Take care the road you choose

vote1.pngNow that one election’s out of the way, (a good result: Obama’s committed to 80 percent reductions by 2050) time to focus on what’s happening in New Zealand. I’ve promised several times to offer an analysis of the major parties offerings on climate change and emissions reductions, but I’ve been pre-empted by a very useful summary by Vote for the Environment (a joint effort by Eco and Greenpeace). They set up an “ideal” set of environment policies, and then surveyed the parties and scored their answers. The results are pretty close to my impression of the state of the parties…

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No matter who you vote for the government always gets in

We have an election date – November 8th – and an Emissions Trading Scheme on the statute books. The next eight weeks are going to be fascinating, probably messy, and certainly noisy. Hot Topic will be watching the campaigns, focussing on what the parties have to say about climate change, climate policy and the ETS. More when the campaigns get into gear.

Meanwhile, this weekend’s edition of RNZ National’s Focus on Politics (stream, download) looks at what might be in store for the ETS after the election. National insist they’ll be able to get amending legislation in place within nine months (Nick Smith sounded intent on saving Fonterra money…), David Parker reckons they’ll struggle. But will they get the chance?

Good weekend reading: No Right Turn’s take on the true cost to the NZ economy of reasonable emissions targets. I really must get my thoughts on targets onto the blog soon – but there’s much afoot in the Arctic (and I have a vineyard to finish pruning).

Cloud nine

NZETS.jpg National’s new energy policy [PDF], released yesterday, includes a promise that it will “introduce an emissions trading scheme within nine months of taking office that balances our environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities.” Other highlights of the policy document include lifting the government’s moratorium on development of baseload thermal power generation (preferring gas over coal) but accepting the goal of 90% renewable generation by 2025, more seed money for oil and gas exploration, reform of the RMA, and a $1,000 grant for domestic solar hot water installations. Also released yesterday: the government’s proposed National Policy Statement on Renewable Energy Generation, designed to smooth the consent process for new renewable schemes. As you might expect, No Right Turn and Frogblog (one, two) are unimpressed, while David Farrar seems to think more hydro’s the answer (though his commenters are rabidly pro-nuclear).

There’s been plenty of attention paid to the end of thermal moratorium, but I’m particularly interested in how National plans to get a revised ETS ready within nine months of forming the next government. In the absence of any legislation before the election – which is looking more and more likely – the announcement suggests that National will take the framework of the existing scheme, tinker with the details, and then reintroduce it to parliament. The “tinkering” is reasonably predictable. There will be some sort of cave-in to the big emitters on “economic” grounds. This could involve bigger allocations of free credits and a longer phase out period – and there will be some sort of attempt to make the scheme line up with Australia’s. Agriculture might even be able to push for its entry to the scheme to be delayed even longer, once again on “economic” grounds.

In the absence of an ETS before the election, it is clearly good news that National has publicly committed to introducing some form of trading scheme early in its first term. Any ETS is better than none – any carbon pricing is better than none. The bad news is that the whole economy is left in limbo in the interim. What advice does National have have for the forestry sector, who are – at least theoretically – already in an existing scheme? I hope that before the election National will provide more detail on its ETS plans. This is a hugely important piece of policy with wide-reaching effects, and the electorate deserves to know more – much more – about Key & Co’s plans before deciding whether to support them.

Tangled up in blue

NZETS.jpgJohn Key has announced that National will not support the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation in its current form [Stuff]. When the select committee reports back to parliament next month, National will vote against a second reading. The reactions are as you might expect: from praise at Kiwiblog to righteous indignation at No Right Turn. Hot Topic (for what it’s worth) is disappointed that climate policy is effectively becoming a political football. Key’s move doesn’t mean that the ETS is dead, but it does radically change the political landscape on climate issues. Helen Clark is insisting the ETS will proceed, but she will now need to ensure that the Greens and Maori Party are on side, and rustle up some votes from New Zealand First and/or United Future. Good luck with that.

It appears National, despite their fine words about being committed to emissions trading and firm action on emissions reductions, have made the crude political calculation that in the general clamour being raised by submitters on the ETS they can keep both their business constituency happy and lessen problems with the remaining sceptics in their ranks (and in a future support arrangement with ACT) by delaying the introduction of a scheme. Note the speed with which the climate cranks have been rushing out supporting press releases. I hope Key realises that he’ll need a long spoon to sup with that lot.

Delaying action on climate change is now an election issue. If National form the next government, it doesn’t take much of a crystal ball to see that substantive action will likely be years away as officials return to the drawing board for a third time. Those who aren’t bald already could be forgiven for tearing their hair out.

Blah, blah, blab, Blaby (*)

Nigel Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby, a British Tory politician who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet during the 1980s, is visiting New Zealand as a guest of the Business Roundtable to give this year’s Sir Ronald Trotter memorial lecture. Lawson withdrew from the mainstream of Conservative politics in 1992 “to spend more time with his family” (coining that phrase as he did so), but in recent years he has reinvented himself as a climate sceptic, a vociferous opponent of the Kyoto protocol and a scourge of what he terms “eco-fundamentalists”. Clearly, the Business Roundtable has brought in a wise elder statesman to provide much needed context to the climate debate, to better inform its members about the need for emissions reductions. Sadly, Lawson is far more likely to serve up a rousing speech packed with half-truths, distortions, and advice so bad it amounts to dangerous folly, if reports in the Sunday Star Times and Dominion Post are to be believed.

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