so-called documentary contained critical distortions that are quite contrary to the principles of good documentary journalism. Good documentaries should be factually correct. Clearly this documentary is not.”

What a broadside. I’m sure the Oscar committee are quaking in their boots and rushing to consider such an urgent issue, raised by such an important and perceptive commentator. Set aside for a moment that “embellishing the truth for dramatic effect” is pretty much what film-making is all about, Muriel seems to have forgotten a few basic facts herself.

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Cranky about the ETS

 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 08 HomerOur little band of climate cranks couldn’t let an opportunity as big as the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme announcement pass by unremarked. And they didn’t. First out of the blocks was Bryan Leyland, “€œchairman of the economic panel of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition”, pre-empting the ETS announcement to complain about the government buying offsets for ministerial travel with a press release headed “€œIs your carbon tax really necessary?”

“€œIf there is no evidence of man-made warming in New Zealand – and in the world – this whole charade of cap and trade, and offsetting ministerial travel emissions, should cease forthwith before any more damage is done to our internationally fragile economy.”

Leyland’s views were echoed a couple of days later by a release from Owen McShane, “€œchairman of the policy panel of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition” (the NZ CSC appear to have enough panels to decorate a small stately home)…

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